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 Gifts and Gift-Givers

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PostSubject: Gifts and Gift-Givers   Mon Nov 19, 2007 4:00 pm



The tradition of Christmas gift-giving is shrouded in something of a mystery, although many believe the ritual to have descended from the "strenae" and "sigillaria" of the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival. Saturnalia (named for Saturn, the Roman God of Sowing) was observed from December 17th through December 25th. Ritualistic in nature, its purpose was to see out the old year and safeguard the health of the crops sown in Winter. For the populace, however, it was also a time of feasting and gift-giving. The citizens exchanged "strenae," boughs of laurel and evergreen which brought good luck, and the children received "sigillaria," small clay dolls which were purchased at a special fair held during the week of Saturnalia. Gifts of home-made pastries and sweets would be exchanged and those of higher rank might make presents of jewelry or pieces of gold and silver. In Frech Canada, this custom has been preserved.
Because Saturnalia took place at the Solstice, it was also known as the Festival of Lights. Many of the presents were gifts of candles which the people would burn throughout the Winter nights to summon the Sun back to life. These Roman traditions of feasting and gift-giving were, according to some sources, later absorbed into the Christian Christmas celebrations by virtue of the Apostles who brought the Gospel to Rome. Through the teaching of the Disciples, people learned of the Three Wise Men who traveled from the Orient bringing gifts to the newborn King. From that time on, the ancient custom became slightly altered. The exchanging of presents remained, but now it was in imitation of the gifts donated by the Magi to the Christ Child.

Later, it became customary to give gloves (or the money to purchase them). This was known as "glove money" and later extended to gifts of metal pins, which were introduced in the Sixteenth Century. Eventually "pin money" came to mean the small amounts of cash that women were allowed to spend in any manner they pleased during the centuries when they lacked economic rights. Sweet things have always been a traditional gift to ensure sweetness in the coming year, as are lamps which symbolize a wish for light and warmth, along with presents of money to represent the wish for increasing wealth. It is believed that the actual wrapping of gifts may have originated in Denmark.



Customs and dates for Christmas gift-giving vary greatly from country to country, as do the supposed donors of the gifts. Depending upon the place, the gifts are allegedly delivered by elves, angels, the Christ Child...even Jesus' camel... and are provided by an equally varied number of benefactors. In Brussels, it is the custom to give living gifts such as birds, pets or flowers and, in the West Indies, it is the custom to exchange or give hospitality, service or talent. Material gifts are not exchanged.

From ancient times, it has been believed that unlikely gift-givers would come out of hiding during Christmas...trolls, elves and goblins who were, at other times of the year, dangerous creatures from the "other world," but who could in their whimsical way be kind. In many countries, the person who brings the gifts at Christmas time comes at night. This person leaves the presents for children to find the next morning. However, in other countries, the bringer of gifts arrives during the day, often with an assistant who helps the benefactor to distribute the presents.



In Scandinavia, the "julnissen" and "jultomten" (elder hearth spirits of elfin origin who live in dark corners, in attics or stables, or under the stairs) emerge on Christmas Eve while the inhabitants of the house are sleeping, to feast on the porridge that the children have left out for them and to hide Christmas packages in unexpected places. In some areas of Sweden, Jultmoten the Gift-Bringer is a gnome whose sleigh is drawn by the Julbocker, goats which are the property of Thor, God of Thunder. Julmoten dresses in red and carries a bulging sack upon his back.





In Denmark, the gift-giver is Julemanden, who rides in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and carries a sack. Elves known as Juul Nisse are said to come down from the attic, where they live, in order to help Julemanden. Children place a saucer of milk or rice pudding out in the attic for these elves and hope to find it empty in the morning.





In Poland, the children's gifts are said to come from the stars while in Hungary, where children sometimes shine their shoes before placing them near the door on upon a windowsill as receptacles for the presents, they are believed to be brought to the little ones by angels.



In Syria, children's gifts are believed to come from the youngest camel and are given on January 6th, which is Three King's Day.



In Italy, the Crone of Befana (an old woman dressed all in black who rides a broomstick through the air) leaves trinkets for good children and coals for naughty ones. Befana's name is derived from the word "Epiphany" and it is on Epiphany Eve that Befana (like her ancestor, Berchta the Hearth Goddess) is abroad distributing her presents. In some areas, legend tells that La Befana refused to go to Bethlehem with the Wise Men when they passed her door because she had not finished her sweeping. Now, she goes from place to place, hoping that some day she will find the Christ Child. Everywhere she visits, she leaves a small gift.



In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, it is believed that an angel who is a herald from heaven visits homes every Christmas Eve riding a tiny deer laden with sweets and toys. Almost always portrayed as a pretty little creature, this gift-giver is named "Christkindl," or the Christ Child. In some areas of Germany today, children write letters to the Baby Jesus with their Christmas wishlist.



