Read about the history of Christmas here!. At the Quarter Acre Paradise gardens the Christmas season is celebrated with a large series of charity events called the "Great Christmas Light Show" .
The 'Light Shows' are held annually in November and December at the "Quarter Acre" Paradise gardens. Many years ago both Dale and John combined their abilities to create an event to raise money for Child Cancer Foundation and then for the H.O.P.E. Trust.
Later these events helped fund the very successful Sutton Park School Project along with other primary school projects in our local community. At its peak the shows featured fabulous seasonal displays with more than 100,000 lights and as many flowers! What made these shows so unique was that they combined the best of Christmas decorating and lighting with the fact that Christmas in New Zealand is near the peak of the flower garden season. This combines the best of both worlds into one highly unique event. Make a club or group booking now!!
The History of Christmas (Part 1)
From very ancient times the Nordic races and especially the Druids celebrated the pagan festival of the winter solstice on December 22. Celebrating the rebirth of the sun and the lengthening days to come, the festival was called Yule or "Jol", a Nordic word meaning "festival of 12 days". Celebrations centred around the fir tree which symbolically represented an ever-continuing cycle of life. The northern pagan tribes viewed the fir tree with great reverence. It had the ability to survive and stay green throughout the severest of winter conditions while giving shelter, timber and many essences used for healing. Fir logs burned brightly and gave off great warmth. It was believed that fire kept the devil away and it symbolizing warmth and light. Giant Yule logs of fir or oak were carried to the home amid great singing, dancing and revelry. The log was lit with a brand from the previous year's log and was dedicated to the honour of Thor. The log was kept burning for the entire 12 day festival. If it were to go out this would have been very bad luck.
Decorations made of straw and corn adorned the house and were place on the front door. They were meant to please the corn and wheat spirits to insure a good harvest later in the year. Sacred fir boughs decorated the house in sprigs, garlands and wreaths as a symbol of survival and renewed life. Holly, ivy, yew, cherry laurel and mistletoe all carried immense spiritual significance so were incorporated with the fir boughs in the decorating scheme. A wreath always adorned the front door as a sign of welcome and good luck for the coming growing season. The circular wreath represented the continuing, eternal circle of life. Usually made of willow, symobilizing grace and flexibility, it was adorned with all the other symbols of life: fir, holly, pine cones, mistletoe, etc.The tree itself was decorated with similar symbols. Small willow wreaths adorned with berries, pine cones, apples, nuts and other fruits, small cakes and shapes cut out of bread, bird feathers, sprigs of holly, wintergreen, and mistletoe. The Yule festival spread with the advance of the Norms through much of Europe but remain unchanged for many centuries.
Further south the Romans also celebrated a winter solstice festival. This was the festival of Saturnalia. Saturn was the god of agriculture. The rebirth of the sun was extremely important and represented the beginning of the new growing season. Saturnalia began Dec 17th with religious rites lasting 7 days. No one could work during this time except cooks and bakers. This was a time of great feasting, drinking and gambling. Laws were reversed for that week. Slaves were freed for those seven days and one was chosen as king and given a paper crown to wear. Because it was very important to appease Saturn, a spirit of enforced goodwill abounded. People were expected to live in harmony . There was to be no fighting or discord among the population. Small gifts were shared between family and friends as a token of endearment.
Decorations with obvious agricultural relevance adorned both the inside and outside of the house. These often included holly, cherry and bay laurel, cedar, cypress and other evergreen boughs and garlands, fruits, nuts, berries and arrangements of grains. Candles often adorned these decorations or were placed around the house to symbolise the coming of the light from the darkest days of the year.The first Christian influence on the festival appeared in the fourth century. Early Christians were attempting to make converts of the pagans. The winter festival of Yule seemed to be a perfect time to celebrate Christ's birth. The people were already celebrating the rebirth of the sun and the returning light and warmth. And Jesus said he was the "Light of the World' and giver of love, warmth and through Him all good things would come to the believer. The Christians therefore chose Jan 6th as the day to commemorate Christ's birth. This allowed for many religious celebrations throughout the Yule Festival that would ultimately lead to the religious mass on Jan. 6.
