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Welcome to 44’D’s Happy Holiday’s Special

We here at The 44 Diaries would like to say Thank You for participating in our blog and we hope that you all have a happy holiday and a prosperous new year. We also hope that you get to spend plenty of time with the people you love the most…

Please note: We will be keeping this up all week in celebration, but will be posting political news in the top section next to ‘Home’.



History of Christmas




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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

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Celebrating Kwanzaa



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Santa Claus Through History



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Famous and Not-So Famous Christmas Movies List

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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

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Twenty-Five Days of Christmas Music Videos

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Christmas Around the World



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Fun Filled Christmas Facts



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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

Christmas in the Age of Dickens



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Amazing Christmas Truce of 1914



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Holiday Season at the White House with the Obama’s 2009




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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

Like any other Americans, the family living in the big white house on Pennsylvania avenue has traditions surrounding the holiday season as well. Sit back, and get comfortable, while we explore how Presidents have celebrated Christmas from President George Washington to President Barack Obama.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~ President Calvin Coolidge

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History of Christmas at the White House (1789-1849)



President George Washington and First Lady Martha (1789-1797)
President John Adams and First Lady Abigale (1797-1801)
President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
President James Madison (1809-1817)
President James Monroe and First Lady Elizabeth (1817-1825)
President John Quincy Adams and First Lady Louisa (1825-1829)
President Andrew Jackson and First Lady Rachel (1829-1837)
President Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
President William Henry Harrison and First Lady Anna (1841-1841)
President John Tyler and First Ladies Lettitia and Julia (1841-1845)
President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah (1845-1849)
President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret (1849-1850)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1850-1901)

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President Millard Fillmore and First Ladies Abigail and Caroline (1850-1853)
President Franklin Pierce and First Lady Jane (1853-1857)
President James Buchanan (1857-1861)
President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary (1861-1865)
President Andrew Johnson and First Lady Elizabeth (1865-1869)
President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia (1869-1877)
President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy (1877-1881)
President James A. Garfield and First Lady Lucretia (1881-1881)
President Chester A. Arthur and First Lady Ellen (1881-1885)
President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Francis (1885-1889, (1893-1897)
President Benjamin Harrison and First Lady Caroline and Mary (1889-1893)
President William McKinley and First Lady Ida (1897-1901)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1901-1953)

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President Theodore Roosevelt and First Ladies Alice and Edith (1901-1909)
President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen (1909-1913)
President Woodrow Wilson and First Ladies Ellen and Edith (1913-1921)
President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence (1921-1923)
President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace (1923-1929)
President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou (1929-1933)
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor (1933-1945)
President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess (1945-1953)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1953-1977)

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President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961)
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)
President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia (Lady Bird) (1963-1969)
President Richard Nixon and First Lady Patricia (1969-1974)
President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty (1974-1977)

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History of Christmas at the White House (1977-2009)

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President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter (1977-1981)
President Ronald Regan and First Lady Nancy (1981-1989)
President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara (1989-1993)
President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary (1993-2001)
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush (2001-2008)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (2009- )


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The History of Christmas at the White House 1850-1901

President Millard Fillmore and First Ladies Abigail and Caroline 1850-1853


Millard Fillmore spent several Christmas seasons in Washington D.C. but only three as President of the United States. President Fillmore and his wife, Abigail Powers, had grown accustomed to spending the Christmas holidays away from their children due to Millard’s political career. Millard Fillmore and his wife would take great care in selecting Christmas gifts to send home to their children, who were attending school in New York. Mr. Fillmore was especially apt to select books to send to the children.

Mrs. Fillmore had grown ill by the time Mr. Fillmore took over the presidency after the death of Zachary Taylor. President Fillmore’s daughter, Mary Abigail Fillmore, took over the First Lady’s White House hostess duties including all duties associated with the White House Christmas celebrations. The President’s daughter was an accomplished musician and would perform at several White House functions. Since the first Christmas cards were believed to be designed and printed in London, England just 10 years prior to the end of Millard Fillmore’s tenure as president, it is doubtful it ever occurred to President Fillmore or his wife to send White House Christmas cards.

The East Aurora, New York home of President Fillmore, where he celebrated several Christmas holidays with his family before entering the political arena in Washington and moving to the White House.

The East Aurora, New York home of President Fillmore, where he celebrated several Christmas holidays with his family before entering the political arena in Washington and moving to the White House.

President Fillmore’s wife would not live to see another Christmas after leaving the White House. Mrs. Fillmore had chronic health issues but insisted on standing by her husband’s side as his successor, Franklin Pierce, was sworn in. There was a raw northeast wind in the air and it snowed over the crowd. She returned to the Willard Hotel – chilled – and developed pneumonia. She died there on March 30, 1853.

President Fillmore’s daughter, Mary Abigail Fillmore, died of cholera a little over a year after her mother’s death. President Fillmore decided to go abroad and tour Europe, spending at least one Christmas season overseas.

President Franklin Pierce and First Lady Jane 1853-1857

Franklin Pierce served for one term as the 14th President of the United States just prior to the Civil War. Pierce’s four years in the White House was marked by a great deal of political turbulence and it is assumed that the thought of sending Christmas greetings would be buried under the weight of his responsibilities.

President Pierce may not have sent White House Christmas Cards, but he did have a Christmas tree put up in the White House. He is widely hailed as having the first White House Christmas tree, however, the first official “National Christmas Tree” was lit in 1923 by President Calvin Coolidge on the section of the White House lawn known as the Ellipse. Pierce had the Christmas tree decorated in 1856 for a group of Washington Sunday School children. The practice of putting up a Christmas tree was brought to the United States by German immigrants and was in vogue during the mid 1800s. Prior to this, decorations consisted of holly and pine cones and sprigs of green.

White House Christmas ornament from 1997 honoring Franklin Pierce featuring the White House grounds as they would have appeared during his time

The White House was much more festive for this Christmas celebration, and carolers sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing to the children. There isn’t a written description of the festivities, but what would Christmas be without a treat, so they may have served refreshments

In 1997 the White House Historical Society issued its annual Christmas ornament – depicting the White House as it looked during the presidency of Franklin Pierce. This special ornament features the White House lawn as people are strolling on the grounds in a casual fashion. It appears to be a peaceful scene, although President Pierce’s term in office was not at all peaceful.

President James Buchanan 1857-1861

Few leaders have faced the harrowing dilemma our 15th President, James Buchanan, suffered during the Christmas season of 1860. In the most polarizing of elections, the nation had just voted to have Abraham Lincoln succeed him. Numerous southern states saw Lincoln’s election as the death knell for slavery, the growing irrelevance of their role in the federal government and direction of the nation, and an end to the southern way of life. Led by South Carolina, seven (and later 11) of these disaffected commonwealths had begun the process of drawing up Articles of Secession as Buchanan, a man with southern sympathies but a protector of the Union first, scrambled to find a solution to the exploding crisis. Surely, the President had no time or inclination to send White House Christmas cards during that bleak winter.

