Tales out of Yule

Christmas has always been a big deal in my house. My children know the rules: you can live or work anywhere in the world, but you will be home for Christmas. One exception this year is for a new baby girl, Savitha, born in India, just too close to the holiday to travel.

There is usually a Christmas assignment. Write a poem, write a speech, share photos of where in the world you go, create an original art work, recount your first Christmas memory, etc. We have had some unusual stories, photos from far and distant lands, tall tales and dubious information conjured up for the occasion. We always round out the celebration by singing “The 12 Days of Christmas,” each person or group assigned a part, which includes impromptu dance routines, hand gestures and more. (This rousing Buono rendition should be a many-hit sensation should it make it on the Internet.)

One year an intellectual guest (a new neighbor) questioned the song we had casually sung for years. I learned that the song was not quite what it seemed.


It turns out that the “12 Days of Christmas” was a memory aid to help young Catholics learn the beliefs of the faith. The true love refers to God and the “me” refers to a baptized person.

The partridge in the pear tree = Jesus

The two turtle doves = the Old and New Testament

The three French hens = faith, hope and charity

The four calling birds = the four Gospels

The five golden rings = the first five books of the Old Testament

The six geese-a-laying = the six days of creation

The seven swans-a-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

The eight maids-a-milking = the eight beatitudes

The nine ladies dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit

The ten lords a-leaping = the Ten Commandments

The 11 pipers piping = the eleven faithful apostles

The 12 drummers drumming = the twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed

The song is joyously sung with gusto and little reverence but is indeed a testimony. I am not sure it changed the way we sang, but it did give it an affirmation we had unknowingly all those years denied.

Did you know…

Mistletoe is from the Anglo-Saxon which means “little dung twig” because it spreads rapidly through bird droppings?

Animal Crackers, originally introduced around Christmas in 1902 and fitted with a string, were intended to hang on the tree?

The secret of long life?

The fruitcake was originally baked at the end of the harvest, to be saved and eaten at the beginning of the harvest the following year. Just saying, sugar and booze may be the secret to a long life.


A time of magic

President Teddy Roosevelt, a staunch environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1901. If Teddy were alive today, he would be bowled over to learn that 30 million real Christmas trees were sold last year.

In Germany, Heiligabend, or Christmas Eve, is a time of magic when the pure in heart can hear animals talking. I remember my mother adhering to this theory. She reminded me that it was my job to feed the cat and she was sure that I would be scolded that very night for making the cat wait for dinner. I guess I was never pure enough, because that cat never uttered a word to me.

The Norwegians believe that Christmas Eve witches or elves have a party and will take your broom when they leave. My broom is in pretty bad shape, but probably still flies pretty well. They are welcome to it, should they stop by.

The Polish believe that spider webs are good luck at Christmas and decorate their trees with them. If any of my Polish friends stop by, they may easily see webs about, but not on my tree. Now I have good reason not to clear them from the corners. You have got to love the Polish. No cleaning for Christmas— works for me.


Santa’s logistics

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, there are over two million youngsters under age 18 in the world. If the average is 2.5 children per household, that means Santa would have to make over 800 million stops on Christmas Eve. Santa must be into new-age travel; maybe a turbo sled with a super deluxe GPS. But the weather this year may give Santa a problem. I have only a gas fireplace, no chimney, so he won’t be landing on the roof. When he stops by my house, he will be skidding on the acorns and leaves that remain on my green grass, which is still sporting one or two determined dandelions.

Clement Moore never wanted his “Night Before Christmas” published. In fact, he didn’t think it reflected his best work. Now over 190 years later, it is the most read, most published, most memorized and most collected piece of Christmas literature. So much for evaluating our own work.

Santa’s reindeer secret is out: since the bucks lose their antlers this time of year, females keep them until giving birth in the spring. It may well be that those furry creatures pulling that sled are all ladies. We should have known, obviously— they can find their way. Because we all know that Santa won’t stop and ask directions.


With tongue in cheek and much good cheer,

I am not politically correct any time of year,

I do not want to offend on this great holiday season,

I wish you all joy and peace for all good reason.

Merry Christmas.