Thursday, October 17, 2019

I- How Victorians Celebrate Christmas (1837-1910)

Way beyond the Tudor, Gregorian, and Stuart Christmas traditions, the Victorians (1837-1901) have everyone in spades. No other period has contributed to the celebration of Christmas more than the Victorians. (Actually, even though Queen Victoria was still on the throne from 1895-1901, history sees the Edwardian era being 1895-1910. )

During the 'Edwardian period', things were a bit more liberal, not as haughty. It was truly a period of change, although subtle. However,  for purposes of my musings, I will address the 2 periods as one.


One of the more well known editorials of the time was in 1897 when Francis P. Church, Editor of the New York Sun, answered a letter from an eight year old named Virginia O'Hanlon asking, "Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?"


His response lives on today: "Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see.[ ] Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus."


Moving on. If you have ever been to the Biltmore House in Ashville, NC at Christmas then you have experienced a true Victorian Christmas. For the affluent, this was how they decorated. The Victorians took their Christmas holidays very seriously.



Prior to this era no one had heard of Santa Claus (per se) or Christmas Crackers. Christmas cards became popular during this era. The modernity, wealth, and technologies brought about by the industrial revolution changed Christmas forever.

Workers across Britain, took 2 days off to celebrate Christmas. The tradition of Boxing Day on December 26th, continued. More efficient transportation enabled people from the country to travel to town to visit relatives for the holidays and vice a versa. 

It was during this time that turkey became a traditional Christmas dish. Christmas trees were introduced for the first time. Thanks to new manufacturing, gifts expanded from being all homemade to including those mass produced. 



The industrial revolution impacted this greatly as the introduction of wealth and technologies brought about a change. Famous novels including Charles Dickens critically acclaimed ‘A Christmas Carol’ surfaced and pressure was put on the rich to distribute wealth and lifestyle happiness.

And, the Christmas Cracker was introduced during this time. The cracker is a festive table decoration placed at each guests place. There is a snap sound when one pulls on the end to open it. Usually, inside there is a small gift or piece of candy. 


The cracker was developed by a London candy maker in 1846. Tom Smith wanted more to wrap his candy in than just brightly colored paper. So he included a small toy - such as a paper hat, a small toy, or trinket.    




Whether it was the Christmas cards or the introduction of the Christmas tree, the Victorians left their mark on the celebration of Christmas.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Georgian Era Christmas

The Stuart Period was followed by the Georgian Period (1714 - 1830). Thanks to King Charles II, the celebration of Christmas was restored. The Georgians took the holiday seriously and celebrated it with parties, balls, and  family dinners. 

Keeping to traditions, the holiday dinner menu included roasted goose and/or turkey, and of course Plum Pudding and Wassail.

A Traditional Plum Pudding
1 lb of eggs
1 ½ lb of shredded suet  (the hard white fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep, and other animals, used to make foods including puddings, pastry, and mincemeat)
1 lb raisins
1 lb dried plums
1lb mixed peel
1 lb of currants
1 lb sultanas (a small, light brown, seedless raisin used in foods such as puddings and cakes)
1 lb flour
1 lb sugar
1 lb breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ grated nutmeg
½ pint of milk
½ teaspoon of salt
the juice of a lemon
a large glass of brandy
Let stand for 12 hours
Boil for 8 hours and boil again on Christmas Day for 2 hours

Both the affluent and the commoners decorated their homes. Rich and poor used traditional holly, ivy, and mistletoe throughout their homes. But, like with the traditions of the Tudors, it was bad luck to decorate until Christmas Eve. The Christmas Bough, that dated back centuries was very popular. The Georgians built on the traditions. In addition to 'boughs' they had 'Christmas Balls'. They added candles, fruit, rosemary, and other  things to the basic greenery. Also, the Yule log tradition continued.

Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, introduced the Christmas Tree, a tradition she grew up with as a child in Germany. However, the tradition did not take. 

The Georgian Christmas Season lasted almost a month. On December 6, St. Nicholas' Day, and the first day of the holiday season, gifts were exchanged among friends and family. Then on St. Stephen's Day, December 26, the more affluent gave to charity and those with servants and staff presented them 'Christmas Boxes', ergo the designation of 'Boxing Day.'