Wheatland, the Pennsylvania country estate of James Buchanan, where he would spend Christmas during his time away from the White House

Wheatland, the Pennsylvania country estate of James Buchanan, where he would spend Christmas during his time away from the White House

President Buchanan underestimated the depth of the antipathy of feelings between northern abolitionist forces and the southern pro-slavery ranks. By the 1860 election, President Buchanan’s unpopularity made it a foregone conclusion that he would not be re-nominated. The party split between the more moderate northern branch and the more fervently pro-slavery southern wing and nominated two different candidates for the presidency. This ensured the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln followed by the secession of the deep-South states and ultimately, the Civil War. Buchanan retired to his Wheatland estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he would spend his last seven Christmases. He supported Lincoln during the war, as he felt that saving the Union was the paramount issue.

President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary 1861-1865

Christmas is not a topic that one often associates with our Civil War president. During the first Christmas of the war, Mrs. Lincoln arranged flowers, read books, helped serve meals, talked with the staff, and cared for the wounded at Campbell’s and Douglas hospitals. She personally raised a thousand dollars for Christmas dinners and donated a similar amount for oranges and lemons when she heard that there was a threat of scurvy.

During the Christmas season of 1863, the Lincolns son, Tad, had accompanied his father on hospital visits and noticed the loneliness of the wounded soldiers. Deeply moved, the boy asked his father if he could send books and clothing to these men. The President agreed and packages signed “From Tad Lincoln” were sent to area hospitals that Christmas.

One Christmas Tad Lincoln befriended the turkey that was to become Christmas dinner. He interrupted a cabinet meeting to plead with his father to spare the bird. The President obliged by writing a formal pardon for the turkey named Jack!

Commissioned by Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Nast illustrated the cover of Harper’s Weekly in January of 1863, depicting Father Christmas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) as we imagine him today

Commissioned by Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Nast illustrated the cover of Harper’s Weekly in January of 1863, depicting Father Christmas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) as we imagine him today

It was during the Civil War that Harper’s Weekly illustrator/cartoonist Thomas Nast became a contributor to the Union’s war effort. Nast, who became known for his Christmas drawings and was generally credited with depicting Santa Claus as we know him today, had initially worked for Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election creating campaign posters. Nast’s ability to stunningly depict Civil War battles and scenes prompted Lincoln to remark that Nast was “our best recruiting sergeant. His emblematic cartoons have never failed to arouse enthusiasm and patriotism.”
There is no evidence that the Lincoln family ever decorated a Christmas tree during their years in the White House.

What also was special at Christmastime was the serving of special foods for dinner: turkey, venison, biscuits, chicken salad, fruit, cake, and eggnog. A famous story involved son, Tad, who during one particular holiday season, pleaded with his father to not have a certain turkey (named Jack) killed for Christmas dinner because Tad considered Jack his pet. The President wrote a formal pardon, saving the life of the turkey. The Lincolns never did have a Christmas tree at the White House, although a short walk away there was a tree they may have gone to see when they attended services at the First Presbyterian Church.

Thomas Nast's illustration, Lincoln's Christmas Box to Jeff Davis, depicting the choices the South had as the Civil War came to an end

Thomas Nast's illustration, Lincoln's Christmas Box to Jeff Davis, depicting the choices the South had as the Civil War came to an end

In the years following Lincoln’s death, there were several Christmas-related illustrations done by Thomas Nast showing the Lincoln family, which proved to be very popular. One showed the family gathered around son, Tad, who was seated in a chair opening Christmas presents in 1861. Another was of Tad on Lincoln’s shoulders, along with Willie, peering into a toy store, seemingly mesmerized by all the Christmas goodies they saw through the window. Yet another showed Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, circa 1860, hanging a wreath on their front door at their home in Springfield, Illinois.

The 2004 American President Collection Abraham Lincoln Ornament

The 2004 American President Collection Abraham Lincoln Ornament

To many, Abraham Lincoln’s death at the hands of an assassin made him a martyr. Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment occurred less than eight months after his death and made the abolishment of slavery official – an important part of his legacy, as is the fact that he was successful in saving the Union. Historians and admirers have always mentioned that the moniker, “Honest Abe,” had been associated with Lincoln as far back as his days as a lawyer because he embodied the attributes of integrity, respect, and freedom for others no matter what their station in life.

As a result of his accomplishments and moral attributes for which Abraham Lincoln is known, historians agree that he should be considered among the best – if not the best – President of the United States our country has known.

President Andrew Johnson and First Lady Elizabeth 1865-1869


Andrew Johnson originally of Tennessee, serving as Vice President of the United States at the end of the Civil War, was thrust into the presidency upon the assassination of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. There is no information concerning how the Johnson family celebrated the Christmas holiday while he served in the nation’s highest office or whether they exchanged White House Christmas cards during his term as president.

Aside from having been born four days after Christmas on December 29, 1808, the only other Christmas-related occurrence associated directly with Andrew Johnson was one of his last – and yet a most significant of acts – when on Christmas Day in 1868, he granted unconditional and full amnesty to any and all former Confederates charged with treason, specifically the former President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and former Confederate Vice President, Andrew Stephens. The proclamation read, in part:

…the President of the United States…do hereby proclaim and declare unconditionally and without reservation, to all and every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion a full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States…with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution…

2001 commemorative ornament featuring President Johnson taking his family for a carriage ride during Christmas at the White House

2001 commemorative ornament featuring President Johnson taking his family for a carriage ride during Christmas at the White House

During his presidency, Johnson often took his family on carriage rides. A special Christmas ornament with a 24kt. gold finish in several colors was commissioned in 2001 and features a reproduction of the type of carriage used by the family during Christmas of 1867. Although there is no written descriptions concerning Christmas celebrations in the White House, President Johnson is credited with being the first to have an Easter Egg Roll at the White House. Also, he declared a Thanksgiving holiday for December 7th in 1865 and was the first President to give government employees that day off, making Thanksgiving a legal holiday.

Although it has been substantiated that the first “official” White House Christmas tree was displayed in 1853 during the reign of President Franklin Pierce, having a tree during the Christmas season did not become a yearly staple for presidents until the Kennedy administration.