The bringer of presents to some locations in Russia is Kolyada, a white-robed elfin maiden who travels to homes by means of a sleigh. Every Christmas Eve, children in the Russian villages sing carols to honor Kolyada and she rewards them with treats. In other areas, the gift-giver is an ageless wanderer named Baboushaka. She is believed to have given wrong directions to the Magi and, on the eve of Three Kings Day, wanders from house to house peering into the faces of children and leaving gifts. Yet another Russian gift-giver is known as Grandfather Frost.



In Spain, Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America, children are given gifts on January 6th, which is also known as Three Kings Day. This is the feast of Epiphany when Christians celebrate the arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi. Shoes are put out on the windowsills of the houses to be filled by the Three Wise Men as they ride past. In Puerto Rico, children put greens and flowers in small boxes placed under their beds...gifts for the camels of the Three Kings.



The most easily-recognized and popular gift-giver is, of course, Saint Nicholas (known as Santa Claus or by a variety of other names).


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PostSubject: The reindeer   Mon Nov 19, 2007 4:22 pm





Reindeer are a species of deer located in the Arctic regions of the world. The largest Reindeer can reach up to four feet high at the shoulder and weigh as much as 250 pounds. It is believed that there are no longer any wild Reindeer, the entire species seeming to have been domesticated. Each Reindeer can pull up to twice its own weight, making it an ideal animal for pulling a sleigh loaded down with any amount of cargo. Reindeer were first domesticated approximately 2000 years ago and, in the Arctic Circle, the Lapps would herd them in much the same way as other nations herded cattle. Reindeer are well-adapted to living in cold regions and under rugged conditions, able to smell-out food even when it is buried under deep snow. Reindeer have large broad hooves which act like snowshoes to support them over snowy and boggy ground. These hooves emit a "clicking" sound as the animal walks, caused by a tendon in the foot rubbing against a bone. The coat of the Reindeer consists of thick fur and stiff hairs which protect them from the worst of the weather. A thick woolly undercoat keeps out the deep cold by trapping air near the skin. These thick coats are also waterproof and, during migration, Reindeer are able to cover vast distances, crossing both rivers and lakes, in search of favorable feedings grounds. The calves are born in early Summer and have the ability to run almost from the moment they are born...a necessary trait if they are going to keep up with their mothers. The antlers of a male Reindeer are larger than those of the female and are palmate at the top...akin to open hands. An antler span of four feet has been recorded.
The Reindeer driven by Santa Claus are the only known flying Reindeer in existence, believed to have been endowed with the power of flight by virtue of magic corn given to Kris Kringle by a great and wonderful wizard. Through this magic corn, the strength of the Reindeer is increased threefold, their stamina increased to infinity and their hooves can manipulate the air as though it were solid ground. Thus, a complement of nine Reindeer would be able to pull a sleigh brimming with 13,500 pounds of toys for an unlimited amount of time.


Radolph


"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is perhaps the most modern of all Christmas symbols and certainly the most familiar of Reindeer, even though he was not a member of Santa's original team. Created in 1939 by a 34-year old copywriter named Robert L. May, Rudolph was the product of a request made by May's employer, Montgomery Ward, which wanted a Christmas story it could use as a promotional tool for its chain of department stores. The Chicago-based company had been buying and distributing coloring books for children at Christmas for many years and the idea of creating a giveaway booklet of its own was perceived to be an excellent means of saving money. May, who had a penchant for writing children's stories and limericks, was called upon to create the booklet.
Originally in poetry form, May composed the tale about a misfit reindeer by drawing, in part, upon "The Ugly Duckling" concept and May's own childhood experience of being subjected to frequent taunting due to his small, slight stature and his tendency toward shyness. Thus, May settled upon the idea of an underdog who is ostracized by the rest of the reindeer community because of his physical abnormality...a glowing red nose. In search of an alliterative name for his misfit, May considered and rejected "Rollo" as being too cheerful and carefree. He also rejected "Reginald," feeling it to be too British in nature, before finally deciding upon "Rudolph."

The story was written as a series of rhyming couplets which May tested on his 4-year old daughter Barbara as he went along. Barbara was delighted with the story, but May's employer feared that a tale featuring a red nose...an image usually associated with drinking and drunkards...might prove unsuitable for a Christmas story. May responded by taking Denver Gillen, a friend from Montgomery Ward's art department, to the Lincoln Park Zoo in order that Gillen could sketch some deer. Gillen's illustrations of a red-nosed reindeer overcame the hesistancy of May's employer and the Rudolph story was approved. That first year (1939), Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of May's booklet, and although the wartime paper shortage curtailed printing for the following several years, a grand total of 6 million copies had been given to children by the end of 1946.