It wasn't until the 16th Century that Christ's Mass became changed through olde English spelling into what we know today as "Christmas". Until 1752, the date set for Christmas continued to be Jan. 6th. But in that year astronomers readjusted the calender in keeping with scientific knowledge and that brought the date forward to it's present December 25th.In the 8th Century the Christian conversion of pagan Germany was nearly complete. In a symbolic gesture, St. Boniface cut down the sacred oak tree of Odin. Behind it stood a small fir tree. Since the fir was the traditional symbol of survival in Nordic religion, St. Boniface attempted to save the day by immediately dedicating the small fir tree to baby Jesus.
The association stuck.Legend states that Martin Luther was the first person to create a tree decorated with candles. His inspiration came after a walk through a forest of fir trees one star-lit winter evening. He was enchanted with the starlight glittering through the evergreen boughs. Immediately he went home and attempted to reproduce the effect for himself and his children by placing small, lighted candles on a fir tree. Even with it's new religious significance tree decorating remained a localized tradition among the remnants of the Nordic races, especially in Germany where craftsmen greatly expanded the range of ornamentation. German candles, glass and lead light ornaments became true works of art. Yet Christmas tree decorating would not become accepted in most of Europe and certainly in England until much later. Because at this point the holiday of Christmas was banned!
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The History of Christmas (Part 2)
Believe it or not, Christmas was once banned and illegal! This was largely due to the influence of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans who took over power in Britain in 1642. Cromwell considered Christmas to be a heathen festival and banned it. Everyone was forced to work on Christmas day under threat of severe punishment. For a long time Christmas retreated to private homes and remote country villages where Cromwell had no power.Then in the Victorian era a feeling of sentimentality swept British society. There was a sense of charity and goodwill among the people who longed for the golden years of greatness.
Since Christmas embodied these better qualities of the human spirit, Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert seized the moment and reinstated Christmas. In 1841 they set up a beautiful tree for their children at Windsor Castle. The time-honoured Nordic traditions of the German craftsmen soon found new expression in the Victorian Christmas tree. Soon trees were covered in toys, hand-carved animals, cherubs, and small gift parcels (some with real gifts inside). Musical scrolls, mirrored baubles, and glass globes dipped in glitter became fashionable along with strands of gold beads hung with glass tear drops. Golden apples, gilded walnuts, stars, lanterns, finger-sized angels with sweetly painted faces mixed with bows and bells all featured on these Victorian trees.
The traditional angel was sometimes replaced with a fairy, star of Bethlehem or large velvet bow in red and green gilt edge wired into place.Although many people could not afford their own tree, many belonged to hunting clubs or clan societies that could. These trees featured brass decorations tied on with ribbon made from tartan of the clan or club. Thus tartan became associated with Christmas decorating.Seaside themes were popular during that era. Triple strings of pearls, porcelain seashells, pirate chests, clipperships and Victorian swags represented this nautical theme.
Another theme included porcelain, lace, ribbon and bows in pastels, fans, violins, cherubs, porcelain fairies, birds, rocking horses and organdy ribbon over evergreen. The traditional Christmas tree base was made of cast iron including a watering dish.The tree was traditionally decorated on Christmas Eve with the entire family. The celebrations were deliberately promoted as a time of sharing, peace and goodwill among family and friends which was meant to help carry this mood throughout the year.John Calcott Horsley, a member of the Royal Academy, was commissioned to design the first Christmas card in 1843. Cards were first printed in 1846 and thousands quickly sold for a shilling. Most were floral themes as victorians chose flowers to symbolize and enhance their Christmas messages.