The Greeneville, Tennessee home of Andrew Johnson, where he spent Christmas with his family before and after living in the White House

The Greeneville, Tennessee home of Andrew Johnson, where he spent Christmas with his family before and after living in the White House

Although many different ornaments most certainly have been displayed on those indoor trees over the many years, it was not until 2007 that two artists from Greeneville designed and painted a special Christmas ornament featuring Johnson’s likeness, which was to be displayed on the White House Christmas tree. The artists, who were commissioned by the Andrew Johnson Historic Site, were sent the large, ostrich-sized white egg by the White House. For the front, they found a clear photograph of Johnson and superimposed a sepia-toned print of the picture over a mountain scene they had drawn, while the back showed President Johnson’s monument from the national cemetery where he and his family are buried. The ornament graced the White House tree at the end of that year to honor the beginning of the bicentennial of Andrew Johnson’s birthday.

President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia 1869-1877

Although there is no information about White House Christmas cards sent out by Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia, the Grant name has been connected with two important events involving Christmas itself. During his first presidential term in 1870, the former General in Chief of the Union Army signed into law the bill that had been introduced by Illinois Congressman Burton Chuancey Cook, making Christmas a legal holiday. The bill also declared that New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving Day would also be national holidays.

The General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park, California, deemed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by Calvin Coolidge in 1926

The General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park, California, deemed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by Calvin Coolidge in 1926

The other significant Christmas-related event involving Ulysses S. Grant was the naming in 1867 of a giant sequoia tree as the General Grant Tree (this took place two years after the end of the Civil War and two years before Grant was elected president). Located in California southeast of Yosemite National Park, in what is now called Kings Canyon National Park, the approximately 2,000-year-old tree today measures almost 270 feet high, 40 feet across its base with a circumference of 108 feet. In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the huge sequoia the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.”

Three decades later, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed the tree to be a national shrine and a living memorial to those who gave their lives serving the United States. Each Christmas, a wreath is laid at the tree’s base to honor the United States’ fallen war heroes.

There is no information available concerning how the Grant family may have celebrated the Christmas holiday. Exchanging White House Christmas cards was not yet a standard practice and there is no mention of a White House Christmas tree being displayed in the executive mansion.

Grant's Tomb, the national memorial in New York, the state where the former President Grant and his family spent their last Christmases together before his death in 1885

Grant's Tomb, the national memorial in New York, the state where the former President Grant and his family spent their last Christmases together before his death in 1885

In 1881, former President Grant and his family moved to New York City where they had purchased a home. For income, the Grants lived off of money friends had raised for them. Unfortunately, the family’s entire portfolio was invested in a banking partnership whose funds were swindled, causing the Grants to be (as they were 25 years before) without financial resources. In addition to the family’s dire financial plight, it was also around this time when Grant found out that he was suffering from throat cancer. To compound the family’s problems, on Christmas Eve in 1883, the former president injured his hip after slipping on a sidewalk that was covered with ice. He quickly contracted pneumonia and suffered from boils and bedsores during his confinement.

In 1885, Congress voted to reinstate Grant’s full general ranking along with providing a decent salary. While terminally ill, Grant had been moved to Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, New York for health reasons, and this was where he spent his last days working on his memoirs, writing his recollections in longhand since he was unable to speak because of the cancer which was killing him. The well-received publication earned the family more than $450,000.

President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy 1877-1881

President Rutherford B. Hayes was well known for his prolific letter writing before, during, and after he was president. There are many letters that were preserved from his four years spent in the White House. Although Hayes wrote a great deal during his presidency there is no indication whether or not he sent White House Christmas cards. Since the first known Christmas cards offered for sale in America date back to 1875, we can presume that President Hayes did not send out Christmas cards during his stay in the White House.

President Hayes kept a diary from the age of 12 through his death at age 70. Many of his White House moments have been recorded in these journal entries. While it’s been established that Hayes did not send out White House Christmas cards, he did send out letters during the holiday season to his uncle describing how he spent Christmases in the White House. In 1877 he wrote in his diary:

December 26, 1887 – Our visit to New York, 21st and 24th, was a most happy one. The Union League reception, 22nd, the American Museum of Natural History opening, and the New England dinner, all enjoyable. Christmas, the presents to the children made them and their parents equally happy.

The Doll House given to Fanny Hayes on her first Christmas in the White House, which was put on display by Pat Nixon along with several White House Christmas cards received by Rutherford B. Hayes during his presidency.

The Doll House given to Fanny Hayes on her first Christmas in the White House, which was put on display by Pat Nixon along with several White House Christmas cards received by Rutherford B. Hayes during his presidency.

President Hayes had eight children – one girl and seven boys. Hayes was quite staunch in his love and affection for his children often mentioning them with humor in his diary. Christmas of 1880 was spent in the White House library with his children, some friends, and the servants. The Christmas presents were kept in the Red Room and his children would run to get one gaily wrapped present at a time and bring them to the President, who would then take a great deal of time distributing the gifts to the proper recipients. All parties present shared in the fun and received at least a five dollar gold piece from President Hayes.

While serving as United States President, Hayes spent four Christmases in the White House, and there is evidence that he received several Christmas cards. President Richard Nixon’s wife Pat set up a Christmas display in the East Wing corridor that included three Christmas cards received by President Hayes during his term and a large doll house made for Fanny Hayes by White House carpenters, given to her during her first Christmas in the White House.

The 2004 Rutherford B. Hayes Ornament

The 2004 Rutherford B. Hayes Ornament

During his presidency, Hayes asked his wife to not serve wine or liquor in the White House. Many people believe that Lucy Hayes had a lot to do with that and she was dubbed “Lemonade Lucy,” but in reality, Lucy never asked her husband to practice abstinence, but President Hayes felt that there was no place in politics for alcohol and he wanted to set a good example. Although the lack of alcoholic beverages was his decision he once told a reporter, “I don’t know how much influence Mrs. Hayes has on Congress, but she has great influence with me.” Neither President Hayes nor his wife endorsed the temperance league, but rather practiced in the White House the same habits as they practiced at home in Ohio. Christmas sing-a-longs, lemonade refreshments, and casual hospitality were a natural way of life for the Hayes family – both in and out of the White House.

President James A. Garfield and First Lady Lucretia 1881-1881

James A. Garfield was born into humble circumstances on November 19, 1831 in Moreland Hills, Ohio. His father passed away before his second Christmas and young James was raised by his mother, brother, and uncle. As a teenager, he drove canal boat teams to earn money and probably never imagined that one day he would be in a position to send White House Christmas cards. Garfield attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College) in Ohio. He went on to Williams College in Massachusetts, where he was known as an exceptional student, and graduated in 1856. After a brief stint as a preacher, he became a professor and returned to his former school in Ohio and was named President of the Institute within a year. He married his wife, Lucretia, in 1858 and the couple would have seven children. Garfield entered politics and was elected to the Ohio state senate in 1859.

