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November 01, 2015

The holiday season is almost upon us.  This is the time of year for family celebrations, wide eyed eager children anxiously awaiting holiday festivities and lots of annual family traditions.  A tradition, according to Dictionary.com, is the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs,information, etc. from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.  But did you ever stop to think about why we do some of the things that most of us do during the holiday season?  Where did they begin or who started them?  Here are just a few of them to help with some of the explanations that you may find interesting.

Christmas trees have always been lit whether by tiny candles attached to branches by pins or melted wax or by candle holders to reduce the danger of open flames.  To be more on the safe side, small lanterns and glass balls which held candles soon became available to the ones who could afford them.  The first Christmas lights that resemble what many of us use on our trees today were first used in 1882 by a man named Edward Johnson.  He wound 80 red, white, and blue hand wired bulbs together around his family's Christmas tree.  But it wasn't until 1895 when President Grover Cleveland first used electric lights on the tree in the White House that interest in decorating in this way began to take flight.  In 1917, Albert Sadacca made Christmas tree lights widely available to the public by creating strings of safe and affordable lights in his family's business.  Today we all can enjoy colored or white lights on our trees because of this!

Sending Christmas cards is something that I wish I did.  I have great intentions but just never follow through.  In 1843 Sir Henry Cole, a government worker, became interested in the new "Public Post Office" and wondered how it could be used more by everyday people.  With his friend, John Horsley who was an artist, the first Christmas card was designed and 1,000 copies were printed and sold for one schilling each (that would be 8 cents each today).  The card was made up of three panels - the two outside panels depicted people caring for the poor while on the middle panel was a family having Christmas dinner.  As time went on cards began to have pictures of the Nativity scene, robins, and various snow scenes.  Christmas cards made their debut in the US in the late 1840s and were so expensive that most people could not afford them.  It wasn't until 1875 that Louis Prang, a printer originally from Germany, began mass producing more affordable cards.  Hallmark Cards began in 1915 by John C. Hall and two of his brothers and home-made cards became popular between 1910 and 1920, both of which are still popular today.

Most people have enjoyed, at one time or another, a candy cane as a holiday sweet treat.  Candy canes did not start out looking as we know them today.  The first candy cane was simply a long lasting straight stick of white sugar candy.  In the mid 1700s a German choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral bent the straight candy at the tip so that the candy resembled a shepherd's crook.  He gave them to children attending Christmas pageants that displayed good behavior and the new candy shape quickly caught on.  It is unclear when the red stripes appeared but as the canes began being produced in different flavors the stripes were added to help distinguish between the different flavors.  In 1920, a Lieutenant from Georgia wanted to give candy canes as gifts but was concerned about them becoming stale.  So he developed the cellophane wrapper to help keep the candy fresh.

A tradition that may not be as popular and may even sound a tad strange is the tradition of the Christmas pickle.  In the 1880s Woolworth stores started selling glass ornaments imported from Germany.  Most of these ornaments were in the shapes of fruits and vegetables - pickles being among them.  It was claimed, but a total myth, that it was a German custom to hang a pickle ornament as the last ornament on the tree.  The first child able to find the pickle would receive an extra present.  There are a few other "stories" about the Christmas pickle, but they are just as far-fetched.  My great aunt had a pickle ornament on her tree and my family always had a great time trying to find it.  My mother, my sister, and I each have a pickle ornament on our trees that brings fond memories every year.

Traditions are different and unique to each and every family.  My great aunt, the one with the Christmas pickle, always gave me a Christmas ornament when I was growing up.  To be honest even though each one was unique and hand-picked especially for me in mind, I was slightly disappointed when I would open her gift and not find a "toy" of some kind.  "Santa Ross" would do the same by putting an ornament in each of our stockings every year.  However, as I got older and especially when I got married, I appreciated each and every ornament that I had received growing up as I was able to decorate my own Christmas tree in my very own house and see all the love that had been passed down to me through the years.  My family also began eating Christmas Eve dinner at my sister's house with a few friends about twelve years ago and we continue to look forward to that and to just being together.  I think Nicholas Sparks said it best -"Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary simply by doing them with the right people".  Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy your own family traditions!

Fran Snead

"At the heart of every family tradition is a meaningful experience." - Author Unknown










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