The post-war demand for licensing the Rudolph character was enormous but, since May had created the tale as an employee of Montgomery Ward, the company had possession of the copyright and May received no royalties. Deeply in debt due to the medical bills resulting from his wife's terminal illness (she passed away around the time Rudolph was created), May persuaded his employer's Corporate President, Sewell Avery, to turn over the copyright to him in January of 1947. With the rights to his creation in hand, May's financial security was assured.

Later that year, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was printed commercially and, in 1948, was shown in theaters as a 9-minute cartoon. The Rudolph phenomenon really caught on, however, when Johnny Marks, May's brother-in-law and songwriter, penned the lyrics and melody for a Rudolph song. This musical version of Rudolph's tale was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. It sold two million copies during its first year and went on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time...second only to "White Christmas." In 1964, an American television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, was produced and remains a constant holiday favorite to this day.

May quit his job in 1951 and spent the next seven years managing his creation. He then returned Montgomery Ward, where he worked until his retirement in 1971. May died in 1976, comfortable in the life that his misfit reindeer character had provided for him.

Although the story of Rudolph is best-known through the lyrics of Marks' song, May's initial rendition of the tale differs substantially in many ways. The original Rudolph was not one of Santa's reindeers nor was he the offspring of any of Santa's reindeers. Rudolph did not dwell at the North Pole but rather lived elswhere in an "ordinary" reindeer village. Although in May's story Rudolph was taunted and ridiculed for his shiny, red nose, he was not considered by his parents as a shameful embarrassment. Rudolph was raised in a loving reindeer household and was a responsible little fellow with a good self-image and sense of worth.

In addition, the original Rudolph did not rise to fame when Santa singled him out from the rest of the reindeer herd because of his shiny, red nose. Rudolph was discovered quite by accident when Santa noticed the glow emanating from Rudolph's room while the kindly old gift-giver was delivering presents to Rudolph's house. Concerned that the thickening fog...already the cause of several accidents and delays...would keep him from completing his Christmas Eve deliveries, Santa called upon Rudolph to lead the team of reindeer, observing upon their safe return:


"By YOU last night's journey was actually bossed.
Without you, I'm certain we'd all have been lost!"


The team


The eight named reindeer of Santa Claus first appeared in American literature in 1823, featured in the famous poem penned by Clement Clarke Moore entitled, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, also known as A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Prior to the appearance of this rhyme, legend had the jolly toy-bringer's sleigh pulled by one singular anonymous reindeer. By virtue of Moore's poem, Santa was gifted with eight reindeer: Dasher; Dancer; Prancer; Vixen; Comet; Cupid; Donder; and Blitzen. Unfortunately, for Donder, however, this particular reindeer is not always given the recognition so well-deserved, frequently being referred to as "Donner."

The Donder v.Donner Controvercy


Confusion over the name of one of Santa's reindeer has been present from the inception of Moore's poem. The first published version appeared in the New York "Troy Sentinel" in 1823 and contained a typographical error that listed a reindeer by the name of "Dunder." However, when the poem reappeared in a collection of Moore's poetry in 1844, the name given in the text was "Donder." Furthermore, Moore's own introduction to the collection indicated that "Donder" was indeed the correct spelling he had intended. In addition, in a longhand version of the poem written by Moore the year prior to his death, he again rendered the name of "Donder."
Part of the "Donder/Donner" confusion is that "Blitzen" (the reindeer with whom Donder is generally paired) takes its name from the German word for "lightning," and the German word for "thunder" is "Donner." ("Donder" means "thunder" in Dutch, but it is unknown whether Moore actually made this connection or whether it is merely a conincidence.) However, the true culprit in the perpetuation of this error appears to be the song, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (details of which are given above). When this song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949, the name of "Donder" had been transformed by Johnny Marks, the lyricist, into "Donner." The reasoning for this is not known. Marks was not reflecting a popular usage, since any reference to "Donner" being the name of one of Santa's reindeer did not appear in print prior to 1950. There has been speculation that the name change simply made the words flow more smoothly.

"Donner" was used again in 1948 with the release of Spike Jones' "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth," but in his 1996 television movie starring Angela Lansbury called "Mrs. Santa Claus," author Mark Saltzman correctly named the eight reindeer in accordance with Moore's intentions. Roland McElroy also used the correct name in his Christmas tale, "The Great Mizzariddle," as did Charles and Debra Ghigna in their book of Christmas poems entitled, "Christmas is Coming!"

With time, awareness and a little luck, perhaps Donder can once again be restored to the former glory of being known universally as a member of Santa's original Reindeer Team and the imposter known as "Donner" be laid to rest forever.



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