Garfield spent Christmas 1880 sequestered at his Lawnfield Estate in Mentor, Ohio, poring over the inaugural addresses of all previous presidents, but he did not finish writing his own speech until just before the inauguration. In it, he spoke of the triumph of Constitutional law in the Civil War and he described the elevation of the African American race from slavery to citizenship as “the most important political change… since the adoption of the Constitution.”

Lawnfield, the Mentor, Ohio estate of Garfield, where he and his family spent many Christmases together

Lawnfield, the Mentor, Ohio estate of Garfield, where he and his family spent many Christmases together

On the morning of July 2, 1881, Garfield traveled to the Washington train station. He planned to join his wife on vacation at the New Jersey shore, but was shot in the back by Charles Guiteau, a deranged lawyer who had unsuccessfully sought Garfield’s appointment to a European ambassadorship. The bullet lodged near the President’s spine. Doctors tried for weeks to locate it, prodding the President’s wound with unsterilized instruments and fingers. In early September, after a series of infections, he was moved to the seaside town of Long Branch, New Jersey. He died from an internal hemorrhage on September 19. Most historians agree that with medical practices observed just 20 or 25 years later, Garfield’s injury would not have proved fatal.

President Chester A. Arthur and First Lady Ellen 1881-1885

Chester Alan Arthur was administered the oath of office as the 21st President of the United States on September 20, 1881, just before the Christmas season and shortly after the assassination of President James Garfield. When Garfield won the nomination for president, several people were asked and refused the nomination for Vice President. Going against his mentor’s advice Chester Arthur accepted the nomination of Vice President stating, “This is a higher honor than I have ever dreamt of attaining. I shall accept!” (not realizing he would shortly take over the presidency).

The Official White House 2006 Chester A Arthur Ornament

The Official White House 2006 Chester A Arthur Ornament

Chester Arthur’s last Presidential Christmas was celebrated in the White House. He enjoyed a Christmas drink with Senator Wade Hampton of South Carolina before calling for the family sleigh so he could accompany his son on a long drive. The President and his family enjoyed a Christmas dinner at the home of the Secretary of State. He received many Christmas gifts including a hammered silver button hook and boxes of premium cigars. Each of the White House servants was given a shiny five-dollar gold piece. Just a few days after the first family’s Christmas celebration, President Arthur’s daughter, Ellen “Nellie”, served as a waitress at a Christmas dinner for poor children and encouraged her father’s support of the charity.

President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Francis 1885-1889, 1893-1897

When Grover Cleveland first became President in 1885, he hardly stopped working long enough to celebrate anything, let alone the Christmas holidays. Then in 1886, the 50-year-old Cleveland married his deceased law partner’s daughter, 22-year-old Frances Folsom and between terms, their first child, “Baby Ruth,” was born. We can imagine that the President’s life was never the same from that point on!

Although there was no Christmas tree during the first Cleveland administration, when daughters Ruth, Esther, and Marion were born, this quickly changed. In 1895, a tree was set up, decorated with electric lights, gold angels with spreading wings, gold and silver sleds, tops of every description, and lots of tinsel. Under the tree was a miniature White House and a doll house for Esther, who was the only daughter of a President to be born in the White House.

The Cleveland family Christmas tree in 1896

The Cleveland family Christmas tree in 1896

Mrs. Cleveland’s main Christmas activity, rather than entertaining and decorating, was her work with the Christmas Club of Washington to provide food, clothing, and toys to poor children in the D.C. area. She took the time to wrap and distribute gifts to the children and sat with them for a Punch and Judy show. Although Christmas Club charities in Washington date back to the 1820’s, no previous first lady had taken as prominent a role in these activities as Frances Cleveland, who helped set a tradition of good works carried on by Lou Hoover, Eleanor Roosevelt and many other First Ladies.

President Benjamin Harrison and First Lady Caroline and Mary 1889-1893

While it is reported that President Franklin Pierce was the first to decorate a White House Christmas tree, the tradition was not begun in earnest and announced to the public until the presidency of Benjamin Harrison over four decades later. On the morning of December 25, 1889, the Harrison family gathered in the second-floor Oval Room of the White House (later called the Blue Room) and stood around a tree decorated with glass ornaments, toy soldiers, and lit candles.

President Harrison’s young grandchildren, Benjamin and Mary McKee, were the leading recipients of gifts, which filled tables and stockings hung from the mantel. Besides the presents, candy and nuts were distributed to family and staff, and the President distributed turkeys and gloves to his employees. While there is no mention of White House Christmas Cards being exchanged, Harrison did receive a silver dollar-shaped picture holder from his daughter, Mary Scott “Mamie” Harrison McKee. First Lady Caroline Harrison, an artist, was instrumental in planning how the tree would be adorned. The Harrisons played an essential role in setting the stage for a tradition which has lasted to the present day, as the First Family’s Christmas tree is still set up in the same location in the White House chosen by the 23rd President of the United States.

The Oval Room, where the Harrisons formally erected the first White House Christmas tree

The Oval Room, where the Harrisons formally erected the first White House Christmas tree

The Harrisons were a religious clan and were known for throwing lavish, well-attended feasts at the White House in observance of the Christmas holiday. The following is the menu from their 1890 holiday celebration: to start they had Blue Point Oysters on the half shell and Consommé Royal; the main portion consisted of Bouchées a la Reine (pastries filled with a sweetbread and béchamel mixture), turkey, cranberry jelly, potatoes Duchesse, stewed celery, terrapin a la Maryland, salad with plain dressing, mince pie, and American plum pudding; and for dessert they had ice cream tutti-fruiti, lady fingers, macaroons, Carlsbad Wafers, and an assortment of fruit. Harrison’s Christmas parties are credited with popularizing the Carlsbad Wafers, a German-Czech creation which remains popular to this day, particularly in the California wine country.

The 2008 White House Benjamin Harrison Ornament

The 2008 White House Benjamin Harrison Ornament

He retired to his law practice in Indiana, and after spending four Christmases alone, married his second wife, Mary Lord Dimmick, in 1896. The couple had Harrison’s third child, a daughter named Elizabeth, in 1897. He returned to the spotlight briefly to serve as chief counsel to Venezuela in a border dispute with Great Britain before dying of pneumonia at his home in Indianapolis in 1901. Harrison would be the last Civil War general to serve as President.

President William McKinley and First Lady Ida 1897-1901

President William McKinley celebrated four Christmas Seasons in the White House but would not make it to see the first Christmas of his second term in office. McKinley met his untimely death just before the Christmas Season in 1901, when he was assassinated by Leon Frank Czolgosz on September 6 of that year.

