Category Archives: Traditions

The Tradition of Christmas Cards

Do you send Christmas cards to your friends and loved ones?

The tradition of sending Christmas cards in America goes back to about 1875, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. That is when the first cards were published. Today, Americans mail about 1.5 billion Christmas cards, not counting the cards they deliver in person.

The first President to send an official Christmas card from the White House was President Dwight Eisenhower. If you send a card to the President, you might get one in return!

How and When to Send Your Christmas Cards

The post office is recommending that you physically bring your Christmas cards to the post office to be mailed this year, either to the retail desk or the wall drop-in slot inside the post office. Apparently, there has been a rash of thefts from the few remaining blue mailboxes on streets. Setting your cards outside of your home mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up is probably also not a good idea — I had a greeting card stolen that way.

For your friends and loved ones in the U.S., send cards between the beginning of December and December 9 (Christmas card day). For special recipients, and recipients abroad, send them soon after Thanksgiving.

Who Should Get a Card?

I think it’s really important to remember anyone in your family who may be socially isolated, first and foremost. This includes elderly people at home, people in nursing homes or hospitals, and people with disabilities. These groups tend to have reduced opportunities for socializing and a card is a thoughtful way to show you care.

In addition, you might want to send cards to close family members, friends, neighbors, your minister, your doctor, neighbors, employees, helpers, etc.

Cards teach children the value of appreciation. If you have children who are in preschool or school, it is appropriate to send cards in for the teacher, but do not forget the bus driver, aides and specials teachers. Have your child sign — or even make — the card.


Guidelines for Sending Cards to Special People

  • Unless otherwise instructed, put your full return address on the envelope.
  • Do not insert anything in your card, such as confetti or a photo.
  • No glitter! Most all organizations ask that the card you send does not have glitter on it, or is not otherwise 3-D. Embossing is okay.
  • Select a nice, conventional-sized, flat card.
  • If you include a message, be sure it is a positive one. Refrain from political statements. A Christmas card is not a vehicle for complaints!

US Troops. Please see my previous post on how to send Christmas cards to US Troops.

The Pope. Use two stamps for a card that weighs 1 oz or less and address it this way, with the lines just so:

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

The President of the United States. To send a Christmas Card to President Biden and First Lady Biden, be sure to put your name and return address on the envelope and address it to: The White House, Office of the President, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20500. If you are lucky, you might receive a Christmas card in return!

The Vice President of the United States. To send a Christmas Card to Vice-President Harris, be sure to put your name and return address on the envelope and address it to: The White House, Office of the Vice President, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20500.

The Governor of Virginia. To send a Christmas card to the Governor of Virginia, address your card to Governor Glenn Youngkin, P.O. Box 1475, Richmond, VA 23218.

Happy Mistletoe Day!

Happy first day of December! Today is Christmas Lights Day. It is also Mistletoe Day. Most of you know about the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. But do you know the origin of this custom?

What is Mistletoe?

Mistletoe is a parasite plant with green leaves that lives off a host tree for sustenance, such as oak, maple or fruit trees. Birds and insects eat the white berries and nest in its foliage; forest animals also eat it.

The Lore of Mistletoe

The legend of Mistletoe comes from a Norse story about the goddess Frigga. According to the story, she ordered all animals and plants not to harm her son. However, she forgot to tell mistletoe. Loki, another god, made an arrow out of mistletoe and tricked another to kill her son. Frigga wept and her tears turned into mistletoe berries. She then said that no one would ever be harmed by mistletoe again, and that anyone standing under it would receive a kiss.

Ancient pagans, such as Celtic Druids, considered trees to be sacred, and they also considered mistletoe to be sacred because it appeared to grow in the air instead of the ground. People wore mistletoe for a lucky charm or hung it in their home to protect them from evil spirits.

During Solstice feasts, Saxons hung mistletoe over the hearth as a pledge that no one would be killed in the home and that the host would defend anyone in his home.

A Poem for Mistletoe Day

Here is a poem by Walter de la Mare entitled Mistletoe

Sitting under the mistletoe

(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),

One last candle burning low,

All the sleepy dancers gone,

Just one candle burning on,

Shadows lurking everywhere:

Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go

Nodding under the mistletoe

(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),

No footsteps came, no voice, but only,

Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,

Stooped in the still and shadowy air

Lips unseen-and kissed me there.

