Bah, humbug! That phrase has certainly been heard often enough through the years. Charles Dickens’ character of Ebenezer Scrooge is a Christmas icon. But his attitude toward Christmas is not so far off for the first 40 years of the nineteenth century. Only after Marissa’s beloved Queen Victoria had been on the throne for a while did Christmas begin to take on the glow we know today.
But it wasn’t all tedious and staid. Those who liked to celebrate brought in evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, hawthorn, laurel, bay, and a pale white Christmas rose to decorate their homes. Mistletoe was less common, because it grew mostly in the western and southwestern parts of England and was mostly used among the lower classes. Like today, it was hung in doorways and watched by young gentlemen in hopes of catching a pretty girl to kiss. In some places, it was the custom to pick a berry for each kiss. When all the berries were gone, no more kisses could be taken.
Ah, but far more fun was the kissing bough, a hanging structure made from evergreens, apples, paper flowers, and dolls representing Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, with wire and bright ribbon holding it all together. Like the mistletoe, the bough was hung from a doorway or chandelier. And its kisses didn’t have an expiration date.
Probably my favorite custom, though, involves the Glastonbury Thorn. This hawthorn
tree is said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave his tomb for the disciples to lay Jesus’ body after the Crucifixion. Legend has it that Joseph came to convert the Britains, landing at the Isle of Avalon and climbing Wearyall Hill to what is now Glastonbury Abbey. There he planted his staff, which budded and bloomed. Ever after, the Glastonbury Thorn miraculously budded on Christmas Eve and bloomed on Christmas Day, unlike other trees that huddle in winter’s gloom. People took slips from the famous tree and planted them elsewhere, where they took on the same amazing aspect as their parent. By 1850, there were 11 such thorns in England, and people came from far and wide to see them and marvel at Christmas.
Today, the Queen of England has a spray of flowers from a tree descended from the Glastonbury Thorn on her table on Christmas Day. May your Christmas be as bright and blessed!
And if you need a little brain teaser between now and next Friday, look closely at the first picture in today’s post. It’s part of the cover from a previous book of mine. The setting is warm and cozy, and romance is in the air. Unfortunately, there are at least three rather large historical errors in plain view. Can you tell me what they are?