Then on the last night, January 6,  they celebrated the '12th Night'. In addition to the ever present '12th Night Cake', there was much eating, drinking, games, and dancing.

Major social and cultural changes occurred during this period. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, there were new norms for the work force. Life had changed, the rural life in, which generations had grown up  experiencing, was ebbing. Employers expected the workers to continue their jobs, even through the traditional 'Holiday Season.'  For the working class, this was the beginning of the shortened Christmas Celebration, we have today.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Stuart period

Following the Tudor Era was the Stuart period from 1603 to 1714 , named so because it was the dynasty of the House of Stuart. The period ended with the death of Queen Anne and the accession of King George I from the German House of Hanover.

Like the Tudor holiday, most of the Stuarts, the commoners, celebrated for 12 days. However, the celebration by the royal court of the time lasted longer - beginning on the 1st of November and ending on the 2nd of February.

For the common people's celebration, the Lord of Misrule oversaw the entire holiday - not just the 12th Night, like the Tudors. He was the master of ceremonies and made sure everyone had lots of fun! 

The Feast of the 12th Night was the largest of the season. It was known for outrageous merry making, much drinking, and eating. 

The Stuarts sang carols just as we do today. In fact some of our favorite Christmas carols were sung in Stuart times, including The Twelve Days of Christmas, The First Nowell, I saw Three Ships, God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen, and While Shepherds Watched.

Although the customs and activities described here focus on a Stuart Christmas, they were not unique to the Stuart era. In fact, most of the Yuletide customs have their origins in pagan times and have Celtic roots. Homes were decked with greenery. There was much rich food and gift-giving.

Christmas Party Games were very popular with the Stuarts. They included:

Hot cockles - where one person was blindfolded and knelt with his or her head on the lap of someone sitting on a chair. They placed their hand in the small of their back, palm upwards, and called out ‘hot cockles hot’. The other players hit the palm of the hand and the blindfolded player had to guess who struck the blow.
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Cross and Pyle - a similar game to heads and tails. You spun a coin and guessed the outcome. Grown-ups bet on the fall of the coin.

Forfeits - where a token or item such as a handkerchief was collected from each player. Each player had to win back his or her possession by a forfeit. You might sing a song, dance a jig or recite a poem.

Question and command - where a commander may order his or her subjects to answer any 'lawful’ question. Any player who cannot answer must pay a fine or forfeit.

Others included 'Hood-man blind' (blind-man's bluff), 'Hoop and Hide' (hide and seek), 'Closkeys' (nine pins),  and 'Paille Maille' (a cross between golf and croquet).

The last game of the evening played towards midnight was 'Yawning for the Cheshire cheese' - Everyone sat in a circle and yawned. Whoever yawned the longest, widest and loudest won a large Cheshire cheese.

A very unique feature of Stuart's Twelfth Night was a surprise pie. This was a large pastry case with a lid, baked empty. When the pie was cool, holes were cut in the bottom and it was filled with live birds and frogs. (More Halloween appropriate than Christmas, IMHO.)

Of course, all this came to an abrupt end in 1644 when Christmas celebrations were banned by Oliver Cromwell. Singing carols and participating in festivities were outlawed. Doing so could get one arrested. For 16 years Christmas celebrations continued although very muted.


However, thanks to King Charles II, Christmas celebrations were reinstated when he ascended to the throne in 1661.

Monday, October 14, 2019

VI - Tudor Christmas - 12th Night

In addition to being the Night of Misrule (posted on earlier), the Twelfth Night (of the Christmas celebration). On this evening it was traditional for there to be entertainment enjoyed by all. This could include plays, music, and games. This is the day of misrule (covered earlier). 

Bagpipes were especially popular. Lots of games were played including ones with eggs. These included tossing an egg between two people moving further apart during each throw - drop it and you lose. Another popular game was 'snapdragon' where you picked raisins or other dried fruit out of a tray of flaming brandy!


Shakespeare's play The Twelfth Night, was introduced as entertainment for the 12th night in 1601 or 1602.


This was the biggest night of the season and particularly festive. It was also called the 'Feast of Fools'.

