National Christmas Tree Day

On December 8, we celebrate the Christmas tree. We think of the decorated tree as the symbol of Christmas, but the use of evergreens around the time of the winter solstice goes back as far as the history of humankind. In very earliest times, when most peoples worshipped the sun, the solstice marked both the time of the sun’s weakness and the time when it began to grow strong again. People brought living greens into their homes to celebrate the strengthening of the sun, and the promise of spring and planting time to come. Evergreens have long been considered special because they are green when other things are dead.

According to WhyChristmas.com, “Nobody is really sure when Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees. It probably began about 1000 years ago in Northern Europe. Many early Christmas Trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains (hung from chandeliers/lighting hooks).”

Some say the first to light a candle atop a Christmas tree was Martin Luther. Legend has it, late one evening around Christmas time, Luther was walking home through the woods when he was struck by the innocent beauty of starlight shining through fir trees. Wanting to share this experience with his family, Martin Luther cut down a fir tree and took it home. He placed a small candle on the branches to symbolize the Christmas sky.

In the middle ages, many clergy condemned the Christmas tree as distracting from the birth of Jesus, the true reason for celebrating the season. Puritans, in particular, disliked this tradition (among many others). However, by the time of Queen Victoria, it had become an accepted custom, and it is a rare home today, especially one with children, which doesn’t have its decorated tree with presents beneath.

Quotes about Christmas trees

The best Christmas trees come very close to exceeding nature. If some of our great decorated trees had been grown in a remote forest area with lights that came on every evening as it grew dark, the whole world would come to look at them and marvel at the mystery of their great beauty.–Andy Rooney

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.–Burton Hillis

The Christmas spirit that goes out with the dried-up Christmas tree is just as worthless.—Unknown

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
–Irving Berlin

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.–Larry Wilde

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely!
Each year you bring renewed delight,
A-gleaming in the Christmas night.–German Carol

The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!–Charles N. Barnard

Stop, sit, light a quiet flame. Stare into the glittering green of the tree for a while. Bundle up, breathe, and be together. Let it all come to rest. And just remember how it ought to be.–Mike Connelly

For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow.
It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow.
It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men
When the Christmas spirit returns again.
–Anonymous

Everyone wants a Christmas tree. If you had a Christmas tree Santa would bring you stuff! Like hair curlers and slut shoes.–Janet Evanovich

The Christmas tree is a symbol of love, not money. There’s a kind of glory to them when they’re all lit up that exceeds anything all the money in the world could buy.–Andy Rooney

…freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night…–John Gedde

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St. Nicholas Day

More widely commemorated in Europe than the States, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Nicholas was born sometime in the late third century C.E in the village of Patar, which was located on the southeastern coast of modern-day Turkey. He lost his parents at an early age to an epidemic. Taking seriously the command in the Bible to “sell all you have and give to the poor,” he spent the wealth left him in good deeds to the less fortunate. While still a young man, Nicholas became Bishop of Myrna. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Many stories and legends have grown up around Nicholas and his generosity. Many know the story about how he put dowry money in a shoe so poor girls could marry. If the story is unfamiliar to you, you can read it here.  It is thought that this story, at least, is likely true.

Another story tells that after his death, he appeared to a slave boy and brought him home.

The Saint Nicholas center tells us: “Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. … [He is ] patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need”

Nicholas died on December 6, providing us the background legend that became Santa Claus.

Quotes about Christmas

While winter is white and cold and human hearts are warm, Christmas must continue to be the universal festival of peace and good will, the sacred season of love, the holiday of kindness.—Unknown

Which Christmas is the most vivid to me? It’s always the next Christmas.–Joanne Woodward

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.–Bob Hope

When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost–
To heal the broken–
To feed the hungry–
To release the prisoner–
To rebuild the nations–
To bring peace among brothers and sisters–
To make music in the heart.–Howard Thurman

We worry about finding just the right gift, hanging just the right decorations, sending the right card. So many times I say I wish I could slow down, scale back, and reclaim the true meaning of Advent. The reality, though, is that I am the only one preventing that from happening.–Susan Hines-Brigger

We should try to hold on to the Christmas spirit, not just one day a year, but all 365.–Mary Martin

Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display–so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow. It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow. It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men when the Christmas spirit returns again.—Anonymous

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it “white”.–Bing Crosby

Three phrases that sum up Christmas are: Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, and Batteries not Included.—Unknown

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National Cookie Day

December 4 is the day to celebrate cookies, or if you are outside the United States, biscuits. In 1987, Matt Nader of the San Francisco-based Blue Chip Cookie Company created Cookie Day, saying: “It’s just like having National Secretaries Day… It will just be a fun thing to do.” Needless to say, it is also endorsed by the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. He proclaimed it in the 1980 book The Sesame Street Dictionary.

The English word “cookie” is derived from the Dutch word “koekie” meaning little cake. Cookies have been around a long time if you count the hard-baked wafer type food that people carried on trips because they traveled well. The origin of what we would consider cookies appears to begin in Persia in the seventh century, soon after the use of sugar became common in the region. They were then spread to Europe through the Muslim conquest of Spain. Cookies arrived in the U.S. in the seventeenth century. They were a little different than today, perhaps. The cookie recipe in the first American cookbook had some interesting ingredients. You can find a modern-day adaptation of the recipe here. Ginger cookies were also popular. An adapted recipe from 1784 can be found here.