Today, you’ll still see mistletoe hung in a doorway or from a kissing ball in a few homes. If you’d like to revive this custom in your own home, here are some things to know.

Etiquette

People have kissed under the mistletoe at least since the 1800s. The custom goes that a man would kiss the nearest woman under the mistletoe on the cheek (not the lips) and remove a berry from the plant. In these days, of course, the gender isn’t what matters, so much as the demonstration of affection, and of course, you can always politely decline the peck on the cheek. When all the berries are gone, the plant has lost its power. It’s a household custom, you would not hang mistletoe anywhere else but from a door frame in your own home. It’s not really meant to be worn or hung on a Christmas tree (unless it is an ornament designed to look like mistletoe, of course).

Real mistletoe is toxic

The berries should not be eaten by children or pets. You can remove the berries for safety.

Where to Buy Mistletoe

  • Mistletoe (freeze-dried) is available from Amazon for about $9 but it doesn’t have berries. The berries pop out seeds and they are toxic, maybe that’s why.
  • You can find real mistletoe on Etsy.
  • You can buy real (freeze-dried) mistletoe at most independent garden centers.
  • Mistletoe doesn’t really have a fragrance, but Bath and Body Works sells a handsoap, Holiday Mistletoe, and a candle, Merry Mistletoe, scented with balsam, peppermint and cranberry.

The Tradition of Christmas in July

Did you know that it is exactly 5 months until Christmas? Some people celebrate “Christmas in July.”

I am not sure exactly how this custom started but there is a 1940s movie called “Christmas in July.” It’s not a festive movie at all; the main character wins (or thinks he wins) a big contest and goes on a spending spree.

But I have seen references to “Christmas in July” observances and movies around this time of year. If it has been wayyyy too hot for you lately, maybe you’d like to observe “Christmas in July!”

I’m not suggesting you whip up some egg nog and put up a tree and decorate it but it would be easy enough to…

  • Listen to some Christmas music.
  • Shop at a year-round Christmas store.
  • Watch your favorite Christmas movie.
  • Discuss how you would like to celebrate the season this year.
  • Read a Christmas story.
  • Organize your Christmas recipes.
  • Go through your Christmas decorations, books, videos and records and donate anything you don’t want anymore.
  • Make an ornament…maybe out of sand dollars or seashells? There are bags of both at Dollar Tree, ready for crafting…

How would you celebrate Christmas in July?

The Tradition of Epiphany Celebrations

Today, January 6, is Epiphany. It is the last day of the Christmas season and is also known as Three Kings Day and Twelth Night, depending on the country and custom. To celebrate this day in a meaningful way, in this post, I will share information about the three kings, an excerpt from the Bible about their visit to the Christ child, some customs associated with Epiphany, a short story about one of these customs and a carol. Enjoy!

Origin of Epiphany

Like many Christian holidays, Epiphany has ancient origins. In pre-Christian times, Egyptians drew water from the Nile for holy water, as it was considered to be purest on January 6. This festival became associated with the baptism of Christ when Egyptians converted to Christianity. Four hundred years after Christ died, the date of December 25 was fixed as the date of his birth and Christmas began to be celebrated as an important Christian observance, heavily influenced by existing stories and customs, and the date of January 6 soon became marked as the finale of the Christmas festival.

The Gospel According to Matthew

The Biblical account of the journey and visit of the three wise men is as follows:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should  be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

And when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.

The Three Kings

Three Magi, or wise men, were said to visit Jesus. In the early Christian times, they were deonoted as Kings although they were not known to have dominions. Magi were Persian priests, scientists and astrologers who had observed the stars on the night of Jesus’ birth. Legend has it that they brought three gifts to the Christ child.

  • Balthazar, from Ethiopia, brought frankincense. Frankincenes is an incense that was used in relgious rites. The symbolism is that the child was acknowledged as a future priest.
  • Melchior, from Arabia or India, brougt gold. Gold was a tribute to a young king.
  • Caspar, possibly Greek, brought myrrh. Myrrh was an incense and ointment. It was a symbol of a healer.

