12.12.08

The Holly Days

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 7:42 am by Marion

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

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Who says FD doesn’t have the holiday spirit?

Darn it, of course we do. The season isn’t about presents, after all, it’s about words.

So today, FD takes a jingle-infested sleigh ride through a few holiday words. Disclaimer: Without intending to offend, looking under the surface may reveal the holiday’s pagan roots.

Let’s start with yule. Other than rhyming with mule, why do we use this word to describe Christmas?

Yule comes to us from the Old english geol, which means Christmas Day. It may have arrived via the Old Norse jol, which was used to describe a heathen festival lasting 12 days … later referred to as Christmas.

treenetworksmwht.gifOur very own Christmas trees come to us from the old Celtic traditions of communing with spirits in the woods. And the evergreen trees, such as fir, pines and holly, symbolize eternal life. For an interesting review of the custom, visit the Christmas Tree Farm Network. Here’s an excerpt

King Tut never saw a Christmas tree, but he would have understood the tradition which traces back long before the first Christmas, says David Robson, Extension Educator, Horticulture with the Springfield Extension Center.

The Egyptians were part of a long line of cultures that treasured and worshipped evergreens. When the winter solstice arrive, they brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death.

The Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a fest called Saturnalia in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their houses with greens and lights and exchanged gifts. They gave coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light one’s journey through life.

Centuries ago in Great Britain, woods priests called Druids used evergreens during mysterious winter solstice rituals. The Druids used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life, and place evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits.

Late in the Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to show their hope in the forthcoming spring. Our modern Christmas tree evolved from these early traditions.

Legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas.

Meanwhile, in a surprising turn for the Merry Christmas word police, those fanatics who object to the term “holiday” on so-called religious grounds, threatening to boycott stores who don’t stick to their script … it’s interesting to note that word holiday is actually quite sanctified.

Holiday comes to us from the Old English haligdoeg, or “holy day.”

A perfect word for the season, that represents the sacred and yet can be used by everyone. Now that’s the true spirit of Christmas.

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