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Guests would be served pieces of the rich 12th Night cake, made of eggs, butter, fruits, nuts, and spices. Baked in the cake was a bean (or pea). 
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Which ever guest got the piece with the bean (or pea) was named the King (or Queen) of Misrule and oversaw the evening of excessive drinking, bawdy songs, indecent gestures, and parodies of the church and its rituals. All this large fun capped off the 12 day celebration of Christmas. The following day was Epiphany. 
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Saturday, October 12, 2019

V - Tudor Christmas and the 12s.

There are many references to 12 in the Tudor Christmas celebrations. One being, the traditional '12 Days of Christmas'. The items associated with each day symbolize some religious reference to the holiday.
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  • The 'Partridge in a pear tree' refers to Jesus Christ.
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  • Two turtle doves’ refers to the Old and New Testaments.
  • 'Three French hens' refers to Faith, Hope and Charity or Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
  • 'Four calling birds' refers to the Four Gospels and or The Four Evangelists. 
  • 'Five golden rings' refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament or The Catholic Churches five obligatory sacraments: Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Penance, and Last Rites.
  • 'Six geese a laying' refers to the six days of creation.

  • 'Seven swans a swimming' refers to the Seven Gifts of The Holy Spirit, the Seven Sacraments - 
    1. Baptism, 
    2. Confirmation, 
    3. Eucharist, 
    4. Reconciliation, 
    5. Anointing of the Sick, 
    6. Holy Orders
    7. and Marriage.

  • 'Eight maids a milking' refers to  the eight times a year that Catholics, in those days, were required to receive Holy Communion or the Eight Beatitudes:

    1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
    2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
    3. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
    4. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
    5. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
    6. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
    7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
    8. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Nine ladies dancing' refers to the Nine Fruits of The Holy Spirit - 
    1. the word of wisdom, 
    2. the word of knowledge, 
    3. increased faith, 
    4. the gifts of healing, 
    5. the gift of miracles, 
    6. prophecy, 
    7. the discernment of spirits, 
    8. diverse kinds of tongues, 
    9. interpretation of tongues. 
  • 'Ten lords a leaping' refers to The Ten Commandments. 

  • 'Eleven pipers piping' refers to the Eleven Apostles, excluding Judas. 

  • 'Twelve Drummers Drumming' - the 12 points of the Apostles Creed
    • Belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit
    • The Death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension of Chris
    • The holiness of the Church and the communion of saints
    • Christ's second coming, the Day of Judgment and salvation of the faithful
And, you thought it was just a song.

Friday, October 11, 2019

IV - Tudor Christmas - The Days of the Saints

    The 12 days of the Tudor's Christmas celebration were each associated with a Saint.

  • Day 2 - Feast of St Stephens, the saint of deacons, headaches, horses, coffin makers, and masons
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  • Day 3 - Feast of St John, the apostle 
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  • Day 4 - Feast of the Holy Innocents

  • Day 5-Feast St Thomas Becket (the Arch Bishop of Cantebury who was murdered on Christmas Day)

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  • Even though Day 5 of the 12 Days of Christmas is The Feast of St Thomas,  St. Thomas’s Day on the church catholic calendar is December 21. So the 21st was also celebrated as St Thomas' Day. On this day the poor appealed to those more fortunate for charity. They were referred to as 'Thomases'. Those more fortunate prepared for the day of 'Thomasing' with bowls of prepared food to share when the ‘Thomases’ called.

  • Day 6 - Feast of St Egwin of Worcester, saint of Orphans and Widows
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  • Day 7 (New Years Eve) Pope Sylvester (one of the earliest popes)
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  • Day 8 Mary, the Virgin Mother
  • Day 9 Feast of St Basil the Great and St Gregory Nazianzen
  • Day 10 Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
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  • Day 11 Feast St Simon Stylites (who lived on top of a pillar for 37 years)
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  • Day 12 The Epiphany, the day the 3 wise men finally arrived in Bethlehem to see the Christ Child.
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Within the celebration of the Tudor Christmas and the tradition of the 'reversal of roles', there was the 'Feast of Fools' that was held on January 1st. It was the one day Christian morals were abandoned. In their place, common people were allowed to make paradies of the church and its rituals. The name comes from the idea that the 'Fools' (the common people) were allowed to mock the church and its rituals.


