ROSEMARY, HOLLY and POINSETTIA
What do rosemary, holly and poinsettia have in common?
All three plants are associated with Jesus.
Legend is that Mary laid her infant Jesus on rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) branches in the manger. She also placed His freshly washed clothing on a rosemary bush to dry. In gratitude, God blessed it with blue blossoms, the color of Mary’s robe.
A symbol of remembrance, rosemary never grows taller or wider than the baby Jesus was long.
When Mary and Joseph fled King Herod’s soldiers, Mary hid the infant Jesus under a leafless holly bush. Green leaves sprouted to conceal Him, and thorns offered protection. The Christ Child blessed the holly and ordained it should remain evergreen (Ilex aquifolium-English).
A holly wreath (from the old English word writha meaning a ring) symbolizes eternal life and the cycle of nature because a circle has no beginning or end. The wreath also symbolizes the crown of thorns Jesus wore before He was crucified. The red berries represent His blood.
The green leaves of the holly tree (Ilex opaca -American) represent hope and immortality. Many arguments were settled under holly trees, also known for peace and joy.
Two legends are associated with the poinsettia, both involving poor Mexican children. One story is that on their way to church Christmas Eve, Pepita and Pedro gathered weeds as a gift to lay at the altar. The weeds suddenly turned into beautiful red flowers known as Flores de Noche Buena or Flowers of the Holy Night and have bloomed during Christmas ever since.
Another story is that when the empty-handed youngsters arose from prayer at the altar, red poinsettias sprang up where they knelt. They picked the blooms and left them as their gifts.
Joel Robert Poinsett, first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, and a botanist from South Carolina, discovered the plant growing in Taxco, Mexico in 1825 and sent it home for proliferation. Today, poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are available in burgundy, pink, salmon, white, swirled and speckled in addition to red, a symbol of purity.
Can you name Santa’s eight reindeer?
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder or Donner and Blitzen.
“Donder” appears in the earliest (1822-1940s) editions of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” also known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Around 1950, editions printed “Donner”, the German word for “thunder”, to match “Blitz”, the German word for “lightning.”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuted in 1939 as a coloring book to give to children visiting Santa Claus at Montgomery Ward stores.
Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, earned a platinum record for his 1949 recording, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
In 1964, Burl Ives narrated the television special in which he sings “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Rudolph and some of the other reindeer may have been misnamed because only female reindeer sport antlers at Christmas.
THE LEGEND OF SANTA CLAUS
Long before 8-year old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote The New York Sun in 1897 asking, “. . . is there a Santa Claus?”, there lived a fourth century Bishop named Nicholas of Myra in Asia Minor near the Mediterranean Sea. He was a generous man who slipped gold and silver coins through keyholes and under doors into the homes of poor people. He also used his wealth to save children from becoming slaves to Romans.
After his death December 14, A.D. 350, the Catholic Church declared December 6 Saint Nicholas Feast Day.
Eleventh century pirates stole his bones from Turkey to rest in Italy.
Saint Nicholas , a guardian of children and sailors, is the patron saint of Russia. The Dutch call him Sinterklass. The French call him Pere Noel or Bonhomme Noel. The Germans call him Christkind or Kris Kringle.
We call him Santa Claus. He is the ghost of Saint Nicholas, and his generous spirit continues.
Once depicted as tall and thin, Santa Claus wore a bishop’s robe and rode a white horse. In 1820, Washington Irving described him as a stout, jolly old man who wore a broad-brimmed hat, smoked a long pipe, and rode over treetops in a wagon filled with gifts.
Two years later, Clement Clarke Moore described him as a chubby and plump old elf with a little round belly in his poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” also known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Moore added twinkling eyes, cheeks like roses, a nose like a cherry, and a white beard.
Sixty years later, editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus as the elf he thought Moore described.
In the 1920s, Coca-Cola Company artist Haddom Sundblom drew Santa Claus in a red velvet suit larger than life holding a bottle of Coca-Cola as an advertising poster.
As The New York Sun editor Francis P. Church replied to Virginia O’Hanlon, in part, that because nobody sees Santa Claus, does not mean there is no Santa Claus. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist . . .”