MISTLETOE

Mistletoe is a plant that grows on willow and apple trees.  The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids.  It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits.  It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.

When the first Christians came to Western Europe, some tried to ban the use of Mistletoe as a decoration in Churches, but many still continued to use it!  York Minster Church in the UK used to hold a special Mistletoe Service in the winter, where wrong doers in the city of York could come and be pardoned.

The custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from England.  The original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of Mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing!

The name mistletoe comes from two Anglo Saxon words ‘Mistel’ (which means dung) and ‘tan’ (which means) twig or stick! So you could translate Mistletoe as ‘poo on a stick’!!! Not exactly romantic is it!

CANDY CANES

The Christmas Candy Cane originated in Germany about 250 years ago. They started as straight white sugar sticks.

A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service.  So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet!  As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that were with baby Jesus, at his birth.  However, the earliest records of ‘candy canes’ comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn’t true!

Sometime around 1900 the red stripes were added and they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.

Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes.  The ‘J’ can also mean Jesus.  The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross.  The peppermint flavor can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.

Around 1920, Bob McCormack, from Georgia, started making canes for his friends and family. They became more and more popular and he started his own business called Bob’s Candies.  Bob McCormack’s brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller, who was a Catholic priest, invented the Keller Machine that made turning straight candy sticks into curved candy canes automatic!  In 2005, Bob’s Candies was bought by Farley and Sathers but they still make candy canes!

POINSETTIAS

Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as ‘Taxco del Alarcon’ where they flower during the winter.  The ancient Aztecs called them ‘cuetlaxochitl’.  The Aztecs had many uses for them including using the flowers (actually special types of leaves known as bracts rather than being flowers) to make a purple dye for clothes and cosmetics and the milky white sap was made into a medicine to treat fever.

The poinsettia was made widely known because of a man called Joel Roberts Poinsett (that’s why we call them Poinsettia!).  He was the first Ambassador from the USA to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett had some greenhouses on his plantations in South Carolina, and while visiting the Taco area in 1828, he became very interested in the plants.  He immediately sent some of the plants back to South Carolina, where he began growing the plants and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.

One of the friends he sent plants to was John Barroom of Philadelphia, who gave the plant to his friend, Robert Buist, a plants-man from Pennsylvania.  Robert Buist was probably the first person to have sold the poinsettias under their botanical, or latin name, name ‘Euphorbia pulcherrima’.  It is thought that they became known as Poinsettia in the mid 1830’s when people found out who had first brought them to America from Mexico.

There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettia’s and Christmas come together, it goes like this:

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services.  As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.
‘Pepita’, he said “I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy.”

Pepita didn’t know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a a small bouquet.  She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus.  As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said.  She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle.  From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus.  The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ.  The white leaves represent his purity.

So, on this Christmas Eve, I wish all my friends and family a very Merry Christmas and a very happy and joy filled New Year.  Merry Christmas…everyone!

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