Of course, there are all kinds of cookies, but since it is only three weeks until Christmas, it’s time to be making those Christmas cookies to eat and to share. If you are too busy to bake, you can find a list of places giving out free cookies on December 4, here.

Although Oreos are a huge favorite for cookies from the store, it turns out people really prefer homemade, which isn’t too surprising. Nor is the fact that chocolate chip cookies are number one, followed by chocolate, then oatmeal chocolate chip. So enjoy a cookie today!

Free Cookie at Great American Cookies on Dec. 4. (PRNewsfoto/Great American Cookies)

Quotes about cookies

In the cookie of life, friends are the chocolate chips.–Salman Rushdie

I love cookies baking. During the winter, they have these candles that smell like cookies, and I always buy like a hundred of them.–Jared Padalecki

I think cookies are sort of the unsung sweet, you know? They’re incredibly popular. But everybody thinks of cakes and pies and fancier desserts before they think cookies. A plate of cookies is a great way to end dinner and really nice to share at the holidays.–Bobby Flay

Classic Christmas cookies are really time-consuming. Instead, make a bar you can bake in a pan and just cut up, like a brownie or a blondie or a shortbread, which still has that Christmas vibe.–Zooey Deschanel

Baking cookies is comforting, and cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. They are very bite-sized and personal.–Sandra Lee

I think baking cookies is equal to Queen Victoria running an empire. There’s no difference in how seriously you take the job, how seriously you approach your whole life.–Martha Stewart

I’m a mom, a full-time mom when I’m not taping. I do the carpool thing, and bake the cookies, and do the homework.–Vanna White

I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.–Hillary Clinton

A balanced diet is a cookie in both hands.–Paula Deen (and many others!)

Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.–Barbara Jordan

Peace means no one is worried about anyone else’s cookie…in this moment we are all quietly content with the cookies we have.–Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I mean, at the end of the day, if you can’t have a Girl Scout cookie and a piece of cheese, what is life all about?–Amanda Seyfried

What thought or message would you put in a fortune cookie? “Stop reading this. Eat the cookie and live your life.–Veronica Roth

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St Paul’s Cathedral

On December 2, 1697, St Paul’s Cathedral was consecrated for use. The first regular service was held on the following Sunday. As I was recently in London and visited this edifice again, this seemed like a good day to commemorate.

St Paul’s sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London. There has been a church on that site since 604, and it has always been dedicated to the Apostle Paul. The two previous structures burnt down, one in 1087, and the other in the Great Fire of London, 1666.

Sir Christopher Wren was given the task of designing a newer, more modern building in 1669. Wren’s design combined Neoclassical, Gothic, and Baroque elements in an attempt to symbolize the ideals of both the English Restoration and 17th-century scientific philosophy.

The cathedral survived the Blitz although struck by bombs on October 10, 1940, and April 17, 1941. A much more serious time-delay bomb was removed on September 12, 1940, at great risk. Civilian defense brigades, including the St. Paul’s Fire Watch, protected the structure, patrolling each night. One of the best-known images of London during the war was a photograph of St Paul’s showing the cathedral shrouded in smoke. The fact that it continued to stand became a symbol of the British people. I’ve included the photo below.

Some of the famous people buried in St Paul’s are the writer John Donne, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, Admiral Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Christopher Wren himself. Above his resting place is his epitaph translated says, “Reader, if you seek a monument, look about you.”

I love St Paul’s. Partly, it is a wonderful building to see – very impressive, both the sanctuary and the crypt below. But I also have fond memories of the Crypt Café. They make wonderful soup, and the ambiance is perfect.

Quotes about cathedrals
[Note: I have heard the below story from more than one place. I don’t know who said it originally, but I love it. It goes on for several paragraphs.] On a foggy autumn day, nearly 800 years ago a traveler happened upon a large group of workers adjacent to the River Avon. Despite being tardy for an important rendezvous, curiosity convinced the traveler that he should inquire about their work.

With a slight detour, he moved toward the first of the three tradesmen and said: “my dear fellow what is it that you are doing?” The man continued his work and grumbled, “I am cutting stones.”

Realizing that the mason did not wish to engage in a conversation the traveler moved toward the second of the three and repeated the question. To the traveler’s delight, this time the man stopped his work, ever so briefly, and stated that he was a stonecutter. He then added, “I came to Salisbury from the north to work but as soon as I earn ten quid I will return home.” The traveler thanked the second mason, wished him a safe journey home and began to head to the third of the trio.

When he reached the third worker, he once again asked the original question. This time the worker paused, glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact and then looked skyward drawing the traveler’s eyes upward. The third mason replied, “I am a mason and I am building a cathedral.”

I love church buildings, particularly cathedrals, and I like living in spaces that remind me of music or evoke that creative energy.
~ Laura Mvula

Of all man’s works of art, a cathedral is greatest.
~ Henry Ward Beecher

I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need their beauty and grandeur. I need their imperious silence.
~ Pascal Mercier

I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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