Although I do not know if it is still done today, in some countries, it was the custom in the past for boys or men to dress up as the Three Kings and process or deliver gifts. We are accustomed to our children receiving gifts on Christmas Day but in those countries, Kings brought the gifts, just as they did to the Christ Child, on January 6. In Italy, La Befana, an old woman, delivers the gifts that day.

We Three Kings

One of my favorite carols is We Three Kings. I like how the melody sounds like the slow plodding of camels and kings on their way to Bethlehem. Listen to the carol as sung by the great jazz singer and Virginian Ella Fitzgerald.

Three Young Kings

The beautiful and moving short story, Three Young Kings, written by George Sumner Albee in 1956, describes the procession of the Three Kings in a Cuban town. You can listen to it here or read the text here.

The King Cake

In France, they still celebrate Epiphany with a King Cake. A delicious pastry is topped with a golden crown. Whomever finds the baby inside is king for a day. This tradition has continued in New Orleans, although now King Cakes are more associated with Mardi Gras.

You can order and buy delicious, French-style King Cakes or King Cake slices at the franchise restaurant, La Madeleine, typically through January 6, while supplies last.

Farewell until November!

For many years, my Christmas has extended past New Year’s until January 6, when I wistfully take down my tree and put away my Christmas decorations. Epiphany also marks the last day of the season I post on Cool Yule. Please visit often and come back for new content about the winter holidays in November 2022. May God bless you and keep you all year. — Mary

The Tradition of New Year Celebrations

Happy New Year!

You know, I love New Year’s Eve. To me, it is one of the most glamorous and sparkling of holidays. But I think sometimes we forget about New Year’s Day! It gets a little eclipsed by New Year’s Eve. But New Year’s Day is special in its own right.

Here are some New Year’s traditions to help you celebrate New Year’s Day to the fullest. Many of the traditions of New Year’s Day are associated with good luck and good health.

Creating New Year’s Resolutions

I take my resolutions very seriously! I devote hours to reflection and planning for the new year in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But if you have not written your resolutions yet, New Year’s Day is the perfect time to begin. Good to have on hand is a 2022 planner or calendar and a notebook or computer.

First Day Hike

I don’t know if this is a country-wide tradition but in Virginia, all the state parks are open for the First Day Hike. It’s simple. You simply take a good, long hike outdoors on New Year’s Day.

Why Do We Eat Blackeyed Peas and Collard Greens on New Year’s Day?

The Southern custom of blackeyed peas goes back to the Civil war era. Blackeyed peas were one of the few foods avaialble at the end of the war in the South and people felt lucky to have them. After the war, it became a tradition to eat these on the first of January every year to bring good luck and prosperity to the household.

Some people say the peas represent coins, the greens represent bills (money) and cornbread represents gold.

These foods are healthy and delicious, so starting off the year eating them is not a bad idea.

One way to make black eyed peas more palatable is to make Hopping John. Hopping John is a South Carolina dish made of black eyed peas, ham hock, stewed tomatoes and of course, rice. It can’t be Carolinian without rice!

Vegetarian Hopping John

You can buy canned Hopping John or seasoned black eyed peas. But it is not hard to make. i used to make a vegetarian version with canned black eyed peas, rinsed, and canned tomatoes with juice. To this mixture, I added sauteed garlic, chopped green bell pepper and chopped yellow onion, salt and pepper and bay leaf. You could also add green onions and chopped celery to the saute mixture. This is most delicious if you make it a day a head and reheat. Serve with or without rice, as you like. But greens are a must! 🙂

Why Do We Eat Pork and Sauerkraut on New Year’s Day?

The Pennsylvania Dutch (and other Pennsylvanians) eat pork and sauerkraut for good luck. The pig roots for food moving forward. For this reason, it is considered lucky. Long shreds of sauerkraut are said to represent a long life — and some people also equate cabbage with money.

 

The Tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

December 26th can be a huge anti-climax. A grouchy let-down because Christmas is over. Darn!

Or…is it? 🙂

No, Christmas isn’t over! It’s still here. There are 12 Days of Christmas and the first day of Christmas is today! Happy First Day of Christmas!

