Advent Thought For The Day: 24

December 24th: Christmas Eve

When I set out on my advent blogging adventure I didn’t have a plan for what I’d write the next day, let alone on Christmas Eve. Yet here I am, twenty four days later, having navigated topics as diverse (some might say random) as borders, the weather, Christmas carols, pickles and traffic. My main motivation for blogging has always been learning. I started writing The Frustrated Gardener in a quest to reinvigorate my passion for plants and gardening. It worked. Writing about my hobby is now an intrinsic part of the hobby itself. Doing and writing about what I do go hand in hand: broadening the scope to include Christmas, which is what I am working on when I’m not gardening, made sense. I have discovered a lot I didn’t know about Christmas over the last four weeks have given myself space to try new angles. In the process I hope I have revealed a little more of myself than I might otherwise. Thank you for your likes and comments. They have been the best kind of gift.

I write this post from an empty train heading into London to my office. I say empty, but I suppose there must be one or two people in other carriages. I always get a seat and today I have a choice of sixty. Although not a public holiday, Christmas Eve is not generally considered to be a working day for those in non-critical, non-retail or non-hospitality jobs. Despite that, we don’t make a great deal of Christmas Eve in the UK, other than to prepare and get where we want to be for Christmas Day.

Elsewhere in Europe, celebrations begin in earnest after sunset on Christmas Eve with the giving of gifts and the coming together of families for meals of feast-like proportions. In Germany, Serbia and Slovakia, Christmas Eve is traditionally when the tree is brought into the house and decorated, although I am certain this custom is not strictly observed in modern times. I personally like the idea, especially as my real tree is already looking a little jaded after two weeks indoors. In Germany, Sweden and Portugal, presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve, leaving Christmas Day for other festivities. For many years I celebrated Christmas Eve with a Swedish family and it was a lot of fun – a bit like having two Christmases. For us Brits it’s Boxing Day, when traditionally servants and employees were given gifts and tips, that counts as our second major day of celebration.

The ancient practice of burning a Yule Log on the eve of Christmas seems to have been largely forgotten. This is perhaps not surprising given the ‘log’ was originally the entire trunk of a tree. One end was placed in the hearth with the remainder jutting out into the room. Once assumes it was pushed further and further into the fireplace as the Christmas celebrations continued, ending on twelfth night. Each Christmas a new Yule log would be lit from the charred remains of the previous year’s log. In Cornwall it is referred to as ‘The Mock’ and features a chalked stick figure representing Old Father Time and the death of the previous year. You won’t be surprised to learn that Yule Logs, as well as many other Christmas traditions, have their roots in pre-Christian belief systems and were originally devised to celebrate the winter solstice. In Devon and Somerset, for example, the pagan Yule Log evolved into a large bunch of ash twigs representing the brushwood that the shepherds collected to keep Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus warm on Christmas Night. Although most of us won’t be felling an oak and dragging it through the front door tonight, we are unlikely to turn down a slice of chocolate Yule Log if it’s offered. Just the thought is making my mouth water.

Meanwhile a great many of us will attend a Christmas Eve church service or Midnight Mass later today, reflecting the belief that Jesus was born at night, in Bethlehem. An even greater number of us will be anticipating the arrival of Father Christmas, Santa Claus, the Christkind or St. Nicholas, depending where we live on the globe.

The richness and diversity of Christmas tradition, accumulated over thousands of years, is staggering. It surprises me that there aren’t hundreds of accounts written on the subject, although one which I shall certainly be reading before I do this exercise again is Judith Flanders’ ‘Christmas: A Biography’. ‘Christmas and the British’ by Martin Johnes also looks worth a look. Those who mutter about creeping commercialisation and fret about the meaning of Christmas being lost should consider just how much has not changed over the last two thousand years. Christmas is an evolving celebration which has enough depth and gravitas to move with the times rather than sink beneath the waves of history. At its heart is not only the remarkable story of Jesus’ birth, but also millennia of fascinating British history and custom. TFG.