The invention of electricity in 1879 electrified the Christmas candle and the tree. By 1882 the first American Christmas tree was illuminated with 80 red, white and blue lights that flashed as the tree was turned on. Soon everyone had to have one. Today lights come in all shapes, sizes, and colours from tiny fairy lights to flowers, bell shapes, and those that flash. Ornamentation is endless in style size and variety. In the U.S.A. decorations can even be personalized with the owners name plate. Christmas has become big business with special store selling Christmas products year-round. Heirloom ornaments often sell for hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
So as it turn out, Christmas is an international tradition spanning many centuries. The Germans gave us the tree, lit the candles and made most of the decorations. Scandinavians gave us the wreath made of pine, fir or willow, the Yule log and many decorations of their own. The Romans gave us the spirit of the festive season, garlands and gifts of appreciation. The Dutch gave us Santa Claus and the Christmas stocking filled with treats. The Spanish gave us Las Posados, an annual procession that re-enacts the journey made by Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Mixing street theatre with noisy festivities it is the basis for our modern Christmas parades. The English gave us plum pudding and feasts of turkey. And the carols singing the praises of this special holiday come from many lands.
"Good King Wenceslas" is English, "Holy Night" is French. From Germany comes "Silent Night" and "O Christmas Tree". The U.S.A gave us "Jingle Bells" and while many once thought that Martin Luther wrote "Away in a Manger" it is now credited to a tiny congregation from a country church in Pennsylvania.But no matter what the background or nationality the spirit of Christmas seems to touch the hearts and souls of one and all who experience it. That is because Christmas represents the very best qualities of the human spirit. Christmas is a legacy from our collective past of what we were and at the same time is an inspirational reminder of what we are meant to be all the time. Merry Christmas!
The Christmas Cracker The Bon-Bon or Christmas cracker was first invented by Tom Smith, a British confectionary apprentice. During Victorian times he was responsible for making wedding cake decorations. In 1847 he took a trip to Paris in search of new ideas for the confectionary business. While passing a small shop window he saw a display of sugared almonds wrapped in brightly coloured tissue paper twisted at each end. This was the beginning of the bon-bon. He decided to capitalise on the seasonal aspect by placing a small message of endearment inside as well as a tiny gift or sweet. A paper crown or hat was often included.
This had been a traditional gift found within tiny parcels hung on old Victorian Christmas trees. This was a carry-over from the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia where slaves were freed for 7 days and one was chosen as king and given a paper crown to wear.While Smith's bon-bons were a success, he was always looking for improvements. Later while sitting in front of a roaring fire in his home he became acutely aware of the crackling of the fire logs. This inspired him to search out a way to put a "bang" in his product.It took him 2 years to invent the saltpetre friction strip. His new Christmas crackers were an instant success and gave the world our modern bon-bon complete with paper hat, rhyme. and small plastic or metal toy.
Deck The Halls From very ancient times many plants have been used to decorate the house and surrounds during the Christmas season. In Roman times during the winter festival of Saturnalia which commemorated the passing of the winter solstice homes were hung in garlands inside and out. Green branches decorated with holly, cones and berries were sometimes adorned with lit candles to welcome the coming of the light after the darkest, shortest days of the year. Northern European pagans and Nordic tribes used fir tree branches and entire trees to celebrate a similar solstice festival called "Yul". Evergreens represented survive and the renewal of life. Homes were decked in the boughs inside and out.
Fir trees were decorated with berries, fruits, cones, and wreaths of woven willow. Holly, ivy and mistletoe were often bundled together or arranged separately as decorations on the tree and around the home.Mistletoe, named the "golden bough," was credited by Druids as having magical and mysterious healing properties. There were remedies against poisoning, to induce or enhance fertility in men and animals and to drive off evil spirits. During Victorian times mistletoe was once again hung in the hallway. As a symbol of good will, anyone standing underneath the mistletoe could be kissed. This was supposed to be a Christian kiss of endearment but Victorian young men soon realized that this was an excellent opportunity to steal a kiss from a pretty young maiden.