President McKinley and wife Ida Saxton celebrated Christmas of 1898 in the White House. The manner in which the First Family celebrated Christmas was mostly dictated by Mrs. McKinley’s health at the time. This was the second year of President McKinley’s first term, and he and the First Lady decided to spend the holidays at home in the White House. Just prior to Christmas, Mrs. McKinley was feeling strong enough to make a special trip to New York to purchase gifts for the White House servants and attachés. Several of the executive couple’s friends and associates from Ohio arrived to spend Christmas in Washington. When attending church services, their minister spoke of God’s Christmas gift of freedom to an oppressed people. Later in the afternoon the couple took advantage of the pleasant but brisk weather they were experiencing and went for a drive.

1898 article from the New York Times archive discussing how President McKinley celebrated Christmas

1898 article from the New York Times archive discussing how President McKinley celebrated Christmas

Many gifts arrived for the President and his wife during the Christmas Season in 1899 including the fattest, juiciest turkey from Rhode Island, which had been sent to the White House compliments of the raiser. Mrs. McKinley was quite ill during Christmas, preventing her from participating in the same celebrations as the year before. The President and First Lady invited their nieces to the White House to celebrate Christmas with them along with a few other family members, making the gathering quite small by White House standards. There is no record of any White House Christmas cards being sent during the years William McKinley was in office, but Mrs. McKinley was a creative First Lady who would have surely added a unique and personal touch to any Christmas cards sent. Being so ill, Mrs. McKinley was unable to travel to New York or anywhere else to purchase gifts for the White House staff. Instead, she crafted unique and thoughtful gifts for all the unmarried attachés showing her flair for creativity. It was customary for all married staff members to receive a turkey for the holidays.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

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Christmas Around the World


Christmas Around the WorldChristmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe.

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Sweden

‘God Jul!’

St. Lucia by Carl Larsson 1908

St. Lucia by Carl Larsson 1908

Most people in Scandinavian countries honor St. Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) each year on December 13. The celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden, but had spread to Denmark and Finland by the mid-19th century.

In these countries, the holiday is considered the beginning of the Christmas season and, as such, is sometimes referred to as “little Yule.” Traditionally, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and wakes each of her family members, dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. For the day, she is called “Lussi” or “Lussibruden (Lucy bride).” The family then eats breakfast in a room lighted with candles.

The giant Christmas goat in Gavle, Sweden, a centuries-old Scandanavian yule symbol.

The giant Christmas goat in Gavle, Sweden, a centuries-old Scandanavian yule symbol

Any shooting or fishing done on St. Lucia Day was done by torchlight, and people brightly illuminated their homes. At night, men, women, and children would carry torches in a parade. The night would end when everyone threw their torches onto a large pile of straw, creating a huge bonfire. In Finland today, one girl is chosen to serve as the national Lucia and she is honored in a parade in which she is surrounded by torchbearers.

Light is a main theme of St. Lucia Day, as her name, which is derived from the Latin word lux, means light. Her feast day is celebrated near the shortest day of the year, when the sun’s light again begins to strengthen. Lucia lived in Syracuse during the fourth century when persecution of Christians was common. Unfortunately, most of her story has been lost over the years. According to one common legend, Lucia lost her eyes while being tortured by a Diocletian for her Christian beliefs. Others say she may have plucked her own eyes out to protest the poor treatment of Christians. Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.

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Finland

‘Hyvää Joulua!’

1907 Christmas postcard

Families gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. Hours are spent in the kitchen cooking and baking special treats for the festive season. In Finland the Christmas tree is set up on Christmas Eve. The Christmas festivities are preceded by a visit to the famous steam baths.

Christmas gifts may be given out before or after the dinner. The children do not hang up stockings, but Santa Claus comes in person, often accompanied by as many as half a dozen Christmas elves to distribute the presents.

The celebration of St Lucia Day (13 December) was only introduced to Finland from Sweden in 1950 but has been widely adopted by Finnish families. Additionally, a national Lucia is chosen by public vote from a short list of ten teenage girls and December 13 marks her first official appearance, wearing a long white dress and a crown of lighted candles. Following this she pays visits to Christmas gatherings, hospitals and schools to spread her message of light, hope and charity.

The main dish of the dinner is boiled codfish served snowy white and fluffy, with allspice, boiled potatoes, and cream sauce. The dried cod has been soaked for a week in a lye solution, then in clear water to soften it to the right texture. Also on the menu is roast suckling pig or a roasted fresh ham, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. After dinner the children go to bed while the older people stay up to chat with visitors and drink coffee until about midnight.

Christmas Day services in the churches begin at six in the morning. It is a day for family visits and reunions. In some parts of the country the Star Boys tour the countryside singing Christmas songs. During all these days the people keep wishing each other a “Merry Yule.” It is also customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.

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Norway

‘Gledelig Jul!’

Traditional Norway Christmas Meal

Traditional Norway Christmas Meal

Norway is the birthplace of the Yule log. The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. “Yule” came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates back to the Norse Yule log. It is probably also responsible for the popularity of log-shaped cheese, cakes, and desserts during the holidays.

Since ancient times Norwegians have celebrated midwinter with parties and feasts to mark the transition from the dark winter to the light of spring and summer. However, during the 10th century King Haakon decided that the pagan custom of celebrating Jul (Yule) would be moved to 25 December and would celebrate the birth of Jesus. Over the years this has gradually moved from being a pagan festival to being a Christian festival instead. However, many of the traditions have remained.

At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve the church bells ‘ringe in Julen‘ (ring in Christmas) throughout the country. This is the real start to Christmas celebrations. Most people attend a church and after the service they return home to eat a bowl of porridge with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Before the family sit down to eat this, the tradition is to put out a bowl of porridge for the nisse (gnome)

After the meal the indoor tree is lit and Julenissen arrives with a sack full of gifts from Santa. Julenissen is usually depicted with a long white beard and red stocking cap, wearing knee breeches, hand knitted stockings, a Norwegian sweater and a homespun jacket. This is topped by a heavy fur coat. Once all the presents have been distributed and have been opened everyone sits down for coffee and cakes.

Christmas Day starts with a church service. This is followed by the Christmas Buffet which includes such food as pork, lamb, cold meats, lutefisk, herring, trout, salmon, cheese, fruit, cloudberry cream, flat bread and cakes. This is accompanied by beer and aquavit. The Christmas season finally comes to an end on 13 January when everyone takes down their decorations and trees until December.

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Germany

‘Froehliche Weihnachten!’

Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, Christmas trees began showing up in other parts of Germany, and even more so after 1771, when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg and promptly included a Christmas tree is his novel, The Suffering of Young Werther. In the 1820s, the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. After Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.

Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.

Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany

Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany

Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgeback, is a white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations. In parts of Germany, people believe that the Christ Child sends a messenger in Christmas Eve. He appears as an angel in a white robe and crown, bearing gifts. The angel is called Christkind. There is also a Christmas Eve figure called Weihnachtsmann or Christmas Man, he looks like Santa Claus and also brings gifts.

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Mexico

‘Feliz Navidad!’

Las Posadas

Las Posadas

In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. As its coloring seemed perfect for the new holiday, the plants, which were called poinsettias after Poinsett, began appearing in greenhouses as early as 1830. In 1870, New York stores began to sell them at Christmas. By 1900, they were a universal symbol of the holiday.

Beginning December 16th, “La Posadas” commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Each night of the “Posada” a procession led by two children begins.

The children carry a small pine-decorated platform bearing replicas of Joseph and Mary riding a burro. Other members, all with lighted long slender candles, sing the “Litany of the Virgin” as they approach the door of the house assigned to the first “Posada.” Together they chant an old traditional song and awaken the residents of the house to ask for lodging for Mary. Those within the house threaten the company with beatings unless they move on. Again, the company pleads for lodging. When the owner of the house finally learns who his guests are, he jubilantly throws open the doors and bids them welcome. All kneel around the manger scene or “Nacimiento” and offer songs of welcome, Ave Marias and a prayer.

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England

‘Merry Christmas!’

The world's first Christmas card designed by John Calcott Horsley in 1843.

An Englishman named John Calcott Horsley helped to popularize the tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting in the late 1830s. Newly efficient post offices in England and the United States made the cards nearly overnight sensations. At about the same time, similar cards were being made by R.H. Pease, the first American card maker, in Albany, New York, and Louis Prang, a German who immigrated to America in 1850.

Celtic and Teutonic peoples had long considered mistletoe to have magic powers. It was said to have the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. Celts hung mistletoe in their homes in order to bring themselves good luck and ward off evil spirits. During holidays in the Victorian era, the English would hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways. If someone was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room, behavior not usually demonstrated in Victorian society.

Plum pudding is an English dish dating back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream.

Caroling also began in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.

Plum Pudding

In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. In Scandinavia, similar-minded children leave their shoes on the hearth. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.

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France

‘Joyeux Noël!’

A lavish feast of truffle-scented roast turkey and delicious trimmings from the Burgundy countryside.

A lavish feast of truffle-scented roast turkey and delicious trimmings from the Burgundy countryside.

Christmas has been celebrated for nearly 1500 years in France. In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means “the good news” and refers to the gospel.

In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This stems from an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year’s harvest.

Whatever their behavior, hopeful French youngsters place slippers or shoes at the fireplace on Christmas Eve. That evening’s special supper called the réveillon features delicacies native to the region, including spun sugar, pâés and pastries. Spun sugar delicacies called sotelties are made to depict miniature castles, Biblical scenes, or exotic birds. Another highlight is bûche de Noël a log shaped cake with chocolate butter cream filling, brown icing and lines that resemble bark. At the stroke of midnight, the sounds of “Oh Holy Night” resound through churches and cathedrals across France.

Christmas market in Strasbourg

Christmas market in Strasbourg

Children alone receive presents on December 25th. Adults wait until New Year’s Day to exchange gifts. Some small presents can be found among the branches of the French Christmas tree.

The santons or little saints made in Provence are the heart of French Noël. These simple manger figures resemble real people in detail and dress. No one is excluded all characters good and bad are created to be included in the French manger scene.

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Italy

‘Buone Natale!’

Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Christmas season in Italy is traditionally celebrated December 24-January 6, or Christmas Eve through Epiphany. This follows the pagan season of celebrations that started with Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival, and ended with the Roman New Year, the Calends. However there are lots of Christmas things to see during December prior to Christmas, many starting on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.

Although Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) and giving presents on Christmas are becoming more common, the main day for gift giving is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus their gifts. In Italy, presents are brought by La Befana, who arrives in the night to fill children’s stockings. More about Epiphany and La Befana

Nativity Scene in Siena Italy

Nativity Scene in Siena Italy

Christmas decorations and trees are becoming more popular in Italy. Lights and decorations are often seen starting around December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, or even the end of November. The main focus of decorations continues to be the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. Almost every church has a presepe and they are often found outdoors in a piazza or public area, too.

Traditionally, a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas eve with the family, followed by a living nativity scene and midnight mass. In parts of southern Italy a seven fishes dinner is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. Traditional bonfires are often held on Christmas Eve in the main square of town, especially in mountain areas. Dinner on Christmas day is usually meat based.

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Australia

‘Merry Christmas’

Santa arriving at the beach by boat

Santa arriving at the beach by boat

In Australia, the holiday comes in the middle of summer and it’s not unusual for some parts of Australia to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas day.

During the warm and sunny Australian Christmas season, beach time and outdoor barbecues are common. Traditional Christmas day celebrations include family gatherings, exchanging gifts and either a hot meal with ham, turkey, pork or seafood or barbecues.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas houses are decorated; greetings cards sent out; carols sung; Christmas trees installed in homes, schools and public places; and children delight in anticipating a visit from Santa Claus. On Christmas Day family and friends gather to exchange gifts and enjoy special Christmas food.

Many Australians spend Christmas out of doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for a longer break over the Christmas holiday period. It has become traditional for international visitors who are in Sydney at Christmas time to go to Bondi Beach where up to 40,000 people visit on Christmas Day.

Blandfordia nobilis - Christmas bells

Blandfordia nobilis - Christmas bells

There are many native Australian plants in flower over the Christmas season. A number of these have become known as ‘Christmas plants‘ in various parts of the country, including Christmas bells, Christmas bush and the Christmas orchid.

When Europeans first arrived in Australia they were delighted that they could pick wildflowers resembling bells and bright green foliage covered in red or white flowers to use as Christmas decorations. This was a huge contrast to the bare trees and dormant gardens they had left behind in Europe.

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Czech Republic

‘Vesele Vanoce !’

Christmas market in Prague

Christmas market in Prague

Christmas in the Czech Republic begins with Svatej Nikulas Day, on December 6 and ends with the visit of the Tri Kralu (Three Kings) on January 6. On December 6, Saint Nicholas descends from the sky on a golden cord, accompanied by an angel dressed in white with gifts for the good boys and girls, and a devil named Cert dressed in black, carrying a whip and rattling a chain. As soon as the children hear them coming, they rush to the table and say their prayers. Those who know their prayers are rewarded with a gift; those who do not may feel Cert’s whip!

A twenty-four hour period of strict fast concludes on Christmas Eve when the first star of the night is seen. This star represents the star of Bethlehem. The children are promised that if they fast faithfully they will see golden pigs at supper time. At the beginning of supper, the candles are lit and the pigs appear on the wall and ceiling. The flickering of the candle flames perform the trick, because at the center of the table is the young roasted pig. The supper consists of seven courses and what is left over (there are always leftovers) is fed to the pigs. An extra place is set at the table and left empty for the Christ-child.

