tradition

Mistletoe traditions for Christmas

“I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe last night”

Santa standing under some mistletoe

I saw Santa under the mistletoe in early December – but I didn’t get a kiss!

Yes Mummy kissed Santa, but the mistletoe connection to kissing is more than just a lyric in a 1950s song!

What is the mistletoe tradition anyway?

The Christmas tradition for mistletoe is that if you stand under some mistletoe, you have to kiss anyone standing there with you or near you.

One version of the tradition states men can only kiss the cheek of a woman met under the mistletoe. Then he must remove one berry from the bunch. Once there are no berries left, the mistletoe no longer signifies getting a kiss!

Of course, you can say no to a kiss – or work hard at avoiding standing under the mistletoe! However, the tradition states it is bad luck to refuse a (suitably sedate) kiss.

While it may look funny, especially in any romantic comedy movies, the tradition really only applies to mistletoe hung in a doorway or archway – so anyone carrying it around or having it stuck on their hat can’t expect lots of kisses!

What is mistletoe?

Collection of photos of the mistletoe parasite

Let’s start by saying that mistletoe is not the same as holly, although people do get them confused as both have an association with Christmas celebrations. Even if you Google mistletoe you see lots of images of red-berried holly!

So mistletoe is an evergreen plant with white berries that grows on the trunks of other trees – in other words, it is a parasite. It is spread by birds eating the berries and leaving the sticky residue on trees they land on.

It is commonly found on apple, lime, hawthorn, linden, willow and poplar trees in Europe, and less commonly on Oak trees. There are many species of mistletoe, including a number that grow in Australia (but not in Tasmania interestingly!)

Mistletoe uses the host tree for water and nutrients but photosynthesises to produce its own energy – not all parasitic plants do this.

While the berries have been used medicinally for centuries, it is important to know that Mistletoe stems and leaves are toxic. Eating mistletoe can lead to blurred vision, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and drowsiness, so be very careful to keep it out of reach of children and pets.

 

How has mistletoe been linked with Christmas?

Mistletoe has been linked to Norse  mythology (a symbol of love and friendship), Celtic mythology, ancient Druids (in a fertility ritual) and was a pagan holy plant. In medieval times, it was used to ward off bad spirits during December (thus the Christmas connection now) and burnt afterwards.

As mistletoe is green and healthy during winter when the host tree would be bare and dead-looking, it is perhaps not so surprising that people were in awe of it and saw it as somehow mystical and powerful.

Kissing under mistletoe may have been around since the celebrations of Saturnalia (a Roman pagan ritual), but certainly since the eighteenth century. It was probably a bigger attraction in times when touching and kissing while you were single was frowned upon.

 

* Images courtesy of Love Santa, Llez, Max Pixel and Loadmaster

Make Santa letters a family tradition

Boy writing letter to SantaWriting letters to Santa is a long standing tradition in many places around the world.

It is a lot of fun and has many benefits for children, but it can also be a family event that is lots of fun.

Writing letters as a family

So how can you make it a family activity?

Basically, you just have to make the time to sit down together and write letters to Santa. But to get you moving, here are a few tips…

  1. make a date and time to do this so it will happen. if you make a date like ‘the first Saturday in December’ or ‘the third Friday in November’ it is easier to become a tradition that will last for years with little effort.
  2. get things set up first – have paper, pencils, textas, crayons and even special things like glitter and stickers. Spread them out on a table, turn on some Christmas or other loved music, and maybe have a yummy snack on hand so the letter writing time can be truly dedicated to being creative.
  3. let everyone ‘write’ their own letter. For very young children, you may write the actual words, but let them draw and write on the letter as well, and make sure they tell you what to write rather than deciding what to write for them.
  4. have a rule that nobody has to share their letter as they write, although encouraging sharing the finished letters can lead to some lovely times together. If someone (usually an older child) wants to keep secrets, maybe they can just read out part of what they have written instead.
  5. let everyone be creative – kids can draw pictures and decorate the letter, anyone can use different coloured pens/pencils for each sentence or even each word, and so on. This is for Santa, not a bank manager or lawyer, so make the letter beautiful!
  6. remember to include something nice for Santa in the letter, it shouldn’t just be a list of gifts you want
  7. have everyone write a letter, not just the kids. Parents can have fun, too, and it may help tip kids towards gifts you want instead of another pair of socks!
Great tips on making writing Santa letters as a family activityClick To Tweet

Lessons to be learned

Smiling little girl writing a letter to Santa

Writing to Santa makes children happy! Writing with family is even better.

