Christmas Facts of Interest

La Flor De Noche Buena

Its Latin name is Euphorbia Pulcherrima. Its Mexican monikers include the ancient Nahuatl term Cuitlaxochitl (star flower), along with Catarina (Catherine), Flor de Pastor (Shepherd's Flower) and, most commonly, Flor de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Flower).

In the English-speaking world this illustrious holiday bloom is called the Poinsettia, named after Dr. Joel R. Poinsett, a U.S. diplomat who served as Minister to Mexico in the 1820's. Like many newcomers to Mexico, he was no doubt enthralled by the sight of the gargantuan shrubs covered in mid-winter with brilliant vermilion blossoms. After experimenting with various methods of propagation, he returned home to Charleston, South Carolina with enough cuttings to begin the cultivation of these stunning plants in northern climes.

The bright petals of the poinsettia are not really flowers, but bracts or leaves that surround the true blossom, a rather inconspicuous cluster of yellow florets. The bracts may be solid creamy white, salmon pink or scarlet, variegated or double blooms.

Among pre-Hispanic tribes of ancient Mexico, the Cuitlaxochitl was more than just a pretty face. The blood-red bracts were often placed on the chests of those suffering afflictions of the heart to help stimulate circulation. They were sometimes crushed to a pulp to be used as a poultice for the treatment of skin infections.

A note of good cheer to those more inclined to be couch potatoes than gardeners: Modern-day Mexicans enjoy still another form of Noche Buena-- a rich, dark, bock-like beer distributed only during the holiday season.

Good King Wenceslas

One of the best-loved Christmas Carols is the 129-year-old carol: Good King Wenceslas.  In 1853, John Mason Neale chose Wenceslas as the subject for a children’s song to exemplify generosity.  It quickly became a Christmas favorite, even though its words clearly indicate that Wenceslas ‘looked out’ on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas.  So Good King Wenceslas is actually a Boxing Day carol!  For a tune, Neale picked up a spring carol, originally sung with the Latin text ‘Tempus adest floridum’ or ‘Spring has unwrapped her flowers’.  This original spring tune was first published in 1582 in a collection of Swedish church and school songs.

Who was King Wenceslas anyway?  Wenceslas was the Duke of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) who was murdered in 929 AD by his wicked younger brother, Boleslav.  As the song indicates, he was a good, honest, and strongly principled man.  The song expresses his high moral character in describing King Wenceslas braving a fierce storm in order to help feed a poor neighbor.  Wenceslas believed that his Christian faith needed to be put into action in practical ways.  Wenceslas was brought up with a strong Christian faith by his grandmother St. Ludmila. Wenceslas’ own mother Drahomira, however, joined forces with an anti-Christian group that murdered Wenceslas’ grandmother, and seized power in Bohemia.  Two years later in 922 AD, the evil Drahomira was deposed, and Good King Wenceslas became the ruler.  He became Bohemia’s most famous martyr and patron saint.  His picture appeared on Bohemian coins, and the Crown of Wenceslas became the symbol of Czech independence the main square in Prague in named for him.

Advent and Other Customs

The Advent tradition is a religious celebration in preparation for the arrival (or "advent") of the Christ Child (das Christkind) on his "official" birthday, the 25th day of December. The Advent season and its celebration have changed over the years from a more serious, somber character (including giving up things, as for Lent) to one of a more joyous nature - including such treats as chocolate-filled Advent calendars. The four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve are a happy time -- at least for those not too caught up in the increasingly hectic and commercial aspects of this time of the year.

Today in German Europe many families set up an Advent wreath, or Adventskranz on the first Advent Sunday (the fourth before Christmas) to start off the Advent season. The picture on the left shows a typical evergreen Advent wreath with its four candles, one for each week of Advent. Traditional families gather around the wreath on each Advent Sunday to light the next candle and sing Christmas carols. This was even more important in the past, when the Christmas tree was usually reserved for a special unveiling only on Christmas Eve. Until then, the Advent wreath provided the evergreen look and aroma in the house.

The Advent or Christmas calendar began as a plain card with paper backing. On the face were 24 windows, that when opened revealed various Christmas symbols and scenes. These windows or small doors were to be opened, one each day, over the 24 days leading up to Heiligabend or Christmas Eve. The largest window is still reserved for December 24th and usually offers a view of the Nativity.

Today the most popular version of this calendar is the candy-filled variety. Instead of mere pictures, the windows open to reveal pieces of chocolate shaped to resemble stars, fir trees, and other Christmas symbols.

Of course, there are many other Germanic Christmas contributions. For instance, it is a real treat to wander through Germany's annual Christmas markets -- the most famous being Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt -- to see, taste, and smell all the Christmas goodies, from Lebkuchen (gingerbread) to Stollen (fruit bread). Marzipan, made with almonds and sugar, is also a German treat. And the aroma of Glühwein ("glow wine") will warm you up even before you actually drink this German version of hot mulled wine.

Our Holiday Special Issue continues with these offerings:
Holidays Around The World for 2004 | Holiday Recipes | Festivals and Displays
Christmas Facts | Feliz Navidad (Mexican Christmas)
Techno Presents: Camcorders | Day After Christmas (rhyme)
Christmas Cookies (Dark Humor) | Solitary Yule Ritual (Wicca)

From last year (2003):
World Holidays November-December 2003 - Winter Festivals and Lighting Displays 2003 - Saying Merry Christmas In Many Languages - Origin Of December 25th As Christmas Day
Story of the Candy Cane - Christmas in The USA - Treats To Leave For Santa
Fable of St. Nick - Poetry: Christmas Recalled - Poetry: Whispers The Wind
Holiday Traditions Revisited - Movies: Santa Films - Gift Ideas for Computer Owners
Picture Perfect Gift Ideas - Religion: Luke's Christmas Story From The Bible
Recipe: Cooking A Turkey Recipe: Turkey Teriyaki - Movavian Love-Feast Buns
SUFGANIYOT - A Solitary Wicca Yule Ritual - Why Are There Christmas Lights? -

From 2002:
Holiday Festivals, Displays and Events - Bah Humbug! - Gift Ideas Under $10
Some Unique Mail Order Gifts - Staying In The Holiday Spirit
Holidays Around the World

From 2001:
Holiday Festivals, Displays and Events - Diwali - India's Festival Of Lights
Holidays Around the World - How Christmas Is Celebrated In Many Countries
The Origin of Some Christmas Traditions - Picking and Trimming a Christmas Tree
Shipping Your Holiday Gifts - Oh Ye Disbelievers: The Fable of Saint Nick - Gifts She'll Love
Techno Gifts - CD Musical Stocking Stuffers from Then to Now - Every pick's a hit!
Recipe: Christmas Cake - Craft: Wreaths - Craft: Stockings



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