Traditions

Harvest Season: A Message from the Past

Autumn is in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere, but you really can’t appreciate it unless you live somewhere where the leaves are changing. Fall is a great season full of history. It is also the time to spend as much time outside before winter sets in. Sure, winter has its own history and traditions, but halfway through it you are ready for it to be over. Fall, on the other hand, is often way too short.

One of the season’s highlights is the focus on harvest and the related festivals. Yes, we all enjoy these, especially Thanksgiving, though by then it often feels like winter. In the past these events took on great importance as people stocked up for winter and enjoyed the transitional temps while they lasted. But I wonder if people should pay some more attention to the harvest season like they once did.

We are so used to walking into Wal-Mart and buying our food and have no clue where it comes from. Nor do we know what’s in it and we waste it by the ton. What happens if we face a natural or man-made catastrophe? Or even a temporary (few month long) problem with food supplies? And what would people do if they couldn’t get fruit year-round anymore like back in the day?

Maybe people should use this season to learn to be a little more self-reliant. Figure out what they would do if they couldn’t get to the store for a few days. I’m not talking about building bunkers here, but most people would be at a complete loss. Do you have a back-up heat source? Water? Food for a couple days? It’s really common sense, but we have become so pampered we think buying milk, bread and toliet paper is all the survival skills we need.

Our ancestors knew to plan ahead. Their lives depended on it. Sadly, most people today don’t realize that just one small hiccup can change everything.

P.S. If you read the link above about the tons of food we waste, I hope you also conclude that there should be no hungry people in this world. Perhaps this season, as it often has, should be used by everyone to find ways to waste less and share more.

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The Aztec Christmas Flower

The Poinsettia was introduced from Mexico in the early 1800s by Joel Roberts Poinsett. Franciscan friars had been using them in their Christmas decorations. The star-shaped leaf of the plant was said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. The red leaves (yes, they are leaves) represented the blood of Jesus. Legends had arisen of a young girl involved with miracles occurring with the plant. Long before that the Aztecs had used them to make dyes and medication. They also used them in their human-sacrifice rituals, the leaves being a reminder of those who were sacrificed. Interesting to ponder that this symbol of Christmas was once part of such a terrible tradition from long centuries ago. Though, ironically, we still make the blood association. The plant’s supposed poison qualities, however, are a myth (doesn’t mean it’s edible, however).

Categories: Ancient America, Native Americans, Traditions | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Christmas Past

Most people don’t realize that during Christmas they are surrounded by symbols that reach back into history. Take the Christmas tree, for example.

Centuries ago, Vikings and other peoples brought the evergreen into the house to bring life to the long winter. Today, we bring it in at the beginning of winter where it freshens the house before we are trapped inside until spring.

The tradition would be adapted by Christians, using the living tree to show the birth of Christ. Often topped with a star or angel and at times equated with the Tree of Life. Many traditions arose, from originally hanging it upside down, to Martin Luther supposedly coming up with lighting the true. But Christmas trees didn’t really catch on in America until the mid 1800s.

Some still don’t like the idea that it was once used by pagan cultures. However, the standard by which ex-pagan symbols are good and which are not is not always consistent. Many forms of crosses were used in various cultures (some like the Celtic cross were absorbed) and the Easter bunny had some mystical origins. What it once was doesn’t mean it is that now (the genetic fallacy for you logic buffs). Old signs and practices were occasionally appropriated, assuming they could be redefined in a way that could be used. In other words, some old tradition of launching people over a cliff wouldn’t fit in.

At this point the Christmas tree has become a fully Christmas tradition. Though many people who aren’t Christians still put up one as not to miss out on the gift-giving. Just want the perks of the religion and not the religion. Kind of like if Christians celebrated Hanukkah just to get more gifts.

So think about that as you gaze at your tree. There stands something that reaches back into centuries of traditions among thousands of people in many cultures. A piece of history, a message from the past, right in your living room.

[For more Christmas history, check out Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas.]

Categories: Traditions | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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