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As part of this, a young boy was chosen as the mock 'Bishop' or ‘Pope’, called the 'King of Misrule'. He would dress as the Bishop and perform church services. During these services men would run and frolic about in the church and even do such irrelevant things as play dice on the alter. They would yell “Hee Haw” instead of “Amen”. Also, during this feast men dressed in women’s clothing, wore animal masks, sang bawdy songs, and drank copious quantities.  Men would run amuck through the streets and on carts giving indecent gestures. 
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Thursday, October 10, 2019

III - Tudor Christmas - Decorations

Like all holidays, with the Tudors there were decorations. Holly and ivy were used liberally. Long before Christ, these two forms of greenery were seen as a symbol of the Sun God, whose birthday was celebrated on December 25, the date later adopted as the birthday of Jesus Christ.

One main festive item was a "Christmas Crown". This 4 to 5 foot 'crown' was made of thin saplings shaped into, what initially looked like, a large bell. Then the vines were intertwined in and out of the frame. Ivy and holly were wound throughout the structure. Like many later traditional Christian denominations, the Tudors did not decorate their homes until Christmas Eve. (And the decorations were taken down following Twelfth Night.) So on Christmas Eve the ‘Christmas Crown' was brought into the home and hung from the ceiling in the main room.


One of the most enduring customs in England is the 'Kissing Bough'. This was introduced during the Tudor era as a traditional Christmas decoration. It is a hoop or sphere woven from willow, ash or hazel wood - much smaller than the 'Christmas Crown'. Holly and ivy decorate the bough and a small figure of the Holy Family or a figure of the Christ child is placed in the middle. Mistletoe is also among the greenery, ergo the name 'Kissing'. Mistletoe has an association with fertility that dates back to ancient Greece. 

Some Boughs resembled a wreath that was hung horizontally.

Later designs were akin to balls.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

II - Tudor Christmas Traditions

The Tudor Christmas was more than just a celebration. It was a time of festivity to lift the feelings the people. It was to celebrate the light, the Winter Solstice, the longest night and when days would be getting longer. The practice of bringing greenery into the house, was symbolic of bringing life into the house.

All that said, many of the Christmas traditions of earlier times (and more) were carried on during  the Tudor era, and are still enjoyed today. They include:

  • Yule Log
  • Wassailing
  • Christmas Carols
  • Mistletoe
  • Mince Pies (pyes)
  • The Christmas Pie
  • Father Christmas
  • Gift Giving

One of those is the Yule Log. The origins of the Yule Log date back to the Viking invaders burning bon fires on a beach to celebrate the winter solstice. The Tudors would get a log and decorate it with ribbons, then light it on Christmas eve. The log would be kept lit during the 12 days of Christmas. To ensure good luck throughout the year, part of the charred remains (or ashes) would be saved to use with the following year's log.

A popular Christmas carol of today is Here we Come a Wassailing. Wassailing was another tradition that could be credited to the Tudors. A more organized tradition than before, celebrants would go from house to house singing holiday songs. While doing so they would share a communal bowl filled with Wassail. The word 'Wassail' originates from the old Anglo-Saxon toast 'waes hael', meaning “be well” or “be in good health.”
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All this brings up Christmas Carols, another tradition from the Tudor times. The word "carol' is derived from Latin caraula or the French carole, the meaning of both being – a dance with a song. While there is no longer dancing, there is caroling. Generally the verses of the songs referred to the nativity.
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Another Tudor Christmas tradition was telling ghost stories, especially on Christmas Eve. That night being during the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, when it was believed spirits could walk the Earth.
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Mistletoe was included in the 'Kissing Bough' to represent fertility.
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Mince pies (pyes) made of 13 ingredients representing Jesus and the 12 disciples were served at holiday meals.

And, there was the 'Christmas Pie', the roots of today's 'Turduckin'. Of all the things we associate with today's Christmas, Father Christmas or Santa Claus, is probably at the top of the list. Once again, this tradition was well established by the Tudor period. However, it goes back much earlier than that. 

