Many times, many ways

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 22, 2003

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos. Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright. Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep tonight. They know that Santa’s on his way. He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh and every mother’s child is gonna to spy to see if reindeer really know how to fly.

And I thought I knew everything there was to know about Christmas. For years, I was under the impression that the verses from the song listed above was entitled – &uot;Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.&uot; Gee, was I ever wrong on that one. The actual title is &uot;The Christmas Song.&uot; Further research revealed it was penned in 1944 by the legendary Mel Torme and made famous three years later by the equally legendary Nat King Cole.

That whole misconception about the song title got me wondering just exactly what I knew or didn’t know about Christmas traditions. Here are a few new things I learned thanks to a bit of research on the world wide web.

I had heard of the Twelfth Night celebration, but was unsure of exactly what is was until learning it’s held on January 5, the evening prior to the Feast of Epiphany, often referred to as Old Christmas, which commemorates the visit by the Three Wise Men to the manger in Bethlehem to view the baby Jesus (or the Christ child). As a sidebar to that fact, I guess all these nativity scenes of today (either live or with inanimate objects) are religiously incorrect if they show the Wise Men at the manger with the shepherds.

Hailed by many as the best known Christmas carol, &uot;Silent Night&uot; was the work of an Austrian priest. On Christmas Eve, 1818, Joseph Mohr was informed that the church organ was not functioning, therefore, there would be no musical accompaniment for the annual Christmas Day choir service. Mohr went to work composing a three line song that could be sung using guitar cords. The following day, &uot;Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht&uot; was heard for the first time. Today, the song is sung in more than 180 languages.

Did you know that the popular Christmas treat – the candy cane – is designed for two purposes? It’s shaped after a shepherd’s &uot;crook&uot; and also said to represent the letter &uot;J&uot; for Jesus.

The tradition of hanging up a Christmas stocking traces its roots to pure legend. The story goes that on one of his many trips to visit the good boys girls, Saint Nichols of Myra tossed a bag of money down a chimney. It landed in a stocking hung by the fireplace to dry. Thus begun the custom of the Christmas stocking. To take that custom a bit further, it’s traditional to first place a coin in the stocking, signifying a wish for prosperity.

Something as simple as ornamental tinsel that adorns a Christmas tree also has an interesting background. Its manufacturing process – one that was once a highly guarded secret due to its original use by the French to decorate the uniforms of their soldiers – is nothing more than silver-plated copper wire drawn through a series of spools until it becomes very fine. It is the rolled, flattened and cut into various lengths.

Another traditional Christmas tree ornament is an &uot;angel topper.&uot; It traces its roots back to Germany where paper-mache or wax angels were suspended on a wire above the tree. The heat from the (real) candles on the tree would rise, causing the angels to revolve.

There are plenty other customs and traditions that surround this joyful time of the year, too many to list in this tiny space. But, finishing what I started – &uot;And so I’m offering this simple phrase for kids from one to ninety-two. Although it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.&uot;