A few weeks back I received a lovely kind gift from a blogging friend - Katie at Randomnest. A box set of 100 postcards, each one a copy of a vintage Ladybird book. It's a wonderful collection, and it's also a reminder of just how many fantastic Ladybird books have been published. I bought four little frames and chose four of my favourite postcards, with the intention of working my way through them. Definitely a great gift for a vintage Ladybird book lover!
Now onto this week's book. It's well into November now, so it must be time to start thinking about Christmas! The Ladybird book "The Stories of Our Christmas Customs" is from Series 644 - Customs. There were only two books in this series - this one and a more general book titled "Stories of Special Days and Customs" which covers other special days such as Shrove Tuesday. You can find more details about this series here. "The Stories of Our Christmas Customs" was published in 1964 and is a look at the origins of our familiar Christmas traditions.
The book begins with the reason that Christmas is celebrated - to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. But the origins of Christmas go back a lot further than that, and many of the traditions that we carry out at this time of year have nothing at all to do with Christianity. Long before Jesus was born, the 25th December was the shortest day of the year and people worshipped the sun, praying for it to return for another summer. Because Christians knew that God made the sun, they chose this day to worship the son of God. The shortest day now falls on the 21st December due to changes in the calendar, but the 25th December has remained as the day for celebration.
Even the Nativity scene has existed from times before the birth of Jesus, when clay dolls were sold in the streets of Rome at the Roman winter festivals to be given as presents. When Romans became Christians they bought dolls which looked like the people of the Nativity story, and so in time they were created specifically for this purpose. This book is filled with fascinating information!
The book looks at some of the things that people do at Christmas time, for example a trip to the pantomime or circus. The pantomime is a British custom, although had beginnings with the eighteenth century dancing of French comic dances from the Paris fairs, with stories from fairy tales and nursery rhymes added in to give the dancers a rest. This book suggests that the Christmas circus has become more popular than the pantomime. I'm not sure if this is still the case today, certainly I never went to a Christmas circus when I was little, although I've noticed more of them around over the last few years.
The book continues on from Christmas with a comprehensive look at Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, finishing with Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night doesn't have the importance in the calendar that it once did, and so the traditional Twelfth Night cake has now become Christmas Cake, eaten on Christmas Day.
This is an absolutely fascinating book, I can't believe how much I have learned from reading it! It is so interesting to learn about where all these customs come from, and of course even though the book itself was published a few years ago it is still absolutely relevant today.