The Saxons (410 until 1066) celebrated the onset of winter in the guise of ‘King Winter’(also referred to as ‘Father Time’). Once again the Vikings played a role in establishing the tradition. They would celebrate the god Woden, aka – ‘Yule-Father’. The word 'Yule' goes back to the pagan Winter Festivals celebrated by people in Scandinavia. Yule Father left gifts of bread and much goodwill during Yule.

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Another throw back to the days of the Tudors was the tradition of gift giving. Simple gifts were exchanged among the peasants. The royal Tudors, however, were known to exchange more elaborate gifts - a set of 'Pyrenean boar spears' from Anne Boleyn to King Henry VIII or a gold cup from Catherine of Aragon to her husband, Henry the VIII - which he rejected. There are stories of gems, jewelry, and money.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

I - Tudor Christmas (and Food)

As someone who collects Victorian and Edwardian era sterling silver, I have always found those eras fascinating. Growing up, my impression of the Victorian era was one of uncomfortable sofas and stifling social norms. But the more I learned while collecting sterling flatware, the more I realized it wasn't so. Instead, for most people, it was one of manners, elegance, and the emergence of women as a force to deal with. Of course Downton Abbey, which appeared several years into my hobby, just confirmed those ideals.

But I digress.

I started thinking about the celebration of Christmas, how did it begin? No, not just with the birth of Christ, but with the secular celebrations of the times. How did our forefathers celebrate this holiday?

I am starting with the Tudor era (1485 to 1603), just past the Middle Ages. This includes the Elizabethan Era (1558–1603) The name of this era brings to mind the House of Tudor (mainly Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I). But the Tudor period referred to more than just the monarchy, it was an era, a period of time with its own unique social norms. The affluent upper class as well as the peasants had one thing in common - they went all out for the holiday. Not just for 1 day but for 12. The purpose of the Tudor Christmas was that the holiday acted as a type of pressure-release valve in the very strict Tudor society. 

The 12 days were a time when everything changed – things were turned ‘on their head’ – a lot of the traditions involved a role reversal. The first Monday after the Christmas feast finished was known as ‘Plough Monday’ - when farming work would all begin again. But before that day, fun was had by all, no matter your social class.

Advent in the Tudor Era was the four weeks leading up to Christmas. During this time they were not allowed to eat eggs, cheese, or meat. They put this time to good use - preparing for the 12 day Christmas celebration, which given the amount of sumptuous food, drink, decorations, and celebration, took some time.

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Like most celebrations, food played a major role. The feast included fowl, pork, and Christmas pudding, to name a few items that could be found on the table. This was the time when exotic and rare dried fruits and spices were used. These were expensive because most came from the Mediterranean. They included clove, mace, black pepper, cinnamon, saffron, and ginger root to name a few. Fruits included raisins, currents, and prunes.

A traditional dish was Shred pie or pye (Sheppard's pie), a recipe of spices and meats. 

The mince pies had far more significance than today in that they had 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and the apostles. The pie contained fruit (raisins, currants, prunes) and spices (nutmeg, cloves, mace, black pepper, saffron). The traditional meat of lamb represented the shepherds.

After the introduction of turkeys, there was one interesting dish consisted of a pigeon inside a partridge inside a chicken inside a goose inside a turkey, which was then put in a pastry case, called a 'Coffin' - perhaps the original 'Turduckin'.

The meals were immense and rich. The main meat was pork. Since throughout the year, they did not enjoy as much of this rich and heavy dish, it could be hard on the digestive system. Therefore soup and pie were served first to line the stomach and prevent digestive illnesses. These were followed by the meat, hence the modern tradition of the salad/soup course prior to main course of meat.

At the beginning of the era, since turkey was not yet a popular choice, the center piece of the Christmas table was the head of a hog, stuffed and pickled.

Beverages included Lambswool, a drink made from roasted apples, beer, nutmeg, ginger, and sugar. The rich froth on the top of the drink gave this beverage its name.
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Perhaps the most well known holiday beverage of this time was Wassail. It was a beverage of hot mulled cider. Besides enjoying the drink and comradery, the ritual of Wassailing supposedly ensured a good cider apple harvest the following year.