NB I shall take a short blogging holiday over Christmas, returning in the New Year. Merry Christmas one and all!

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55 thoughts on “Advent Thought For The Day: 24

  1. Merry Christmas to you too! Thank you so much for your advent blogs – I’ve looked forward to them every day and have learnt lots! When my children were small we had a big open fire and always had a Yule log … Though not one that lasted for the 12 days of Christmas! It’s a bit more tricky now we have a wood burner! Enjoy your Christmas break – I look forward to your return in the New Year! Vikki 😁🍾

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  2. Wishing you a happy Christmas and a well-deserved break. It’s good to hear about the old traditions. I had heard that it is hard to rekindle charred wood – no doubt they learned some technique so they could do it.

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  3. These have been a daily treat during the run up to Christmas. Pat yourself on the back and take a well-deserved break. See you in 2019 🙂
    Jude xx

    PS Impressive beard – have you been moonlighting?

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  4. Happy Christmas Dan to you and yours. Absolutely brilliant posts these last 24 days on such diverse subjects. I look forward to your return but meantime relax, rest and recover before 2019 arrives. Mrs. P. X

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  5. Wonderful posts offering more colour, texture, context – continuity within creative evolutions of traditions – to better reflect upon Christmas, what it is to be human and to observe aspects of traditions, along with insight into the directions from where we have come, and might choose to go on our continued journeys. May all beings be free, know peace, and joy. Have a beautiful Holiday!

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  6. Merry Christmas from across the pond! I’ve really enjoyed your Advent posts – they’ve been like opening up a new gift each day. Thank you so much for all the work you put into them. Happy New Year too!

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  7. You have done a yeoman’s job creating these thoughtful informative posts to add such fun and depth to the advent season. It is right that we think a little deeper. It was such a pleasurable look at traditions near and far.
    I hope you get all the sleep you need, all the presents you want and all the love you can hold this holiday season. Merry Christmas.

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  8. This has been a truly enjoyable trip through Advent with you, Dan! Thanks so much for brightening the days leading up to Christmas, some of which were actually quite stormy and dark here on the West Coast of Canada.
    Merry Christmas to you & yours!

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  9. From a long time lurker; Merry Christmas and thank you for your Advent posts! I have enjoyed them very much. May you have a wonderful holiday and emerge refreshed and enthused for a new year of inspiring gardening and writing! x

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  10. Merry Christmas, Dan, and Thank You! for a lovely run of posts. A little bright spot every day in a grey month, they’ve been. Enjoy the festivities, and all the best for 2019!
    Ylva

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  11. Merry Christmas from the Antipodes, Dan. Your posts have been very enjoyable and informative to read, and congratulations on keeping them going so entertainingly for all of Advent…quite a challenge. Do have a wonderful, festive break. See you next year!

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  12. Thank you for your delightful Advent posts; they were such a pleasure to read, I hope your Christmas was all that you had hoped for…and more. Very best wishes for the festive season and 2019

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      1. I want to go back too. The curator of Abbey Gardens was staying at the same B&B as we were in September. I nearly swooned when he introduced himself. “Have you heard of the gardens?” he said!!!!!!!

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  13. Wonderful Advent Posts Dan – and now I know about Yule Logs….not that we will be lighting one… was 32 here on Christmas Day and the same yesterday and yes we did have BBQ lobsters, Bubbles and beers and of course out came the swimmers…. Happy Christmas and enjoy the break xxx

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  14. I hope you are having a lovely break, Dan. Like so many others, i have loved these posts. I would never have found the time to learn as much as I have about all the aspects you have covered! And there are some things e.g. Yule logs, that I can’t believe I didn’t know already. Maybe I did, but like so many other things, it seeped out of my memory to make way for other things – in which case, thanks for reminding me! Thank you for all of your writings in 2018. Take care!

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