Vánocní cukroví - decorated cookies, traditionally eaten at Christmas

Vánocní cukroví - decorated cookies, traditionally eaten at Christmas

The manger scene is ever present in both church and home. These nativity scenes are called Bethlehems, and setting them up is a great family pastime. Usually they are complete villages carved from wood or fashioned from bread dough and then elaborately painted. Carolers carry miniature Bethlehem scenes as they go from house to house giving concerts. After singing, they are invited into the home for a glass of wine and a piece of vanocka, a sweetbread.

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Canada

‘Merry Christmas’

Christmas Lights in Old Montreal

Christmas Lights in Old Montreal

Canada is a country with a great number of immigrant families. Different cultural backgrounds such as French, English, German, Ukrainian, and First Nations come together as one people Canadians. Because of the many different peoples the customs of Christmas are very diverse.

Because of Canada’s strong Anglican and Catholic religious traditions, Christmas Eve is a big celebration. Many famous churches offer special services. The Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal has a 5,772 pipe organ and thousands of worshipers come on Christmas Eve to attend the service and hear the children’s choir.

The Christmas tree is native to the Canadian region. Nova Scotia is named “The Christmas Tree Province” because it produces more than 1.5 million trees each year for eastern Canada and the United States. Trees from this region are shipped as far away as Venezuela. All of the Canadian provinces together produce approximately 6 million Christmas trees every year.

Toronto Santa Claus Parade

Toronto Santa Claus Parade

Our Canadian Christmas tree is decorated with Chicken Bones and Barley Toys, two treats with strange names, but they have meant Christmas to children along Canada’s eastern shores for more than 100 years. Barley toys are tasty animal-shaped candies served either plain or on sticks and made from barley candy. The name barley probably comes from an old children’s game. Chicken Bones is a cinnamon flavored hard candy that is filled with chocolate and is a Christmas favorite in Canada.

Boxing Day, celebrated the day after Christmas, is an important national holiday to Canadians. Traditionally boxing day was a day delivery boys could hope to receive a gratuity from those they served. Today its main significance is a day of sales at stores. Many people use this day to exchange Christmas gifts.

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Greece

‘Kala Christouyenna!’

St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. To members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays. Yet there are a number of unique customs associated with Christmas that are uniquely Greek.

On Christmas Eve, village children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits.

A Christmas market in Athens, Greece

A Christmas market in Athens, Greece

After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of christopsomo (“Christ Bread“). This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and frosted with symbols that in some way that reflects the family’s profession. It is served with dried figs, nuts, and honey.

Christmas morning begins with an early Mass at the Greek Orthodox Church. After the service, Greeks feast on roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts, rice, pine nuts, and a nut cookie called kourambiethes. Baklava, another sweet dessert, is made from layers of phyllo pastry, filled with almonds and cinnamon, and then soaked in lemon syrup.

In almost every home it is traditional to have a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Kallikantzaroi away from the house.

Baklava

Baklava

There are a number of beliefs connected with the Kallikantzaroi, which are a species of goblins or spirits who appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6). These creatures are believed to emerge from the center of the earth and to slip into people’s house through the chimney. More mischievous than actually evil, the Kallikantzaroi do things like extinguish fires, ride astride people’s backs, braid horses’ tails, and sour the milk. To further repel the undesirable sprites, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days.

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Venezuela

‘Feliz Navidad!’

Christmas in Venezuela is a mixture of religious tradition and sheer fun. Beginning on December 16, many families erect a pesebre in their house, with not only a nativity scene, but a diorama of the entire region with mountains, hills, plains, and valleys. Often this is a work of art into which the head of the family has put many hours, and the pieces become heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation. One custom dictates that on the first day of the new year, the figure of the Christ child must be lifted from the manger crib and placed in a standing position until the Feast of Cadelaria on February 2nd. Neighbors and friends keep watch to be sure that the tradition is strictly honored. If it is not, the figure of the holy child will be secretly stolen and held for ransom. The ransom is a party that must be given by the people who have been appointed as godparents for the holy child. When the figurine is returned to its original setting, a procession is held which may include fireworks and a band along with much singing and dancing.

In the city of Caracas, Christmas Eve is a popular time and a rather unusual custom occurs shortly after midnight. That is when one of the main streets fills with hundreds of young roller-skaters. Friends and schoolmates skate together until time for a special church service, after which the young people skate home for a breakfast featuring hallacas, a traditional Venezuelan meat pie with a cornmeal crust that is wrapped in banana leaves and boiled.

Venezuelan Pan de jamon

Venezuelan Pan de jamon

There may be no snow for Santa’s sled or chimneys for him to climb down in Venezuela, but artificial Christmas trees, some with artificial snow on their branches, can be adorned with colorful decorations using traditional designs and colors.

A manger scene is the primary decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South American nations. St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers.


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Ardi, The Oldest “Human” Skeleton Revealed — Along With New Discoveries About Food And Sex!

Posted by Audiegrl

Ancient Skeleton May Rewrite Earliest Chapter of Human Evolution

October Issue

October Issue

Science magazine presents 11 papers, by a multinational team of 47 researchers, describing an early hominid species, Ardipithecus ramidus. These 4.4 million year old hominid fossils sit within a critical early part of human evolution, and cast new and sometimes surprising light on the evolution of human limbs and locomotion, the habitats occupied by early hominids, and the nature of our last common ancestor with chimps.
An artist's rendition of Ardipithecus ramidus

An artist's rendition of Ardipithecus ramidus


UK Daily Mail—She lived at the dawn of a new era, when chimps and people began walking (or climbing) along their own evolutionary trails. This is Ardi – the oldest member of the human family tree we’ve found so far.

Short, hairy and with long arms, she roamed the forests of Africa 4.4million years ago.

Her discovery, reported in detail for the first time today, sheds light on a crucial period when we were just leaving the trees. Some scientists said she could provide evidence that our ancestors first started walking upright in the pursuit of sex.

Conventional wisdom says our earliest ancestors first stood up on two legs when they moved out of the forest and into the open savannas. But this does not explain why Ardi’s species was bipedal (able to walk on two legs) while still living partly in the trees.

Owen Lovejoy from Kent State University said the answer could be as simple as food and sex.

He pointed out that throughout evolution males have fought with other males for the right to mate with fertile females. Therefore you would expect dominant males with big fierce canines to pass their genes down the generations.

But say a lesser male, with small stubby teeth realized he could entice a fertile female into mating by bringing her some food? Males would be far more successful food-providers if they had their hands free to carry home items like fruit and roots if they walked on two legs.

