Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Tree Traditions from Around the World

Imagine my surprise when I realized my day to contribute a monthly post fell on Christmas! I knew just what to write about this month. My dear mother-in-law started giving me the Lenox "Christmas Trees from Around the World" plates in 1991 and continued each year until the day she died in 2008. I would like to share with you some of them and the tree traditions from each country where our families originated as written on the back of each plate.

Austria

Austria celebrates a month-long tradition at Christmas, from the arrival of Saint Nicholas and his companion Krampus on December 5th until Epiphany on January 6th when the Wise Men appear. The Advent wreath is the first sign of the season as a candle is lighted with great festivity on the first Sunday of Advent. In Austrian homes the Nativity creche is also an important tradition often an heirloom carved in wood centuries ago. New figures may be carved over the years to include not only the Holy Family but any number of other figures. From Austria the world has received the beautiful hymn "Silent Night," composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber, a young organist, with lyrics by Joseph Mohr. In Austria the tree is the bright jewel of the home during the Christmas season. After the Christmas Eve supper, the tree is lighted in a blaze of flory as family members gather to sing Christmas songs, and peasant or classical carols.

1995 Lenox Austria plate

The 1995 Lenox plate tree is decorated with gold and silver garlands and candles, with presents arranged beneath the tree.

Canada

Canada celebrates the Christmas season based upon culturally diverse traditions. It is a holiday that shares a mix of old and new. The French, for instance, brought their tradition or displaying the creche, while the Germans introduced the fir tree as part of the celebratory process. They are also credited with the introduction of blown glass ornaments to tree decoration. The English had an old tradition of hanging a "Kissing Ball" or setting the table with Christmas crackers. Earlier decorations were highly influenced by the native Indian crafts, including the use of feathers.

2003 Lenox Canada plate

The 2003 Lenox plate shows the rich, balsam adorned with pine cones, kissing balls and feathered jeweled ornaments. Kugels and Neapolitan-style angles are represented. The Canadian maple leaf is featured throughout the design and garlands of cranberry wrap around the tree.

England

According to English myth, the custom of decorating trees for Christmas began in their country with Prince Albert. After the birth of their first son in 1841, he present Queen Victoria with a candlelit tree laden with sweets of the most expensive kind. Victorians, who were given to imitate the Royal Family, quickly adopted the custom after a picture of one of the Windsor trees appeared in an 1848 edition of the Illustrated London News. Charles Dickens delighted readers with his magazine account of the glittering Christmas trees decorated with miniature dolls, fiddles, drums, and figurines that had become the new fashion for the elated season in Victorian England.

1993 Lenox England plate

The 1993 Lenox plate is festive with delectable English confections and a garland of cranberries. A gilded angel with outstretched wings crowns the candlelit tree, around which are the traditional plum pudding, toys, figurines and Christmas gifts are placed in celebration of the merriest of English holidays.

Germany

Germany is truly the land of the Christmas tree. . .in no other country is the day so fully and heartily observed. "Weihnachtsbaum" (Christmas tree) is the symbol of the German yuletide. In 1531 the first Christmas trees were sold in the Strasbourg market. The four-foot trees were set up undecorated for the holiday on small tables. The oldest known Christmas tree to be decorated as we know the tradition today, was found in Strasbourg in the early 17th century. Decorations included only apples and nuts, with the addition of flat wafers, gilded candies and many different colored paper roses following later. By the 18th century, Christmas trees were decorated with many kins of sweet confections as well as gold leaf covered apples and other gilded fruits and nuts.

1991 Lenox Germany plate; the first plate of the series

The 1991 Lenox plate displays a typical German Christmas tree of the early 1600s. Simple apples and nuts adorn the tree just as they did when the world's first Christmas tree was decorated in Germany.

Hungary

Christmas arrives in Hungary not once, but twice! The first celebration takes place on December 6th, which is Saint Nicholas (also known as "Mikols") Day. Children place boots in their window hoping to be rewarded for good behavior by Saint Nicholas who ill fill them with chocolate, fruit, walnuts and other goodies. The second celebration is December 25th, which actually begins the night before. Songs and good cheer arise as friends and family come together to share fits and a traditional meal that often includes fish, lentils and a special poppy pastry known as "beigli."

The 2005 Lenox plate depicts the legend that a tree was brought by angels to surprise the children. Hence, families wait until Holy night, December 24th, to decorate their tree. A bell is rung, signaling that the angels have brought the tree and the Baby Jesus has arrived with gifts. The tree, lit with candles and sparklers, is then unveiled to the delighted children.

2005 Lenox Hungary plate

Special holiday candies called "szalon cukon," wrapped in bright red and gold foil, are also used to decorate the tree. "Matyo" felt ornaments, decorated with the colorful embroidery that Hungary for which is renowned, make unique and festive tree decorations. Hungary's rich tradition of beautiful handcrafted work and wonderful culinary delights give special meaning to the phrase "Yokarar Csony," Merry Christmas!

Russia

The Christmas celebration in Old Russia began with the appearance of the first evening star on Christmas Eve. Children eagerly awaited the wheat cakes placed for them on the window sill by St. Nicholas, the kind and generous bishop chosen as the patron saint of Russia almost one thousand years ago. At supper, the table was set with a layer of straw beneath the cloth to symbolize the bed in the manger. After a meal of fish and special cakes, family members, dressed in costumes, paraded through the neighborhood singing Christmas songs known as "Kolyada." Russian children waited in anticipation, not for Santa Claus, but for the old woman Babouschka, who brings each little child a present as she searches every house on her long journey to find the Christ Child.

1996 Lenox Russia plate

The 1996 Lenox plate is decorated with jeweled eggs, ornately detailed balls, and sparkling crystals inspired by Imperial Russia. A bear, gilded-domed palace and Russian dolls are gathered under the star-topped tree.

United States of America

Along with its own original celebrations, Christmas in America combines a unique blend of customs and traditions from around the world. All contribute to the holiday season, making Christmas in America a very special time of year. Although the Christmas tree originated in Germany, large cities to small towns throughout the United States display a "Community Tree" -- a custom which began in Pasadena, California, in 1909. Typically, trees are decorated with a variety of ornaments, old and new, that are rich in sentiments.

1998 Lenox America plate

The 1998 Lenox America tree is decorated with jolly Santa Claus figurines and old fashioned candles. The boughs are adorned with garland and strings of popcorn. Antique toys and brightly colored fruit evoke the feelings of a colonial Christmas while delicate snowflakes, icicles and baubles shimmer. A star glistens from the tree top and shines upon the colorful array of packages and toys beneath the tree.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!

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To learn about the Christmas tree traditions in Ireland and Poland, I hope you'll click over to my Tangled Roots and Trees Christmas post.

The surnames of my husband and my grandparents were: Adametz (Austria), Dagutis (Lithuania), Fishtahler (Hungary), Jennings (England), Klimsansluski (Lithuania), Lange (Russia), Muir (Scotland), and Schalin (Russia). The Fishtahler, Lange, and Schalin families considered themselves German, though they immigrated extensively in Europe (Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Serbia) before coming to the new world (Canada and the United States).

5 comments:

  1. What beautiful stories you've written and I enjoyed looking at the different plates. A very nice rememberance of your mother in law.

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  2. What a wonderful collection. Merry Christmas to you.

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  3. 3 out of 6 plates appear to be the same?? Or am I not seeing the difference?

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  4. Lovely stories of Christmas trees and traditions. .

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