Something Fishy

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Old column related family traditions, early Christmas history

        (Written in 2005, and lifted  from my files...still may be interesting to some, especially  related to Christmas history.)

       Hey, I'm a Christmas junkie. I love the music, the food, the giving of gifts, and the fact we celebrate Christ’s birth. 
As soon as Thanksgiving hits, I start scanning the car radio for Christmas music, and this year I have found several stations that are playing the music 24/7. One station is in Louisville (106.9) and the other in Santa Claus, In (103.3).
I enjoy the Christmas music, especially the old carols and tunes. It seems there haven’t been many new good Christmas songs added to the old favorites. I also enjoy the old Christmas TV shows, and some of the new ones are enjoyable too.
Christmas has always been an important celebration with the Junker family. In the past, it included a trip to church on Christmas eve. The kids of the church always put on the special program. 
After the service, the entire clan gathered at Grandma Junker’s house. There was chili and oyster stew, plus sandwiches and Christmas cookies. Santa came and we kids all received a toy. We had to wait until later to receive the gifts he left for us at our individual homes.
The next day after we had our individual Christmas celebrations at home, we gathered again at Grandma’s house for a big family dinner--lots of really good stuff to eat, especially desserts.
This year, the family Christmas celebration came early. As kids get married and have their own kids, and each family has two sets of in-laws, it is difficult to get everyone together as we did in the past. However this year we had a great gathering and wonderful dinner a week early. It wasn't quite the same, but still wonderful.
In this country, most people celebrate Christmas related to our religious holiday; however thinking about the holiday caused me to do a bit of research. I knew that many of our symbols originally were pagan symbols, but was surprised that a winter celebration goes back much further than the birth of Jesus.
Many Europeans rejoiced during the winter solstice when they believed the worst of the winter weather was behind them. They would look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
The Norse in Scandinavia celebrated the Yule season starting Dec. 21, which is the winter solstice, through the month of January. The men of families would bring home large logs in recognition of the return of the sun. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could be as long as 12 days.
The Norse were delighted to see sparks fly. It seems they thought every spark represented a pig or cow that would be born during the next year.
For most Europeans, it was probably the best time of the year to celebrate and feast. Most of them had slaughtered most of their cattle, rather than feed them through the winter, so there was plenty of fresh meat on hand. Also, it was time that most wine had been fermented and was ready for drinking.
Also occurring this time of year is Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. This year for the first time since 1959, Hanukkah and Christmas overlap as Hanukkah starts at sundown, Dec. 25..
Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for dedication, is an eight-day festival celebrating a victory for religious freedom in about 165 B.C. and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
According to people of Jewish faith, During that rededication, there was only enough oil to light the temple for a day but, miraculously, it burned for eight days. That was enough time to prepare more oil for the menorah. To symbolize that miracle, an additional menorah candle is lighted each night. Because it is often near Christmas, Hanukkah has become a time for gift giving. 
While the early Europeans had their reasons for celebrating this time of the year, I prefer ours.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and to my Jewish friends, happy Hanukkah.

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