Writing Santa letters together has a number of advantages, including kids learning some useful lessons such as

  1. how to structure a letter!
  2. why it is nice to write letters and how people enjoy receiving letters. And in modern times, a letter takes more effort than an email or text so receiving a letter is even more valuable so it is a social gift to be able to write letters.
  3. practice writing, spelling and using grammar/punctuation.
  4. thinking about other members of the family – want they may want, what they think is important to tell Santa, and how they use their creativity
  5. using good manners (eg “Santa can I please have…” rather than “I want …”)
  6. Christmas and Santa – it is a great time to chat about what these things are and how your family celebrates them, and to answer any questions your children may have at that time of year.
  7. how to address and envelope and mail it – unless you leave the letters under the tree or in stockings instead of course!
  8. how to relax, have fun and enjoy tradition and magical moments. Remember the kids are given facts and goals all year so it is nice to have some magical and imaginative time, too (as stated by Michael Grose).
  9. having traditions like this help connect the family and set some rhythms that give kids certainty and security over time.

 

Has your family (present or in your childhood) ever written Santa letters together? Are they special memories?

Melbourne’s Myer windows

Growing up in Melbourne means visiting the Myer windows for Christmas.

Collage of Myer windows, Christmas 2015

A long standing tradition

As I mentioned last week, this is the 60th year that Myer has been providing this festive delight to Melbournians.

Like many Melbournians, I remember heading into the city (and going by train just added to the excitement!) to view the windows as a child and again with my friends as a teenager. Now, I get to take my children in and share the experience with them.

All but a few years had moving parts to the displays, and all years have a theme linking the six windows.

60 years

To celebrate the fact that the Myer windows are 60 years old, one of this year’s windows was very special. It showed the back of a typical scene so we can see the mechanism allowing for movement.

On either side of that scene was a bookshelf containing items/characters from old window themes. That is one window I wish I had been able to spend more time at, but it went quickly and was of less interest to my kids.

2015 – the little dog story

Little dog sitting in front of a gate in Myer windowSo this year, the theme behind the Myer Christmas windows is the book Little dog and the Christmas wish by Corinne Fenton.

Each window has a little dog at the front of the window looking into the scene of the story. The story can be heard and read as you move along the series.

As the little dog move around the suburbs and city of Melbourne, the various scenes show Melbourne from the 50s.

Changes over time

When we visited the windows last week I noticed a few changes from when I was younger.

  • there are structured queues so everyone gets a turn and starts at one end of the windows – and the doorways into Myer are kept free for shoppers! I remember crowds of people in front of each window, and you just saw them as you could.
  • the displays are behind a curtain. The curtain goes up, the story and movement starts, then the curtain goes down again to signal it’s time to move onto the next scene. There’s nothing to really stop you watching a particular scene more than once, but it is a good way to keep things moving smoothly. The curtains themselves show a design specifically done by Robin Cowcher, the book’s illustrator.
2015 Myer windows with 60th sign and little dog

The Little dog looking at the closed screen

A Christmas Movie With a Message

    watching TV at Christmas time with bowls of foodWith all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, sometimes it’s hard to find a moment or two to sit down, let alone time to relax. Watching anything on tv sometimes needs to be scheduled into our holiday to do list, much less the time for a favorite holiday show or movie. Frosty, Charlie Brown, Rudolph just to name a few, all filled our children with magic, delight and reinforced that Santa would be coming to town soon. They all had their favorite and if you were lucky they would not air at the same time, because everyone wanted to see their favorite Christmas show.

As a child I also had a favourite, but I also remember one particular movie that aired time and time again. No matter the channel or time you were sure to see it airing. I remembering thinking to myself, a Christmas movie with old people, in black and white and with no Santa or reindeer in sight. How could this be a Christmas movie? Never giving it a second thought or chance, I turned the channel on to what I called a Christmas show, one with lights that flash, one with Santas and elves and one with snowmen being decorated.

