Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Christmas Decorations


Each day from now until Christmas day one article will be devoted to a subject connected with Christmas. Today we take a look at Christmas decorations.

The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. From pre-Christian times, evergreen plants had been brought indoors throughout the Roman Empire. Such customs were eventually adapted for Christian usage. In the fifteenth century it is recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holly, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green". The heart shaped leaves of ivy were said to symbolise the coming to earth of Jesus, while holly was seen as protection against pagans and witches, its thorns and red berries held to represent the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus at the crucifixion. Nativity scenes are known from 10th century Rome, and were popularised by Saint Francis of Assisi from 1223, quickly spreading across Europe. Many different types of decorations developed across the Christian world, dependant on local tradition and available resources. The first commercially produced decorations appeared in Germany in the 1860s, inspired by the paper chains made by children.
The Christmas
tree is often explained as a Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. The English language phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835 and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century. From Germany the custom was introduced to Britain, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria, and by 1841 the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain. By the 1870s, putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America. Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.
Since the 19th century, the poinsettia
, a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage.
In Australia, North
and South America, and Europe, it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures. Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well. Christmas banners may be hung from street lights and Christmas trees placed in the town square.
In the Western world
, rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels.
In many countries a representation of the Nativity Scene
is very popular, and people are encouraged to compete and create most original or realistic ones. Within some families, the pieces used to make the representation are considered a valuable family heirloom. Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5. The traditional colors of Christmas are pine green (evergreen), snow white, and heart red.

Looking Back

On this day in 1957, The General Post Office started its annual campaign urging members of the public to post their Christmas cards early to ensure they arrive on time.
At a news conference today the Postmaster General, Ernest Marples, (pictured right) produced some useful advice on present packing and card sending and advised people to "Post early."
He told journalists of his own difficulties wrapping parcels with string that broke in his hands. He said that wrapping fell apart on 13,000 parcels at Mount Pleasant sorting office in London last year and asked people to pack carefully with strong string.
He also asked people to ensure their handwriting was clear and legible and to print the names of towns in block capitals.
He recollected a day he accompanied a Liverpool postman on his rounds as he puzzled over a letter which had writing "as intensely undecipherable as my own".
Four times more post
Mr Marples also explained this year was a particular problem as Christmas falls on a Wednesday.
This means most people will expect letters posted on the Monday before to arrive on time. But he urged us to "Post early" and send cards "prior to the preceding weekend" before Christmas Day.
This will alleviate the massive workload on the Post Office which is bracing itself for a fourfold increase on the usual amount of articles it handles - about 800 million cards, letters and parcels over the Christmas period.
It will be spending £4m on extra staff and lorries to deal with the festive rush of letters.
Tomorrow is the last day for posting cards to Europe and 12 December is the last date for sending letters to Europe, except to certain parts of Norway.

The General Post Office stopped delivering letters on Christmas Day in 1960 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in 1965 in Scotland.
The GPO ceased to be a government department on 1 October 1969 and was nationalised as a public corporation, a process pushed forward by the then Postmaster General Anthony Wedgwood Benn.
It was also split into two divisions - postal and telecommunications.
British Telecom was created in 1980 and severed its links with the Post Office in 1981.
The Post Office is now divided into Royal Mail, Parcelforce and Post Office Counters plc.
Over Christmas 2002, Royal Mail delivered 2.1 billion cards, letters and parcels to 27 million addresses.
An estimated 20,000 extra staff were recruited to help the regular workforce of 143,000 postmen and postwomen.

What Do Snowmen Do In The Summer?


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Glorious Insults

His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.
Mae West

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.
Oscar Wilde
He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than illumination.
Andrew Lang
He has Van Gogh's ear for music.
Billy Wilder
I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.
Groucho Marx

Animal Crackers