These were some of the foods and beverages on the tables of the peasants. However, at the monasteries, seen as much more affluent, they used more fowl than beef and pork since red meat was thought to increase virility. This was an issue with celibate monks and nuns.

The swan was the main delicacy. It was one of the most expensive dishes of the times. The center piece of most of the aristocratic tables was that of a large swan. After the meat was removed from the bird, the carcass (including feathers) was stuffed and placed on top of the pie, creating a most impressive site.
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Monday, October 7, 2019

IX- Pumpkins and spice

I am not a fan, but each fall, sometime in late August, the world goes nuts for pumpkin spice. Everything from candles to milk shakes to ravioli is offered in the pumpkin spice flavor. I hope it is a passing phase. But I digress.

I can handle the displays of silk, plastic, and wooden pumpkin products in the craft stores, as well as the baking aisle stocked with cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg. 

Speaking of nutmeg, the use of nutmeg goes back 2000 years or so. Archeologist have discovered pieces of pottery dating back to time before Christ that has the residue of nutmeg on it. Other spices that make up the pumpkin spice combination originated from traders bringing exotic spices from the Far East. (Fun Fact - Nutmeg is only known to grow in the Banda islands.) 

There are the normal food items that adopt this flavoring each fall to the delight of the Pumpkin Spice addicts:
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A desire for spices was part of the drive by European explorers when they stumbled across the Americas. Remember Columbus was in search of the Far East when he ended up in the British West Indies. In the late 1600's Nutmeg was so valued by the Dutch that they traded their colony of New Amsterdam (today's New York City) to Britain in exchange for Pulau Run (today known as Indonesia), one of the nutmeg-producing Banda Island. 

Obviously, I am in the minority, given that nearly a half billion dollars in pumpkin spice flavored products were sold in the United States last year alone. You know it has infiltrated the entire US psyche when these items are participating:

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Those aside, I personally think they have 'jumped the shark' to quote 'Happy Days' when I found the following products have also gone down the Pumpkin Spice rabbit hole. These have to be the creation of someones warped sense of humor. 
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Seriously?

OK, this is going way too far.  Certainly these products don't exist. What can we expect next - Cinnamon scented toilet bowl cleaner? Garlic scented Lysol? Cherry flavored orange juice? 

To quote Herb Morrison, "Oh, the humanity! . . . I told you!"

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

VIII - Other Halloween Traditions.

Today’s Halloween comes with customs and superstitions. Some date back centuries. We avoid crossing paths with black cats, afraid that they might bring us bad luck. This idea has its roots back to the Middle Ages, when many people believed that witches avoided detection by turning themselves into black cats.

But what about the Halloween traditions and beliefs of today’s trick-or-treaters? Many are based on obsolete rituals. Surprisingly, many are focused on the future instead of the past and the living instead of the dead.

1.Trick-or-Treating, American-style
Research shows, in addition to mummers and guisers, some believe that today's tradition of trick-or-treating stems from 'Belsnickling', a tradition in German-American communities where children would dress in costume and then call on their neighbors. The adults would attempt to guess the identities of those in the costumes.  The children were rewarded with food or other treats if no one could identify them.

2. Black Cats
Black cats go back to the Middle Ages, when they were considered a symbol of the Devil. Then centuries later, women accused of being witches often had pet cats, black ones. Based on this, the public started believing that the black cats assisted the witches with their spells and black magic. Some beliefs do not die, given black cats today are still associated with witches.

3. Bobbing for Apples
It is thought that the association of this game with Halloween, dates back to the ancient Roman Festival of Romana, the goddess of agriculture and fruits. After conquering the British isles, the Romans combined this festival with the All Hallows Eve celebration of Samhain. Originally the practice of Bobbing for Apples was a courting ritual. (Keep in mind, being the Goddess Fruit, may have also alluded to fertility.) Young men and women could foretell their future mates based on this game.  

4. Black and Orange
Once again, the colors associated with Halloween trace their origins back to the Celtic festival Samhain and the onset of winter. The Black represented the ‘death’ of summer and the orange the autumn harvest season.