Seeing the ultimate Christmas move for the first time

That all changed when I met my husband. Our first Christmas together was magic, and with one small suggestion a new Christmas memory and tradition was born.

Christmas was just a few days away, and my husband and I were out running last minute errands. We stopped at the local video store, being tired I decided to wait as he choose the latest release – or at least I thought he was. We get home put away our packages and got comfy to settle down to watch the movie.  

I was surprised by the black and white picture that panned into view; ‘maybe it’s one of those movies that start black and white and flash forward turning into color,’ I thought. Then suddenly there it was, the movie I never paid attention to, the movie with old people and the movie with no Santa , It’s A  Wonderful Life  flashed before my eyes. Complaining a little , but finally caving in, I gave it a try.
             
             What a truly wonderful movie. Life not always being fair, pulling together when times are tough, giving, loving and being a family. The message is priceless.

people helping eahc other, elves making gifts and Santa giving a present

Helping and giving are the real Christmas message

I honestly sat completely involved in every twist and turn George Bailey had to endure to find the true meaning of not only Christmas but life. As the credits rolled up on the tv screen I thanked my husband, for not only choosing this movie  but for urging me to watch it.

The Christmas message

 Since that first Christmas, every Christmas no matter what we have on our to do list, a few days before Christmas we get all comfy, settle down and snuggle up to watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Now, I’m the first person to say yes, a movie with old people, yes a black and white movie, yes a movie without Santas and reindeer is absolutely a Christmas movie, it isn’t about the images that represents Christmas , it’s all about the message.

Celebrating Baby’s first Christmas

Baby in Santa suit for Christmas

Not every baby dresses as Santa for Christmas, but you can mark their first Christmas as something special in various ways…

Does your family do something special or different when there is a new baby experiencing Christmas for the first time?

It has become commonplace for retailers to offer stockings and baubles with ‘baby’s first Christmas’ on them, but there are many other ways to make the first Christmas special for the new parents and everyone’s memories.

Maybe start a family tradition of Christmas photos (thanks for the idea Bronwyn) or the youngest person gets the first gift. Or perhaps rethink the venue and format of your Christmas celebrations to be more baby and child friendly. Get everyone to sign a Christmas card or scrapbook page (like a 21st key or wedding guest book) or record a video message.

So, what does your family do for first Christmases? Or is another Christmas experience considered more important in your family?

Why do we have Christmas wreaths?

Recently, I was asked why we hang wreaths at Christmas time so here is some of the history and tradition behind wreaths…

  • wreaths symbolise the celebration and happiness of Christmas
  • Advent wreaths for Christians (particularly Catholics) are traditionally made of evergreen branches around four candles and represent everlasting life
  • ancient Persians had wreaths as a symbol of importance and success – they usually wore the wreaths on their heads
  • wreaths were a symbol of hope for spring when hung in pre-Christian Eastern Europe (especially Germany) – the green showed new life and candles gave light in dark months
  • Greeks used laurel wreaths for thir Olympic champions in 776BC or so. Some say one athlete hung his wreath on the wall as a memento and that is where hanging wreaths began
  • Romans gave wreaths to their military heroes and leaders
  • the circular shape would be linked with wreaths for heads but also represents the cycle of life (no beginning or end)
  • Americans in the 19th century used wreaths to honour deceased loved ones at Christmas – initially at the cemetery, the wreaths were brought home and hung

Now many people just hang wreaths because it is a Christmas tradition, or because they have a beautiful wreath they want to display (including wreaths made by chidlren or friends.)

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is celebrated differently between families; each family having different rituals and traditions that are passed down over the years.

Some people open presents on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas Day and others after Christmas.Little girl in a Santa hat opening a Christmas gift

And others dance around their tree and sing songs as part of their celebrations.

My family doesn’t even have a tree at Christmas, we decorate the fireplace and chimney!

Though it is for the same thing, each family celebrates this day (well month really) in slightly different ways.

I’m curious as to what other people do – are we the only ones without a tree?

* Image courtesy of 123rf
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