My son and I have celebrated the traditional 12 Days of Christmas — the first day of Christmas is December 26 and the 12th day is January 6, Epiphany. I’ve got some good reasons why you might want to consider adding this holiday tradition.

  • It eases you out of the holidays and into the new year in a more gentle and gradual way. I find this really helps me and my son seemed to enjoy it. And it is the antidote for post-Christmas let-down.
  • It has no focus on presents (except the post-Christmas card shopping for bargains and using gift cards). So, the pressure is off and you can enjoy other aspects of the season. Strip away the commercialism, and what do you have — only the best and most beautiful parts of Christmas, the good will, the coziness, the beauty of the lights and decorations, the spirtiual aspects, and the time with family and friends. You might like Christmas BETTER after December 25!
  • If you have children at home, you typically have at least a week of winter break AFTER Christmas Day. So, it gives you a chance to have Christmas-y fun during that week before they go back to school — like going ice skating, drinking cocoa with a peppermint stick in it and going out to see light displays. And also doing good works – like helping out at home, volunteering or donating.
  • Some of the Christmas attractions are still open (and still festive!) but will be significantly less crowded, including the National Tree, Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights, Bull Run Festival of Lights, Tinsel!, Christmas Town Busch Gardens and Winterfest at Kings Dominion.
  • It allows you time and space to celebrate some of the more spiritual aspects of the season after Santa returns to the North Pole. You might read some passages from the Bible or reflect on the impact of Jesus’ birth or celebrate neo-pagan Yule traditions.
  • It gives you extra mileage out of your Christmas “stuff” — fuzzy socks, pyjamas, holiday teas, candy canes,  books and decorations, movies, and music, since you have almost two more weeks of the Christmas season after Christmas Day.
  • You can legitimately still send presents and cards, in case you are really running late this year!
  • New Year’s Eve at your house looks more festive when the tree and decorations are still up.
  • It makes the un-decorating task easier. I leave my decorations up until January 6, Epiphany. But I do phase them out gradually. Pretty much everything stays up until New Year’s, except the stockings of course. And I leave some lights up deep into January to comaat the winter blahs. But the tree doesn’t come down until January 6.
  • It gives you another holiday to look forward to in the bleakest part of winter. My son and I look forward to Epiphany. I will have a special blog post on that day sharing stories and traditions.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Sunday, December 26 – The First Day of Christmas and Thank You Note Day; Candy Cane Day

Monday, December 27 – The Second Day of Christmas and Fruitcake Day; Make Cut Out Snowflakes Day

Tuesday, December 28 – The Third Day of Christmas and Call a Friend Day; Card Playing Day

Wednesday, December 29 – The Fourth Day of Christmas and Still Need to Do Day

Thursday, December 30 – The Fifth Day of Christmas and Resolution Planning Day

Friday, December 31 – The Sixth Day of Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Champagne Day; World Peace Meditation Day

Saturday, January 1 – The Seventh Day of Christmas and New Year’s Day; First Hike Day (Virginia)

Sunday, January 2 – The Eighth Day of Christmas; Motivation and Inspiration Day

Monday, January 3 – The Ninth Day of Christmas and Fruitcake Toss Day

Tuesday, January 4 – The Tenth Day of Christmas and National Spaghetti Day

Wednesday, January 5 – The Eleventh Day of Christmas

Thursday, January 6 – The Twelth Day of Christmas and Epiphany. National Take Down the Christmas Tree Day.

Friday, January 7 – Orthodox Christmas Day

and also coming up…(visit my self-care blog now and through 2022)

Saturday, January 8 – National Vision Board Day

Wednesday, January 12 – Stick to Your Resolutions Day

The Tradition of Yule and Solstice Celebrations

Long before Christmas was a celebration, there were celebrations associated with Yule, December 21st, the longest day of the year. Those traditions continue today. Here are some ideas for making today special.

