Wednesday, May 24, 2017

December 2012 Message from the Guildmaster

December 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Message from the Guildmaster

A Merry December to you all:

I say this from a traditional view, having recently spent some time reading Harnett T. Kane’s wonderful book, The Southern Christmas Book, first published in 1958. Kane traces the origins and practices of our earliest settlers from the 1600’s onward in areas ranging from Virginia to Maryland, New Orleans and  Florida, and everywhere in between. After reading this book, pinning down a date for “Christmas” becomes as likely as shooting a flying duck with a blindfold on. If you have not read this book  I highly recommend that you search it out on one of the book-locating services.

From the earliest days of the colonies in Virginia, Christmas was vigorously celebrated by almost all of our ancestors. Early Virginians embraced the Christmas “spirit” with a fervor that was hardly to be found in other areas. In addition to the consumption of various richly prepared meats, fried oysters, desserts, and various alcoholic beverages, the custom of eggnog was a holiday tradition not to be missed, and much enjoyed as revelers made their way to various households on their annual visits. Eggnog was traditionally made with eggs, cream, milk, and several varieties of spirits and was deemed “not quite the thing for maiden cousins….”

In addition to food and merriment,  Virginia is also known for a rather quaint Christmas tradition that seems to have faded from popularity in more recent years. It is noted that Virginians turned to firearms to signal the season in a most boisterous fashion. To quote Mr. Kane, “a Virginia guest often brought his musket with him when he went to make a call, and joined his host  in shooting while the women put their hands over their ears and the children jumped up and down in delight. When a neighbor caught the echo, he took his own firing piece and answered, and his neighbors did the same.” This tradition apparently continued in more rural areas until well into the 20th. Century, and seems to have survived even today. It seems that some authorities had to warn their constituents not to use too much gunpowder in their celebrations.

Holiday toasts were of course quite common, and expected. Many toasts were made while facing the fire with various parts of the body,…. front, back, and each side, to prolong the toast, the drink and the warmth. Perhaps in the best spirit of this practice is the famous toast made by our first president, George Washington, who simply toasted, “All our friends.”

In other areas, Christmas was marked in varying celebrations that echoed the traditions of the country from which its inhabitants had immigrated. In Maryland, a meal of sauerkraut and turkey was the common denominator. In some areas, the Germanic St. Nickolaus arrives with his frightful helper in early December, while in Louisiana Christmas arrives in February or March.  Many of these celebrations are noted for large  parades, contests, dancing and visiting.

One theme that shows up repeatedly in early Christmas celebrations is that  gift giving was not a general practice. Children sometimes received a small item, a piece of special fruit or other token. Adults did not generally exchange gifts in early days, but took much pleasure in fellowship with their family and friends, meals, holiday activities, and traditional customs. In today’s world it is hard to imagine a time such as this. I wish more of our population would embrace the holiday as it was once celebrated.

In this season of tradition and heritage, I hope that all of you will enjoy some celebration of the traditions that our ancestors held so dearly. Hopefully, some of the values of friendship, community, and simplicity may outweigh the extravagant material consumption that seems to mark this time of year for many of our citizens. I know that you will at least breathe a sigh of relief that you are reveling in the wonderful spirit of our past., and not taking out loans to pay off enormous purchases!

May you all have the best for the season and the coming year. Thank you.

All our friends!

Jeff Bibb, Guildmaster

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