Friday, December 12, 2014

A Christmas Bouquet - Part I

In the late 1970s early 1980s I was addicted to catalogue shopping - Trifles, Horchow, Neiman-Marcus and Bloomingdale's catalogues arrived monthly.  As Christmastide approached it became an avalanche of marvelous, intriguing, glitzy and Christmasy things you just couldn't live without.  For a long while I had a complete collection of NM Christmas Books from 1979 to 2010 however I was convinced to recycle them in one of our moves - O foolish man!

The first Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book I
received in the post in 1979. I was hooked
on catalogue shopping for years afterwards.
But I digress.  One of the great pleasures for this poor boy living in the deepest darkest suburbs of Ottawa was discovering the wondrous treasures that, if available in Canada, certainly weren't available here in my particular neck of the backwoods.  Some totally useless - I recall purchasing a brush with a silver-plated handle for cleaning champagne flutes as a gift for a friend and a gold-plated toothbrush for another - others of a more lasting value - an antique style brass razor which is still used to this day.  The one thing that could be guaranteed was that that gifts would be different and chances of duplication slim.  And another of the  pleasures was that crowds and stores could be avoided during the seasonal rush - a phone call to the always pleasant sales people and a week or two later the postman would be at the door.  And often items would be ordered from catalogues earlier in the year - one year I had my Christmas shopping completed by August.

This year as we trimmed our tree I was reminded of how many of our decorations came from those catalogues, particularly the "collectibles".  N-M accounts for the 30 silver balls that we began collecting in 1979 and the charming felt mice that our Bundnie use to love; Horchow for the Russian fairy tale enameled porcelain roundels; and Bloomingdales for the Wedgwood Jasper ornaments and the Towle silver floral medallions.  Because our tree is, perforce, not a large one these days we have chosen to not include the Wedgwood or Russian ornaments this time around but this year the Floral medallions were given their place.

It was in their 1983 catalogue that Bloomingdale's announced that Towle, the New England silversmith, had issued the first in a Limited series of ten floral creations for the Yuletide season.   And thus began a new tradition in our house.

It has proven difficult to take clear photos of the medallions - silver, particularly recently polished silver - reflects everything including the camera lens.  However I thought I'd capture what I could of the remarkable artistry that went into their creation as well as the legends behind their association with Christmas.

1983 - The Christmas Rose

A rollover with your mouse will show the delicate work on the back of the ornament.
Roses have always had a place in Christian iconography particularly as a symbol of the Virgin Mary and as the sign of a miracle.  During medieval times the red rose and its thorny stem became associated with the Passion of Christ.

However what we call the Christmas Rose (Hellebore niger) is not a member of the rose family but is an evergreen flowering plant known for its winter hardiness.   It bears a white flower in late December/early January which lasts well into the coldest days of winter.  As the flower ages it often turns a pale pink. 

But why is it called the Christmas Rose?  Perhaps because it normally bloomed by Christmas Day on the Julian Calendar (January 7 on our Gregorian Calendar).   Also according to a popular legend that on the first Christmas as the shepherds made their way to the manager, the small sister of a shepherd tarried behind the others, playing in the snow.   When she arrived at the stable the shepherds had given their homage to the Infant and she had no gift to give.  She began to cry and and where her tears fell on the snow beautiful white flowers sprang up.  Her tears turned to joy and she gathered the flowers up and gave them to the Christ Child. The baby and his mother smiled at her and she left high of heart and told everyone of the birth of the baby Jesus.


1984 - Hawthorn 

A rollover with your mouse will show the delicate work on the back of the ornament.

The Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) has been considered a sacred tree since the time of the early Greeks and was revered for both its spiritual and medicinal properties by the Roman, the Celts , the Chinese and North American First Nations.  For the Romans and the Greeks it was linked to hope, good fortune, marriage and childbirth. Garlands of hawthorn leaves adorned bridal parties, processions were lit by hawthorn torches and leaves were put in the cradles of Roman babies to ensure good fortune.   For the Celtic peoples the hawthorn was known to be the favourite abode of the fairy folk and hawthorn groves were often the site of altars to the old gods.

It is said that during the Flight into Egypt Joseph  left the sleeping Mary and Jesus to find water and food.  Seeing Herod's men approaching the magpies gathered boughs of hawthorn to cover the sleeping mother and child and protect them from their enemies.

It was also believed that the Crown of Thorns was made from hawthorn and this led to its close association with death in Medieval times.  It was consider a sign of impending death to bring hawthorn into a house, a superstition that is still believed in some parts of England.  It was also believed that when Joseph of Arimathea came to evangelize England he had with him a staff made from the wood of the tree that had been used for that painful cornet.  On his journey he stopped on Wearyall Hill in the area of Glastonbury and when he lay down to rest pushed his staff into the ground.  When he awoke he found it had taken root, begun to grow and blossom.  He left it there and every Christmas and Spring the hawthorn sets forth buds and blossoms.

The story is told that during the Civil War a puritan tried to cut it down but was blinded by a splinter of wood before he could complete his task.*  The truth is that it was uprooted and burned during the time of the Commonwealth as a relic of heathen superstition but one of its castaway fragments - pilgrims were forever taking souvenir cuttings - found its way back to Glastonbury and to this day still blooms on Christmas Eve.  Each year a sprig of thorn is cut, by the local Anglican vicar and the eldest child from St John's School, and sent to the Queen.

*Sadly in 2010 it appears that vandals were able to accomplish what that unknown puritan could not.  On December 9th of that year the branches of the iconic tree were deliberately cut off.  When new shoots appeared the following year they were also removed in the dark of night.  And again in 2012 a newly grafted sapling was destroyed.  The current Glastonbury  Holy Thorn was propagated by grafting a cutting onto a common blackthorn tree. 

December 12 -  Paula Ackerman, the first woman appointed to perform rabbinical functions in the United States, leads the congregation in her first services.

1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Have you now transferred your love of catalogue shopping to buying gifts off the internet?

I was heartbroken when vandals cut down the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury on Wearyall Hill. Thank goodness we had visited it the year before and tied our ribbons to the iron circlet around it. Oh, the stupidity of vandalism!