It’s December and the Second Air Division Memorial Library is gearing up for Christmas, with our new display of books about holiday traditions in the United States, craft ideas, fiction and biographies.
In celebration of the holiday season, this post will provide some historical background on American representations of Santa Claus, share favourite Christmas memories, and as always link our readers to book suggestions and upcoming events in and around Norwich.
The History of Santa Claus
Santa Claus, the name that is commonly used in the United States to refer to Father Christmas, has both historic and folkloric roots. The name itself comes from the Dutch pronunciation of Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas. Historically, the modern figure of Santa Claus as a benevolent figure, bringing gifts to all the children of the world on the night of Christmas Eve, is said to derive from Saint Nicholas, who was remembered for his penchant for secret gift giving. In American popular folklore, Santa Claus is usually portrayed as a chubby man wearing a red suit, sporting a long white beard carrying a large sack of toys. A popular urban legend suggests that this image was a result of a promotion gimmick by the American Coca Cola company. While it is true that the 1930’s Christmas ad campaign did feature Santa wearing a red and white suit and hat, reflecting the colours of the soda pop can, this depiction was probably more likely attributable to the popular 19th century poem by Clement Clarke Moore entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The derivation of Santa as another product of the Coca Cola bottling company can further be disputed by the fact that Puck Magazine had featured the current red and white clad figure of Santa Claus in the first few years of the 20th century, long before the Depression-era advertisements hit the newsstands.
A Christmas Memory from Julie:
Growing up in Colombia with a British mother and American father, our family Christmas celebrations had a decidedly international theme! Colombia has many Christmas traditions–one that my family still celebrates today is the Noche de las velitas, or Night of the Candles. This is a celebration that takes place on December 7th in which people decorate their houses, yards and driveways with lit candles and paper lanterns. The city streets, parks and riversides are also lit up in beautiful (and often elaborate!) lighting displays. Another tradition we still celebrate together is the pesebre, or nativity scene. Our pesebres wouldn’t just feature the nativity scene, but also the surrounding town and countryside with shepherds and animals. My family uses building blocks, tiny miniature clay figures, Christmas lights and sometimes even moss (of which there is plenty in Oregon!).
A Christmas Memory from Linda:
My husband comes from Mexico, and whereas my family is very small, he has nine brothers and sisters and twenty nieces and nephews, not to mention a plethora of aunts, uncles and cousins, some of whom I have yet to meet. After getting married, we decided to separate out our celebrations, spending Christmas Eve with his family, and Christmas Day with mine. Celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve was a new experience for me, but one that I look back on fondly. After arriving, and chatting with everyone at my mother-in-law’s house, we would sit down at a massive table to enjoy both traditional American dishes like turkey and ham, and Mexican fare such as tamales, and atole, a traditional hot drink made from masa (cornmeal). After eating as much as we could and more, we would gather around to play a game of ‘gag gifts’, wherein everyone would receive a number, and when called pick a wrapped present (the more odd or funny the better). Once the gift was unwrapped the person would be given the choice of keeping the one chosen, or switching gifts with another person in the room. The more outrageous the presents, and the more people who ‘switch’, the more fun the game becomes. The evening would end at midnight when the whole family would wish each other a MERRY Christmas, and then exchange the real Christmas gifts. Although this festivity would keep my children (not to mention myself!) up long past bedtime, it was well worth the sleepiness in order to share time, laughs and love.
Christmas Vocabulary America versus the UK
In the United States ‘tinsel’ refers to very thin strips of shiny material, usually silver that is strewn around the Christmas tree.
In the United States, wreath refers to the circular decorations usually hung on the front door of a house over the Christmas holidays. They are usually made of either pine tree branches or a simulation of the same.
Garland is a string of shiny material normally in either silver or gold that is used either to decorate a Christmas tree or a window.
Other differences in Christmas traditions include:
In the USA, Americans often make their own ‘tinsel’ by stringing popcorn onto a thin cord or string.
In the United States, Egg Nog is the most popular holiday drink (even over mulled wine). If you would like to try this Christmas concoction, here is a recipe:
225 ml heavy cream
675 ml whole-fat milk
15 g mixed spice
15 ml vanilla
5 eggs (separated)
133.33g caster sugar
Mix cream, milk spices and vanilla in a saucepan, bringing to a boil over low heat. Let stand. While mixture is cooling, using an electric mixer, combine egg yolks and sugar until peaks develop when mixer is removed. Then add the cool milk mixture until smooth. Refrigerate overnight. Before serving, beat the egg whites until peaks form and then fold gently into egg nog. Pour into a glass and sprinkle a dash of mixed spice over top. Serve and enjoy!
Suggested reads for Christmas from our collection
Join Father Christmas for some festive stories!
Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library
05 December 2015
11:00 – 14:30
Father Christmas will be in the Children’s Library at 11.00 and 2.00 to tell some wonderful seasonal stories. The event is free but ticketed – so please book your place in the children’s library or phone 01603 774750. In partnership with Norwich Global Village Christmas Market.
Let it Freeze! UEA Christmas Lectures for Children
Saturday 12 December 2015
10am – 12pm
Lecture theatre 1, UEA
Each year, the University of East Anglia presents a double-bill of Christmas lectures for children (and their parents!) to enjoy. A short interval will take place in the middle for refreshments. Free to attend, but booking is essential.