  • Dedicate yourself to your self-care and healthy activities. Today would be a great day for yoga, workouts and meditation. Check off at least one activity on the self-care planner!
  • Take Vitamin D which most of us need in the winter months.
  • Here is a Yule Log to color, courtesy of Wired Magazine!
  • Make a gratitude list for the abundance in your life your health, home and family.
  • Consider making a contribution of some kind as an offering of thanks. You could put some money in the Salvation Army Kettle Very appropriate for moving into the new year – ridding yourself of things you no longer need by making a donation to Good Will. So needed right now – blood donations or donations of canned food.
  • On the longest night of the year, the sun is a focus. Take a walk in the sun today. After today, there were will be more sunlight each day. Revel in the blessing of the sunglight!
  • Air out the house, give it a good cleaning and let fresh air and good luck come into the home.
  • Bring some fresh greenery into the house — pine and cedar swags, holly bunches and mistletoe. Hang a wreath of fresh greenery on your front door to welcome in prosperity and luck.
  • Light some candles on the darkest night of the year. Visualize positive energy set alight in yourself, your home and the new year.
  • Make a warm cup of Christmas tea or mulled cider — with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and orange rind.
  • Snuggle up by a real or video fireplace for the “yule log” experience.
  • Have a special dinner or lunch with Yule log (Buche de Noel) for dessert. You can puchase Yule log cakes (sometimes available by the slice) at Whole Foods and La Madeleine, or dress up a store-bought Red Velvet or Pumpkin roll as a Yule log with frosting or powdered sugar “snow.”

 

The Tradition of the Christmas Cookie

Today is Bake Cookies Day! Do you bake Christmas cookies? On the right are some of my humble (but tasty) samples.

Did you know that the tradition of Christmas cookies began in medieval Europe? The Dutch brought the custom of baking Christmas cookies to the United States in the early 1600s (Wikipedia).

Cookie cutters were imported to the U.S. from Germany around the turn of the century (early 1900s, that is). In those days, people hung treats and candy from Christmas trees to be removed and eaten by children, so the cookie cutters fashioned cookies to be hung that way.

Children started leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus in the United States in the 1930s.

What kind of cookies will you be baking this Christmas? Tip: after cooling, store sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, spritz cookies, bar cookies and nut balls in a cookie tin with a tight-fitting lid.

Here is a poem that captures the essence of the tradition of baking Christmas cookies

Christmas Cookies by C. F. Kelly

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The mixer in the kitchen purrs;
it twists and tosses as it stirs
the cookie batter Mom will bake
and then let me help decorate.

The silver cutters wait in lines
to shape their own unique designs
when rolling pin has done its job
and flattened out the doughy blob.

She wipes her brow, adjusts her sleeves,
and starts to cut out holly leaves,
then picks the joyful rocking horse
and stars and bells and birds, of course.

The trees and Santas wait their turn,
while angels, next to snow men, yearn
to don their robes and join the crowd—
I’m sure they want to sing out loud.

The powdered sugar frosting spreads
with ease and forms the sticky beds
on which the colored sprinkles rest,
where red-hot buttons look their best.

And I would like to make it clear
that these creations disappear
because in spite of looking neat,
they’re really baked for us to eat.

© by C.F. Kelly

The Tradition of the Christmas Poinsettia

The tradition of the poinsettia as a Christmas flower goes back to the 17th century when Franciscan friars in Mexico used the brilliant flower, in bloom at Christmas, in nativity processions. Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico and also a botanist, brought a specimen of the wild weed to the United States in 1825 and the plant was named after him. The plant was cultivated into the beauty we enjoy today.

Listen to the children’s story, The Legend of the Poinsettia, retold and illustrated by Tomie de Paola.

Happy Christmas Card Day!

Photo by omid mostafavi on Pexels.com

Let’s reinvigorate the tradition of sending beautiful Christmas cards and heartfelt greetings to our closest friends and relatives.

You can find Hallmark cards ($1 and 2/$1) at Dollar Tree and of course, at Hallmark and other stores. Or make your own this year!

Did you know you can send a card to the President and First Lady? Address your card to:

The White House
Office of the President
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

To send a card to Vice President Kamala Harris, address it like this (refer to her as Vice President Harris):

The White House
Office of the Vice President
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

And here is the address to send a card to the Governor of Virginia…

Governor Ralph Northam
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

While you are at it, it would be a nice gesture to send a card to Dr. Anthony Fauci. His birthday is on Christmas Eve! You can mail your card to:

Dr. Anthony Fauci c/o
NIAID Office of Communications and Government Relations
5601 Fishers Lane, MSC 9806
Bethesda, MD 20892-9806