Geeky Historical Christmas Facts 11, 12, 13 and 14

We’ve got a bit of catching up to do on our Christmas facts – which are nothing to do with Burlesque and really, are just an excuse to raid our Bluestocking christmas show album! So today, you lucky beggars, we have 4… 

fact #11 tinsel… 

Yes that tacky, hideous string of horror that gets everywhere, yet we can’t seem to get enough of it at Christmas… you might think that we have the 70s to blame for this but no… you’re a few centuries out! Tinsel was first used in 1610 in Germany and was made of silver, hammered until ultra thin and then shredded. It was put up to reflect the candlelight. in later years, and because the silver would go black due to candle smoke, tinsel was made of tin and lead, which was shit because it was too fragile to decorate with. Numerous metals were used over time which is how it evolved into the synthetic delight we now see. Queen Victoria’s love of the stuff made it popular – of course everyone wanted to decorate as regally tastefully as she did. Incidentally, although German of origin, the word tinsel is thought to originate from the French –  “estincele” meaning sparkle.

Fact #12 Prostitutes. 

Not very Christmassy or historical you may think. but it’s because of three ladies of the night that we hang the christmas stocking up. The legend is that a wealthy nobelman lost all his money and was too poor to marry off his daughters as there was no dowry, so they were doomed to an unmarried life of prostitution and slavery. It goes that the generous bishop St Nicholas of Smyrna (271-350ad), troubled over their fate, tossed a gold coin into their window as they slept, which landed in one of their stockings which was hung up to dry by the fire.

Fact #13: The Wreath. 

Since antiquity, and the times of classical Greece and Rome, the wreath was a symbol of power and strength (the eternal circle), hence kings, emperors and those in power wearing a laurel crown – which actually originates from the Etruscans (8-5th century BC Italian peoples, history fans!). The Greeks and Romans believed the laurel wreath embodied the values of Apollo, their sun god and used the wreaths in harvest rituals to generate good harvests. The evergreen wreath was used to symbolise strength and fortitude and was used around this time of year to bring strength through the harshest of winters and for the following year.

Fact #14: the Christmas tree.

It’s widely reported that the first christmas tree in the house originates from Germany, when a 16th century preacher Martin Luther took one into his home but the evergreens yuletide connections go further back than that. As with the wreath, in pre-christmas times, the winter evergreen symbolised fortitude and immortality (definitely not to be confused with immorality – although the roman pagan Saturnalia traditions might have something to say about that!), to wide ranging cultures including Egyptian, Chinese, Hebrew and in druidism and paganism. Early christians put up an evergreen in December to ward off the devil and provide a perch for winter birds, while in medieval times, an evergreen was used as part of a christmas eve play, where it was decorated with apples and wafers and a burlesque of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit performed.

Today’s image is Boris and Doris from last year’s Hothouse Flowers show, copyright Miss Moth Photography 

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