This might be a surprising little “did-you-know” revelation about Santa’s sleigh-pullers:
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year. It turns out that this is only true of this particular member of the deer family Cervidae, if you really have to know.
Adult male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December, while young male reindeer drop their antlers in the spring. But, get this, adult female reindeer retain their antlers until the summer. Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be an adult female.
I suppose we should have known this, as it explains how Santa’s reindeer are always able to find their way.
Christmas tree trivia
Like just about any seasonal tradition, the history of the Christmas tree goes way back into the depths of time. It started in Germany and it might surprise you to know that the first Christmas trees were not fir, but oak, which was revered by early German pagans. It was the Christians who later switched to fir trees, because of their triangular shape which was said to be symbolic of the Holy Trinity. First mention of bringing a tree indoors at Christmas was found in early German manuscripts dated 1605.
It seems that Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, gets credit for being the first to actually light up a Christmas tree. The story goes that he was walking in the woods one night and was enthralled by the flicker of starlight in the trees. He decided to recreate the effect on his Christmas tree at home by placing lighted candles on the branches.
Safety-wise, it’s hard to believe, of course, but we’ll assume he was keeping a watchful eye on this potentially incendiary display.
The indoor tree gained even more popularity as a vital part of the festive season just after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert in 1840. The prince brought the traditions of the tree with him from Germany, including the candles on the branches and baskets of assorted candies, cakes, toys and dolls under the tree. It must have made quite a sight in Windsor Castle.
Although Albert is usually given credit for bringing the tree to Britain, it was, in fact, first introduced in 1800 by Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III.
And who gets credit for the idea of putting decorations on the Christmas tree? Some scholars theorize that tree decorating was originally a peace offering to mysterious “spirits,” which were believed to make off with all the leaves in the winter. Thus, painted stones and coloured cloth were hung on the bare branches. Early German tree ornaments were simple and homemade and often edible.
The first store-bought decorations of tin, wax and cardboard were introduced in 1870. By 1900, glass tree ornaments became the rage and were imported from Germany and Japan. Even today, one of the great joys of the season is carefully unpacking all our favourite “baubles” and hanging them in a special place on the tree.
What’s a Wassail bowl?
An old rhyme from the cider-produing area of southwest England goes: “Wassaile the trees, that they may beare/You many a Plum and many a Peare:/For more or lesse fruits they will bring,/As you do give them Wassailing.” The intention from pagan tradition in England was to awaken the cider apple trees and protect them from evil spirits in order to ensure a good harvest in the autumn.
A heated mixture prepared of mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and topped with slices of toast was placed in containers called “Wassail” bowls, from the Anglo-Saxon words Wæs þu hæl meaning “be thou hale;” that is, “be in good health.” The poor would go to the door of a lord’s manor with an empty bowl and this would be filled generously at each stop. In exchange, the nobleman received the poor’s blessing and goodwill.
Although originally a pagan tradition, the English later made it into a Christmas-time tradition.