Emily felt warm and comfortable sitting near the hearth while the fire popped and danced. She felt so fortunate to be spending this evening in the humble but lovingly decorated cottage that her great-grandfather Hugh had built. In one corner of the room was a fir tree that had been cut from the nearby forest and was now decorated with starched crocheted lace snowflakes and strings of popcorn and cranberries. She could see her great-grandmother Eleanor making careful preparations for the meal they would share later in the day. Emily was disappointed that she had been shooed out of the kitchen but grateful for her present seat that provided the opportunity to hear the family stories that were being shared. Great-grandpa Hugh shared how he had tracked and killed the bear whose skin now provided the rug at their feet. His brother was quick to point out that Hugh hadn’t killed the bear without help and the two of them were quickly engaged in a light-hearted debate about who had really killed the bear. Great-grandma Eleanor interrupted their lively conversation with the announcement that it was time to eat.
As Emily took her place at the table, she looked for the food that she was certain would be part of any holiday meal that great-grandma Eleanor prepared. And there it was! The bread pudding with raisins whose recipe had been handed down from generation to generation. She waited patiently for bread pudding to be passed to her. Just as it was handed to her, a jarring buzzer sounded and brought Emily and her thoughts back to her own kitchen. Being with Hugh and Eleanor had been only a lovely daydream. The buzzer was her oven timer that reminded Emily to remove the bread pudding with raisins from the oven. Emily removed the bread pudding from the hot oven and looked forward to the time later that evening that she would share it with her young family. Her daydream made her realize that she should share some family stories along with the bread pudding.
Many people would like to step back into the time of their ancestors for a visit but unless someone really creates Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine, we will have to be content with the family memories and stories. Holidays bring families together and provide a wonderful time for sharing and expressing love for those present and those who have gone before us. There are many holidays to celebrate and each family has favorite holidays with associated traditions. You can feel closer to your ancestors and possibly gain a greater understanding of them as you explore the holiday traditions in which they likely participated. There are far too many holidays and associated traditions to list them all in this article and I invite you to research those holidays that mean the most to your family.
Christmas is a special holiday for my family as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a holiday with rich traditions created by many countries and peoples. The ancestors on my maternal grandmother’s side of our family include German immigrants that arrived in Pennsylvania prior to the American Revolution. Southeast Pennsylvania is rich in German culture and traditions as many of the early settlers came from Germany. In researching German Christmas customs, I was surprised to find that many of our American Christmas traditions were brought here by German immigrants. The tradition of bringing an evergreen tree indoors and decorating is thought to have started with German Lutherans who brought the custom with them as they immigrated.
The many of the traditional Christmas tree ornaments have religious meanings. For example, the candy canes are designed to remind us of the shepherd’s crook and the presence of shepherds on that first Christmas night. The candy canes can also remind us that Jesus Christ is the good shepherd come that night long ago to show us the way back home to our Father in Heaven. The evergreen tree itself is a symbol of the gift of everlasting life that Jesus Christ makes available to us.
A Christmas tree ornament which some attribute to the Germans is the Christmas Pickle! The glass ornament created to look like a pickle is hung on the tree last after all the other ornaments. The person who adds the pickle to the tree does it when others aren’t watching and hides among the branches so that it isn’t easy to spot. If the first person to spot the pickle is a child, there is an extra gift for him or her. If the spotter is an adult, he or she is supposed to enjoy a year of good luck.
Representations of the Christmas nativity can be found in many cultures. The Moravians, early Protestants immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic, create each year a Christmas Putz in many southeastern Pennsylvania communities. While the Moravians have preserved the tradition of the Christmas Putz, it is likely of German origin. Preparations for the creation of a Christmas Putz typically begin in early November with a trip to the Pocono Mountains to gather fresh moss and other natural items that will be included in the Christmas Putz. A Putz isn’t just a manger scene but can fill a room with miniature scenes that tell the story of Christ’s birth beginning with the angel’s annunciation to Mary that she would be the mother of the Son of God. Each scene is lighted separately so that as the story of Christ’s birth is told one scene is illuminated while the previous one goes dark. Music often accompanies the story telling. If you find you have the opportunity to view a Christmas Putz, you should definitely go.
The gingerbread houses that many of us enjoy creating around Christmas time is a centuries old tradition with contributions from many cultures. Colorfully decorated with candy gingerbread houses came to Germany to America after the Grimm brother’s story of Hansel and Gretel was published.
I invite you to do some research and thoughtfully decide which of the holiday customs that your ancestors probably participated in that you would like to incorporate into your own holiday celebrations. As you do so, please share with family and friends why you are adding these customs to your celebration as this will make more meaningful for those who participate.
Many cultures celebrate a holiday in this last month of the year. I am going to end my last article for the year with this video which should resonate with all people who value love and goodwill.
Christine Bell has been seeking her ancestor for almost forty years and continues to find joy in each one she finds. She volunteers in a Family Search Family History Center where she helps others find their ancestors. As a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints, she is grateful to be a member of the Church. She is a wife, mother of six grown children, grandmother of five going on six, and currently living in the western United States. Christine enjoys spending time with family and creating quilts for family, friends and Humanitarian Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.