When it’s time to seek out new decorations for the Christmas holiday, we might visit stores or browse online in search of those regal, festive figures, the nutcrackers. Often dressed in red, green, and gold, they stand ready to perform their duty, be it crack a bowl full of roasted chestnuts as part of a party snack or grace a holly-covered mantle near the sparkling Christmas tree. And not only are nutcrackers crafted in “snack” size, these days there are stately giant nutcrackers found in holiday displays all over, from North to South, East to West, heralding the season on snow-covered stretches or warm, sunny lawns. Continue reading “The Surprising Origin of Giant Nutcracker Christmas Decorations”
How much fun is it to drive through neighborhoods during the Christmas season to check out decorations people have on exhibit in their yards? Look! There are red and green lights around the windows of this house and a bobbing, inflatable Santa near the garden. Every single tree beside the next house is adorned with large, colorful ornaments. And oh, the people who live in this house certainly know how to put on a show…they have a manger scene complete with the Holy Family and Wise Men, a row of light-up candy canes along the sidewalk, and a giant gingerbread man that smiles and holds his arms out to passersby. How cheerful! We should wave back!
And that got us to thinking: how in the world did something like gingerbread—and giant gingerbread men in particular—become associated with Christmas? They certainly aren’t mentioned in the New Testament recounting of the first Nativity!
The first clue that the Christmas season is upon us and about to get into full swing is the appearance of large, outdoor holiday decorations on lawns and roofs, and in front of homes, places of worship, and business establishments. These include Christmas trees and wreaths, live-size manger scenes, huge candy canes, and assorted oversized Santa Clauses, merry elves, and reindeer bedecked in jingle bells. Among these, one is also likely to see at least a few giant toy soldiers, standing either proudly alone at attention or in festive regiments. The question is….
Whether you need a high-end, beautiful nativity set for the Christmas season for your church, shopping center, museum, or another public facing area, it’s better to think ahead! Scrambling for a major purchase such as an excellent quality, crafted life-size nativity set at the last second is bound to get you into trouble when you’re making a thousand other preparations for the holiday season at the same time. Planning well ahead and ensuring you have a high-quality outdoor nativity scene prepared while everyone else is waiting to order certainly has its benefits. Here are three reasons you should consider purchasing your life-size nativity sets well ahead of time this year.
When Christmastime rolls around in the United States, a favorite activity everywhere is to walk or drive around the neighborhood and admire the seasonal decorations that people have put up around their homes and workplaces. These may include lifesize (or near-lifesize) outdoor Nativity sets, which may be endearingly simple or they may be beautifully complex—but almost invariably draw the most attention.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a major city, chances are you may be able to view some truly extravagant Nativity scenes that are works of art in themselves (and for that reason they may not necessarily be located outdoors). For example, New York City’s Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes have made a tradition of presenting a “Living Nativity” performance as part of their annual Christmas Spectacular:
This year, as you put the finishing touches on your home’s outdoor Nativity set display, take a mental survey: name five of your favorite Christmas songs. Chances are, the short list would include at least a few of these seasonal favorites:
“The Christmas Song”
“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
“Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” (1971) might also make the list, vying with Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979). On that list there might even be The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” which in various polls has been cited as the favorite Christmas song of all time in the U.K. and Ireland!
The funny thing is this—none of these aforementioned songs has much to do with Christmas per se. Yes, these non-liturgical songs may mention Santa Claus, winter weather, romance, and longing for one’s family during the holiday season, and they may all be enjoyable and appropriate for the season; but they barely allude, if at all, to the core narrative underlying all Christmas celebrations, namely, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. In other words, the first Nativity. Continue reading “Music of the Nativity”
Hear them all cheering,
Now they are nearing,
There’s the captain stiff as starch.
Music is crashing,
As the wooden soldiers march;
At each pretty little maid…
Here they come! Here they come!
Here they come! Here they come!
Wooden soldiers on parade.
— English song lyrics by Ballard MacDonald
for “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”
People “of a certain age” (and by that we mean ones who are old) and with good memories can pinpoint the exact moment and surrounding circumstances signaling the official start of the holiday season that stretches from Thanksgiving to Christmas. These clues could be visual in nature, such as the sudden appearance of life-size Nativity scenes on church lawns, colorful Christmas lights adorning trees and lamp posts, or giant toy soldiers keeping guard in front of decorated homes. Or the clues could be olfactory: the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven, the aroma of eggnog, and the fragrance of cinnamon and gingerbread permeating the house. They could be auditory as well, with sleighbells ringing and carolers singing. All of these sensations elicit the sweet, nostalgic feelings most people experience at Christmastime.
But for some older grownups, the one sure sign in yesteryear that the holiday season had officially started would be the annual broadcast of the 1934 Laurel & Hardy feature film, Babes in Toyland. In the pre-cable era, this film became a popular holiday staple, broadcast repeatedly throughout the 1960s and 1970s on numerous TV stations across the United States during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. In the U.S., it was often shown under an alternate title: March of the Wooden Soldiers.
Many young fans of the comic duo always looked forward to this annual showing of Babes in Toyland—not only because it was fun to watch (the stop-action animated toy soldiers were a hoot, but Stan Laurel always stole the show), but because it had become a tradition that meant Christmas was just around the corner.
And there’s your answer. Can you think of any bigger day to celebrate in all the year than Christmas? For some people, celebrating Christmas is the perfect way to round out the year, and they go all in on decorations like these. And who can blame them? They’re eye-catching and lots of fun!
Does the sight of a lighted lighted candy cane on a snow-covered lawn immediately fill you with happiness and nostalgia? It should come as no surprise that for most people, it does. But why is that?
Christmastime brings much joy to all kinds of people for all kinds of different reasons. For the religious, there’s the birth of Jesus to be celebrated. For the secular-minded, age-old cultural traditions from all over Europe are revived and re-enacted. Kids love Christmas, of course, because Santa comes to make their material wishes come true. Best of all, for everybody, the Christmas season initiates one long feast for the senses. Consider:
The Sights of Christmas: Though it’s close to the darkest time of the year, everywhere you look you see the exteriors of homes that are decorated to the hilt and brightly lit. Inside, poinsettias in flower pots grace tabletops, every corner is festooned with decorations, and miniature Nativity scenes remind everyone what Christmas is originally all about.
The Smells of Christmas: Certain pleasant aromas have the power to evoke lovely holiday memories. Who has not experienced a moment of euphoria when catching the piney scent of a natural Christmas tree in the living room or, in the kitchen, the smell of cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom.
The Tastes of Christmas: So much about this holiday involves flavor. What goes best with ginger bread—mulled wine or hot chocolate? From sugar cookies to eggnog, there are so many gustatory delights to choose from!
The Sounds of Christmas: Sleigh bells loudly ringing, a department store Santa’s “Ho-ho-ho,” and holiday songs, new and old, secular and religious, fill the air. If those don’t put you in a joyous mood, nothing will.
The Feel of Christmas: How does a person “touch” Christmas? The funny thing is, most of the time it is Christmas that touches us in some way, and it is often a study in contrasts. Imagine the feel of cold winter air and snowflakes on your face—and then, a few minutes later, you are snuggling in front of a fire in a fireplace.
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
Without a doubt the most popular Christian holiday in the west is Christmas; and this poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” is surely one of the most recognizable and beloved. The description of Santa Claus flying through the air on a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer is both fantastic and unforgettable.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a luster of midday to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.