Christmas is ev­ery­where

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­bor­ough Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­trylife.co.uk

When you stop to examine them, the tra­di­tions of Christmas are re­mark­ably in­ter­na­tional. At the close of a year in which the con­tri­bu­tions and mer­its of in­di­vid­ual na­tions have come into sharp po­lit­i­cal fo­cus, how de­light­ful it is to cel­e­brate a feast that has demon­stra­bly been im­proved by such a di­ver­sity of peo­ple for the en­joy­ment of any­one who will en­ter into its joy­ful spirit.

Take the Ad­vent-cal­en­dar cover of this week’s bumper is­sue. Be­hind each door, you will dis­cover a Vic­to­rian Christmas card, fea­tur­ing rosy-cheeked chil­dren, snow­men or mistle­toe. The idea comes from late-19th­cen­tury Ger­many, where the young Ger­hard Lang was en­tranced by the sweets his mother stuck on a piece of card­board, each de­li­cious morsel eaten bring­ing him a day closer to the won­der of Christmas. In 1908, he pub­lished what may have been the first pa­per Ad­vent cal­en­dar, a com­mer­cial yet still de­light­ful adap­ta­tion of the North euro­pean tra­di­tion of light­ing a can­dle for each day of prepa­ra­tion for re­mem­ber­ing the an­niver­sary of Christ’s birth.

In­ter­na­tional cus­toms and con­tri­bu­tions abound in the ap­proach to Christmas. St Fran­cis of As­sisi is sup­posed to have or­gan­ised the first Na­tiv­ity scene, in Italy in 1223, and, although ev­ery­one knows that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole with a herd of rein­deer, St Ni­cholas was ac­tu­ally a 4th-cen­tury monk from Asia Mi­nor (Tur­key) and, over the years, chil­dren all over europe be­gan leav­ing out a stock­ing—or shoe or clog—for him to fill with presents.

Many of our favourite car­ols have sur­pris­ing origins, too. The Ger­man com­poser Men­delssohn wrote the tune for Hark! The Her­ald An­gels Sing—in fact, he didn’t in­tend it to be re­li­gious and died be­fore it be­came a carol—the words to Once in Royal David’s City were writ­ten by an Ir­ish- woman and cler­gy­man’s wife, Ce­cil Frances Alexan­der, and Si­lent Night was cre­ated by a priest and a school­mas­ter in Aus­tria.

Prince Al­bert, the orig­i­na­tor of so many good things, brought to us from Ger­many the idea of dec­o­rat­ing the Christmas tree. In an­other happy twist, the nation’s tree on Trafal­gar Square ac­tu­ally comes each year from Nor­way. The tur­key that dig­ni­fies our Christmas tables ori­gin-ally comes from Amer­ica. So too, prob­a­bly, does the razzmatazz of over-the-top Christmas light­ing dis­plays, although, nowa­days, these il­lu­mi­na­tions are al­most cer­tainly made in China.

Of course, it is in the cast of Christmas that we see the most in­ter­na­tional line-up of all, from the fig­ure of Good King Wences­laus—the benev­o­lent 10th-cen­tury Duke of Bo­hemia—to Three Wise Men, who came from heaven knows where.

how ap­pro­pri­ate, there­fore, that the fig­ure at the heart of all of this was him­self dis­placed—an im­pov­er­ished Nazarene up­rooted with his fam­ily to be born in Beth­le­hem. Now, that city is in Pales­tine, Nazareth is in Is­rael (Judea) and the whole fam­ily fled to egypt. In ev­ery sense, Christmas tran­scends na­tion­al­ity.

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