Needless to say, the tradition caught on an persists to this day.Holly was also credited as a plant that could flower and fruit during the worst of winter conditions. It became symbolic with survival and renewed life. Later the Christians associated holly with the crown of thorns worn by Christ. An ancient Christian legend suggested that the holly was once a tall tree covered in white berries. But once it was used as the crown of thorns God shrunk it's stature and turned it's berries red like the drops of Christ's blood. Ivy carried a similar reputation. The pagans also associated ivy to Bacchus, god of revelry. Ivy was always used as garland at any festival or event where laughter, good humour, good luck and good intentions were expected. Ivy was also considered an excellent protection against drunkenness.
Other plants often used included Cherry Laurel which was supposed to purify and protect wherever it was placed. Bay Laurel, often used by the Roman's was considered to attract the spirits of good cheer. Yew, another important evergreen throughout Europe was used to ward off all evil spirits and witches. Helleborous, especially the black helleborous or Christmas Rose, was one of the only true flowers available throughout Europe in the winter. Where available it was gathered and used as decoration in the Nordic Yule Festival and was a favourite in the Roman festival of Saturnalia.During the Victorian times helleborous was a very popular decoration during the Christmas season.
It only went out of fashion during the later part of the 19th century as modern technology made other flowers varieties more readily available. Rosemary is the herb of remembrance. Since the winter festivals always had an air of remembrance and tradition associated with them and since rosemary dried well, was evergreen, fragrant and plentiful (especially in much of the Roman Empire) it was frequently incorporated in decorations. Rosemary was always used to decorate the boar's head upon the Christmas table.
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The Christmas stocking is a tradition that originated in Holland. St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, was known for his good works with children. He used to ride around his community on a white horse and would reward good children with a small coin, punish the lazy by giving them a piece of coal and the misbehaved received a birch rod for whipping by their parents. Over the years it became customary for children to leave out a shoe or an old clog filled with carrots, hay or water for St. Nicholas' horse. Parents found children to be in awe of St. Nicholas. It became very convenient to control their behaviour be saying that their conduct would be noticed and dealt with by the patron saint. In later years the shoe or clog was often felt by the hearth rather than the front door. Even though the white horse and the Saint were long in the grave, by the next morning the shoe was always filled with sweets and a small gift or the birch rod. In later years, the stocking to the place of shoes and clogs because they were more easily filled. Children liked the idea that more would fit within. And to this day the same miracle occurs each year when millions of stocking, shoes, and in some places, even clogs are filled with tiny gifts.
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The tradition of Santa Claus originated with St Nicholas (Sante Klaus in Dutch) who lived in Holland in the fourth century. A very solemn looking man, St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra and was well known for his charity and his good works especially with children. He later became the patron saint of children. He would ride around his community on a white horse, instructing children and parents on proper conduct and family life. Children were frequently rewarded for good behaviour with the gift of a small coin or a sweet. Those that were lazy sometimes received a piece of coal. Those that misbehaved were given a birch rod which their parents used to whip them with.Children were in awe of St. Nicholas.
Parents found it very easy to control their children simply by saying that St. Nicholas would surely find out whatever the crime happened to be and that punishment would be delivered. It became a tradition for children to place an old shoe or clog filled with water, hay or carrots by the front door. This was to feed St. Nicholas' white horse. After the death of Nicholas, Dec. 5th was dedicated as Saint Nicholas day and became the first day of the gift-giving season especially in Holland and Belgium.In 1822 American author Clement Moore wrote the classic poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas" about a visit from Saint Nicholas. This poem was widely read and greatly enhanced the reputation of this nearly forgotten saint. Then in 1863 an American illustrator and cartoonist, Thomas Nast, drew the first illustration of St. Nicholas as a small, rotund, elfish character dressed in a red suit and hat with white fir trim adorned with sprigs of holly and carrying a bag full of present.
This created the modern illusion of Santa Claus as known today. Santa's reindeer did not materialise until 1939. Montgomery Wards Department store in the U.S.A. published a children's story written by Robert L. May as a Christmas give-away. It was the story of the forlorn reindeer Rudolph who would lead the sleigh and the other reindeer Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen'. 2 1/2 million copies were distributed in the first year of publication and a legend was created.
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