5. Pranks
The tradition of ‘Devil’s Night’ has many tales of its origination. Once again, this traced its roots back to All Souls Day. Part of the tradition goes back as far as the Soulers. When not given soul cakes, they would play tricks or cause mischief. 'Devil's Night' was often called 'Mischief Night'. Scottish and Irish immigrants brought the tradition of 'Mischief Night ' to America. It became part of Halloween.

6. Candles and Bonfires
Bonfires have direct ties back to Samhain and the bonfires the Druids built to bring light to the darkness. Candles were thought to light the way for the souls to find the afterlife, given All Hallows Eve was believed to be the only night both the evil spirits and good souls could roam the Earth. 

7. Candy Apples
Once again this tradition has its roots back to Romana. The sugar syrups of the candy preserves the apples. However, candy apples did not become popular until the 1950's. Not sure where the practice of caramel apples came from. 

8. Bats
The bonfires the Druids built on Samhain would have naturally attracted insects which then attracted bats seeking the insects.  Therefore the bats became associated with the All Hallows Eve. Medieval folklore believed that bats were an omen of death. 

9. Candy
The original 'treats' given out to the Soulers were sweets that later became Soul Cakes. By the early 20th century the "treats' became candy. Not wanting to miss a marketing opportunity, candy companies in the 1950's produced and sold small pieces of individually wrapped candy to be used as treats. Scares from treats and unwrapped candy being fouled by drugs, poison, and sharp objects in the 1970's drove parents to almost exclusively give out individually wrapped pieces of candy. 

10. Candy Corn
Candy Corn, one of my favorites, dates back to the 1880's and a candy maker at the Wunderlee Candy Company in Philadelphia who invented the tri-color candy. Originally candy corn was called "Chicken Feed". Boxes of the candy read "Something worth crowing for."  It wasn't until the 1950's that candy corn became Halloween-specific. Since then the orange, yellow, and white colors have been changed to pinks, purples, white, and pale greens during the Easter Season to cash into the Easter candy tradition. Also, you can find red, white, and blue candy 'corn' around the 4th of July. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

VII - Costumes for the Young and Old

As we have discovered, the practice of dressing in costumes dates back to the Celts in the Middle Ages. As the holiday of Halloween became more popular in America, so did costumes. The first noted ones, dating back to the late 1800s, were handmade. Most were witches and ghosts, classic symbols of the early celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve.
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By the Victorian times, costumes took on more ‘Excotic’ themes. The Victorians were fascinated by characters from the Far East, the Orient, and the Near East. Popular costumes included Egyptian Princesses and Arabian Princes.

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But they also had very elaborate costumes of other figures:

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As early as the 1900s, commercially produced costumes made of paper were available. By the 1930s and 1940s, mass produced costumes could be found almost anywhere.

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Each decade was celebrated in different character costumes. The earliest costumes in the late 1800's were witches, the devil, ghosts, and the like. In the 1920's clowns were very popular. In the 1930s Mickey and Minnie Mouse were in vogue. Witches were popular once again in the 1940s. By the 1950's costumes moved away from the witches, the devil, and ghosts. Besides TV characters, Super Heroes, and the Disney Princesses were other popular costumes. Other popular choices included Elvis Presley (1969), The Beatles (1970), ET (1980).


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Dating back to the early 20th century there were Halloween parties known as Costume Parties or Masquerade Balls. However, costume parties date back to the 1500's, especially around the celebration of Carnival. Maybe the most elaborate of these were in Italy during the Renaissance of the 1600's.

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There was always the fear that the childrens’ costumes would catch on fire, given they were often close to lit Jack ‘O Lanterns. In 1953 Congress passed The Flammables Fabric Act. With that, all commercially manufactured and sold clothing had to pass safety standards. However, fire resistant fabric was not new. As far back as the 400’s people were trying to protect fabric from burning.


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Casper the Friendly Ghost  was popular in 1968.

One concern was the fear of fire in theaters. In 1632 there were attempts to make fire resistant fabrics using clay and plaster of Paris. Later alum and ammonium phosphate were tried. By the 1900’s chemists developed a flame resistant coating for fabrics using stannic oxide. In addition to children’s pajamas and bed sheets, Halloween costumes were treated with this method.