Can it really be just 18 days, a mere 432 hours, between now and Christmas? That makes me feel happy, surprised and alarmed all at the same time. I am not going to panic, but instead will just breathe deeply and channel my inner Britishness as I “keep calm and carry on”. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the holidays. Of course, I love the Christmas carols and church services, the children’s excitement, the traditions, the delicious food and the general feeling of goodwill in the air. However, I am not a fan of the frenzied shopping, cooler weather, dark evenings, too many parties, and the pressure to get it all done and have a ‘perfect’ holiday – whatever that means. My regular readers will know that I am a spring and summer girl at heart but I do try to look for the joy in December, rather than just the length of my to do list.
Did you know that December’s name come from decem, which is Latin for “ten.” The ancient Romans used a different calendar system, so their year began in March and ended in February, making December the tenth month of their year. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar changed the calendar so that January 1 became the ‘new’ New Year’s Day 46 years before the birth of Christ. Therefore, December became the 12th month of what was then called the Julian calendar, and is still the 12th month of today’s Gregorian calendar.
The birthstone for December is turquoise which folklore tells us is a love charm. It is also a symbol of good fortune and success, and it is believed to relax the mind and to protect its wearer from harm. Traditionally, turquoise rings were worn to keep away evil spirits. It is a valuable gemstone and is found in its natural state in only a few places on earth: dry and barren regions where acidic, copper-rich groundwater seeps downward and reacts with minerals that contain phosphorus and aluminum. In the USA it is found in Arizona and Nevada, and there are also mines in Mexico, Iran, Chile and China.
The birth flowers of December are, not surprisingly, holly and poinsettia but also narcissus. This flower represents purity, sweetness, and simplicity and is also associated with respect and faithfulness. According to Greek mythology, the name of this flower originated from a beautiful young man named Narcissus. He became too fixated with his own looks and received punishment from Nemesis, the Greek goddess of revenge. Consequently, he fell in love with his own reflection in the water and ended up drowning!
Holly is not only one of December’s birth flowers but is a traditional part of the holiday season with its vibrant red and green colors. Due to the spiky leaves which can tear the flesh, hollies over the centuries have also been seen as a symbol of pain and trickery. In Christianity, the berries of hollies are believed to be white but stained red by the blood of Christ. The leaves, on the other hand, are a representation of the crown of thorns. On a positive note, however, hollies are also associated with happiness and optimism.
Poinsettias, a favorite of mine, are not only a December birth flower but are strongly associated with Christmas. Poinsettias are also sometimes called Christmas Stars and Christmas Flowers because of their shape and color. The flower is named after American diplomat and physician from Charleston, South Carolina, Joel Roberts Poinsett. Born in 1779, he was a powerful politician, the first US Minister to Mexico, and founder of National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts, which later became The Smithsonian Institute. He introduced these beautiful flowers from Mexico into the United States in the 1820s. The Aztecs considered these flowers as a symbol of purity, and today they of course signify success, good cheer, and celebration.
The most important day of December to over 30% of the world’s population is the 25th of the month – Christmas day, when Christians remember and celebrate the birth of Christ. It was first celebrated in the Roman Empire in 336 AD and has remained a key date on the Christian calendar ever since. As well as New Year’s Eve, the final day of the year on December 31st, there are some other memorable days in December. Today, December 7th, is of course the anniversary of the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, as well as International Civil Aviation Day. On a lighter note, and as a stereotypical English woman who loves her hot tea (preferably assam, with milk in the cup first please and no sugar) I am looking forward to December 15th which is International Tea Day. December 21 is National Robin Day in the UK, with these cheery red breasted birds closely associated with the festive season back in England. In the USA, December 27 is National Fruit Cake Day. I do confess a love of fruit cake, although I much prefer the English version which we eat as Christmas cake and which is rich, dense and full of raisins, covered in marzipan with white, sugary icing – yum!
I leave you this week with a great quote from 19th Century writer Ralph Waldo Emerson: “December is the time for remembering the past and reaching toward the future.”
God Bless America and enjoy your December!
– ENDS –