Mr Lovejoy said this could explain why males from Ardi’s species had small canines and stood upright – it was all in the pursuit of sex.

He added that it could also suggest that monogamous relationships may be far older than was first thought.

More @ mail-online-small

The Middle Awash study area, where the Ardipithecus bones were found

The Middle Awash study area, where the Ardipithecus bones were found


New York Times/John Noble Wilford—The Ardipithecus specimen, an adult female, probably stood four feet tall and weighed about 110 pounds, almost a foot taller and twice the weight of Lucy. Its brain was no larger than a modern chimp’s. It retained an agility for tree-climbing but already walked upright on two legs, a transforming innovation in hominids, though not as efficiently as Lucy’s kin.

Ardi’s feet had yet to develop the arch-like structure that came later with Lucy and on to humans. The hands were more like those of extinct apes. And its very long arms and short legs resembled the proportions of extinct apes, or even monkeys.

Tim D. White of the University of California, Berkeley, a leader of the team, said in an interview this week that the genus Ardipithecus appeared to resolve many uncertainties about “the initial stage of evolutionary adaptation” after the hominid lineage split from that of the chimpanzees. No fossil trace of the last common ancestor, which lived some time before six million years ago, according to genetic studies, has yet come to light.

The other two significant stages occurred with the rise of Australopithecus, which lived from about four million to one million years ago, and then the emergence of Homo, our own genus, before two million years ago. The ancestral relationship of Ardipithecus to Australopithecus has not been determined, but Lucy’s australopithecine kin are generally recognized as the ancestral group from which Homo evolved.

More @

A fairly complete skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus

A fairly complete skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus

Science—Until now, the oldest known skeleton of a human ancestor was Lucy, who proved in one stroke that our ancestors walked upright before they evolved big brains. But at 3.2 million years old, she was too recent and already too much like a human to reveal much about her primitive origins. As a result, researchers have wondered since her discovery in 1974, what came before her–what did the early members of the human family look like?

Now, that question is being answered in detail for the first time. A multinational team discovered the first parts of the Ar. ramidus skeleton in 1994 in Aramis, Ethiopia. At 4.4 million years old, Ardi is not the oldest fossil proposed as an early hominin, or member of the human family, but it is by far the most complete–including most of the skull and jaw bones, as well as the extremely rare pelvis, hands, and feet. These parts reveal that Ardi had an intermediate form of upright walking, a hallmark of hominins, according to the authors of 11 papers that describe Ardi and at least 35 other individuals of her species. But Ardi still must have spent a lot of time in the trees, the team reports, because she had an opposable big toe. That means she was probably grasping branches and climbing carefully to reach food, to sleep in nests, and to escape predators.

More @ sciencemaglogo

The reduced size of canine teeth is an indication of a shift in social behavior away from male-male aggression, and is one of the hallmarks of the human lineage.

The reduced size of canine teeth is an indication of a shift in social behavior away from male-male aggression, and is one of the hallmarks of the human lineage.

Reuters—Genetics suggest that humans and our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, diverged 6 million to 7 million years ago, although some research suggests this may have happened 4 million years ago.

Ardi” is clearly a human ancestor and her descendants did not grow up to be chimpanzees or other apes, the researchers report in Science.

She had an ape-like head and opposable toes that allowed her to climb trees easily, but her hands, wrists and pelvis show she strode like a modern human and did not knuckle-walk like a chimp or a gorilla.

People have sort of assumed that modern chimpanzees haven’t evolved very much, that the last common ancestor was more or less like a chimpanzee and that it’s been … the human lineage … that’s done all the evolving,” White said.

But “Ardi” is “even more primitive than a chimpanzee,” White said.

So chimps and gorillas do not knuckle-walk because they are more primitive than humans — they have evolved this characteristic that helps them live in their forest homes.

White, Berhane Asfaw of Rift Valley Research Service in Addis Ababa and a large team analyzed all the bones of Ardi and found she might have been more peace-loving than modern chimpanzees. She does not have the long, sharp canines that chimps use to fight, for instance.

And males and females have similar-sized teeth, suggesting more equality than seen among modern apes.

More @ reuterssmall

An introduction to Ardi by the Associated Press

A wonderfully informative video by Science magazine

Vodpod videos no longer available.

‘Ardi’ Slideshow

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Fossil hunters in Ethiopia are excavating a mandible, or lower jaw, of Ardipithecus ramidus. A fairly complete skeleton of this individual, nicknamed Ardi, is 4.4-million-years-old. It lived well before and was much more primitive than the 3.2-million-year-old Lucy skeleton, of the species Australopithecus afarensis. Unveiling the Ardi remains this week, scientists said this was the earliest known skeleton of a potential human ancestor. (Photo: Tim White and David L. Brill)

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Ardi was discovered in the arid badlands along the middle stretch of the Awash River, near the village of Aramis in Ethiopia. Arid now, it was a cooler, humid woodland in the time of the early hominids Ardipithecus ramidus. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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For the past 17 years, scientists collected fragments, some tiny pieces of bone, that represented more than 110 specimens from a minimum of 36 different individuals of the Ardipthecus species, including Ardi. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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The few modern Homo sapiens living near the discovery site at Aramis include this Ethiopian goat herder. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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Since the first tooth of the new species was picked up in 1992, members of the Middle Awash research project returned year after year to explore the remote site. Here they are on the dusty trail, driving to camp from a survey trip. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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The excavation team sits down to breakfast before heading off on another day of fossil hunting in the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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An Ethiopian herder, one of the Afar people, moves his stock from the Awash River toward Yardi Lake. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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Berhane Asfaw, an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist, works with the local Afars who occupy the lands of the area of the Ardipithecus discoveries. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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At the discovery site, Tim D. White, left, a leader of the project, and Yohannes Haile-Selassie crawl over the parched surface looking for the tiniest fossil fragments.(Photo: David L. Brill)



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A collection of the fossilized bones that were assembled into the partial skeleton of Ardi. (Photo: David L. Brill)





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This is the site, known as Yonas Arm, that yielded fossil evidence of Ardipithecus ramidus. (Photo: David L. Brill)




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Scientists have identified both primitive and evolved characteristics of the 4.4-million-year-old Ardi hominid. Here, the hand bones were more like those of earlier apes. (Photo: David L. Brill)



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The Ardipithecus specimen, an adult female, probably stood four feet tall and weighed about 120 pounds, almost a foot taller and twice the weight of Lucy. The paleoanthropologists wrote in one of the articles that Ardipithecus was “so rife with anatomical surprises that no one could have imagined it without direct fossil evidence.” (Photo: Tim White 2008, from the Oct. 2 issue of Science)

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