Since today is the first day of December, I thought why not kick it off with a special Did Ya Know Friday. Ever wonder where your favorite Christmas traditions come from? You'd be surprised at how many are tied to superstitions.
Let's start off with the Yule log. Buying one was considered unlucky. So, you either had to be lucky enough to find one on your own land or get one from a neighbor. First, you fetch the carefully-preserved scrap of the previous year's log from under the homeowner's bed. The new log had to catch fire during the first attempt at lighting it. If it didn't, it was considered a sign of misfortune coming to the family. It also had to be done with clean hands. Lighting a log with dirty hands was a sign of disrespect. Once lit, the log had to be kept burning for twelve hours and could not be tended as long as any scrap of the dinner remained on the table, or while anyone was still eating.
As the log burned, people told ghost stories and tales while drinking cider. Shadows cast upon the wall were carefully scrutinized, for it was well known that a "headless" shadow foretold the death of the person casting it within the year.
Concerning food, any Christmas cuisines could not be eaten before that day dawned for it would be unlucky. You were to visit and sample mince pies at different houses during the festive season so you will have happy months in the year to come. You also could not cut into mince pies or you may "cut your luck". If Christmas pudding is on the menu, everyone must take part in stirring it if the household is to prosper. Traditionally, one has to stir the mixture at least three times, seeing the bottom of the pot each time. If you were an unmarried woman and didn't stir the pudding, then you wouldn't be able to find a husband.
Those interested might try making a dumb cake at midnight on Christmas Eve. Prepared in complete silence by one or more, this concoction of flour, water, eggs, and salt is placed on the hearthstone with the upper surface of the cake pricked with the initials of one of those present. Provided the silence is unbroken, the future partner of the person indicated on the cake will appear and similarly prick his or her initials onto the cake. In some regions, a petitioner must walk backwards to her bed after eating the cooked cake, to dream of her future spouse.
It is unlucky to send carolers away empty-handed, no matter how badly they sing as one might be a king in disguise. Offer food, a drink, or a bit of money. Singing carols at any time other than during the festive season is unlucky.
Stockings are hung by the chimney in remembrance of the largesse of St. Nicholas. He was said to have tossed three coins down the chimney of the home of three poor sisters. Each coin fell neatly into stockings left drying by the hearth. We therefore leave our stocking out in hopes that a similar bit of good fortune will befall us.
And we certainly can not leave out mistletoe, had to save the best for last. Ever wonder why it is custom to kiss under the mistletoe? First, mistletoe, like holly, was considered a powerful charm against witches and lightning. At one point, it was said to be a cure for poison, epilepsy, barrenness and whooping cough. Traditionally, a man may take a kiss from a girl standing under the sprig, but only if he plucks a berry from the plant and presents it to her with each kiss. Once the berries are gone, so is the kissing.
Berry plucking possibly had something to do with the rumored powers of conception. Ladies looking to conceive are advised to carry a sprig of mistletoe with them. The gentleman who kisses and presents a berry from the plant to his lady is symbolically offering to get her with child.
A particular love charm tied to the mistletoe required a young lady to swallow the berry, prick the initials of her love in the sprig of leaf and sews the leaf to her corset so it would be near her heart and thus binding his love to her for as long as the leaf lasts. Though, I wouldn't advise anyone to do this since mistletoe berries are poisonous.
If you enjoy learning about these, I will have more Christmas tradition origins later on this month. Be looking out for those and pay a special visit to my renter at Dead Silence.