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December 04, 1957 - Image 16

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1957-12-04

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Flowers Set
In Tradition
Many types of flowers and plants
are associated with tle Christmas
The practice of attaching spe-
cial meaning to particular flow-
ers and of using flowers to sym-
bolize ideas and sentiments is
widespread. The holly wreath, for
example, is symbolic of the crown
of thorns worn by Jesis Christ and
red berries represent drops of
Today the rose is the acknowl-
edged symbol of love and beauty.
The white lily, which became the
special flower of the Virgin in
Renaissance art, symbolizes chas-
tity and purity. These various
Renaissance art, symbolize chast-
ity and purity. These various ideas
conveyed by flowers have descend-
ed throughsthe centuries from an-
cient myths and customs.
Flowers Used
Because of the symbolic tra-
ditions they represent many flow-
ers and plants are often used in
the United States during the yule-
tide season. The poinsettia in pink,
white and especially red has been
adopted as an official Christmas
flower. The pink begonia and all
shades of azaleas are also very
Americans, like the English, have
borrowed the custom of decorating
their churches and homes with
green boughs and flowers. Ameri-
ca has the richest Christmas heri-
tage, because the customs of ev-
ery nation played a role in adding
to the New World traditions.
F Mistletoe Origin
Mistletoe originatedgwith the
Druids, who believed that mistle-
toe brought happiness to those it
covered. Hence the kiss. In almost
every American home a sprig of
the green leaves and white berries
hangs from the chandelier and the
girl who stands beneath pays with
a kiss.
The Romans ornamented their
temples and homes with green
boughs and flowers for the Satur-
nalia, their season of merrymak-
ing. When they observed the feast
of Saturn, they raised an ever-
green bough.
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Lobanov Tells of Russian Christmas



"Christmas in Russia under the
Czars was in many respects like
Christmas in the Western coun-
tries," Prof. Andrei A. Lobanov-
Rostovsky of the history depart-
ment recalls with a smile, "but
we had some 'old pagan customs
you might think interesting."
Prof. Lobanov was born into a
noble Russian family in 1892, and
passed his boyhood in both Saint
Petersburg and in Paris. Thus he
has many happy memories of the
old Russian Christmas.
"We always had the Christmas
tree and Father Christmas," Prof.
Lobanov says, '"and exchanged
gifts on Christmas Eve. But you
must remember that in Russia the
most important religious holiday
is Easter, for the Orthodox Church
c o, n s i d e r s the resurrection of
Christ more important than his
birth. We had no midnight mass
on Christmas Eve, just one during
the day."
Ride in Sleighs
It was very cold in Saint Peters-,
burg during the holidays, Prof.
Lobanov recalls, and sleigh rides
were a favorite activity.
"Laps would come down from
The North with their reindeer
when I was a kid," the professor
continues, "as well as Finns with
their fast little sleighs. We would
be taken for rides arid have a
grand time."
Around Christmas the Russian'
peasants would perform various
"rites" to foretell the future, Prof.
Lobanov said. Generally these de-
vices were employed by girls wish-
ing to learn the identity of their
Slippers Thrown
"For example," Prof7 Lobanov
illustrates, "the girls would throw
their slipper out into the winter
snow, hoping to determine by the
way it landed their future suc-
Another of the former pagan
ceremonies Prof. Lobanov de-
scribed consisted of lighting two
Icandles in the dark before a mir-
ror. "It was like crystal-gazing,"
he explains.
"Girls would also run out into
the street and, stopping the first
male passer-by, would ask him his
name. It was always thought a
good joke." the professor said with
a smile, "to think of the most im-
possible name, because the name
was supposed to be the name of
the girl's future husband."
Still another method he men-
tions involves melting wax into
water and interpreting the shapel
The Trimmings
There was no particular Christ-j
mas food in Russia in the days of
the empire, Prof. Lobanov recalls,
though geese and ducks were often
used to make the meal more ela-
"T h e r e was no commercialj

-Daily-Harold Gassenheimer
REMINISCENCES OF RUSSIA-Prof. Andrei A. Lobanov-Rostov-
sky of the history department, tells of Christmas sleigh-rides in his
boyhood home of St. Petersburg, Prof. Lobanov, born in la noble
family during the reign of Czar Alexander III, explains that while
Easter, not Christmas is the chief Orthodox religious holiday, the
Christmas season in Czarist Russia was the occasion for costume
parties and fortune-telling games. Prof. Lobanov later fought as
an officer in a White Russian army.

season, but the cities and the drug
stores would put up decorations
a few days before Christmas," the
professor says. "The Christmas
trees were sometimes outdoors but
generally inside.
"When we had a Christmas tree,
we would of course decorate it
with candles, for electric lights
were just coming in," he con-
tinues. "It proved necessary to
post a fireman with a wet sponge
on the end of a' stick to ex-
tinguish minor blazes."
Schools in Imperial Russia were
closed - from December 21st to
January sixth or so, he says,
noting the similarity to American
school vacations.
Rostov Estate
A fine description of a Russian
Christmas on a country estate is
found in Leo Tolstoy's "War and
Peace," Prof. Lobanov points out.
In Book VII, Tolstoy tells of
passing the holidays on the Ros-
tov estate. The young people are
told by an older woman of setting
the table for two and then scatter-
ing oats on the floor to be picked
up by a cock. This complex method
was also supposed to provide a
clue to the girl's matrimonial fu-
A party begins as "the mum-
mers (some of the house-serfs)
dressed up as bears, Turks, inn-
keepers, and ladies - frightening
and funny-bringing in with them
the cold from outside and a feel-
ing of gaiety, crowded, at first
timidly, in the anteroom, then
hiding behind one another they
pushed into the ball-room, where
shyly at first and then more and
more merrily and heartily, they
started singing, dancing, and play-
ing Christmas games."
Games in Russia
Some of the games are identi-
fied by Tolstoy as "the ring and
string game" and "the ruble
The young people of the house

also dress and, boarding sleighs
called troykas, they race with
"runners squeaking and whistling
across the frozen snow" to the
home of a nearby friend a few
miles away.
There the masquerading and
dressing up are repeated, as Tol-
stoy's story goes.
"War and Peace" also mentions
another way young ladies can ob-
tain a general impression of their
futures, standing in a barn and
listening to the noises. Shifting
grain, Tolstoy's old maid says, is
a good omen, hammering or
knocking bad.
Dates Differ
"One thing more must be point-
ed out "about Christmas in old
Russia," Prof. Lobanov declares.
"The 25th of December, old-style,
is the sixth of January in the
Western nations.
"The Orthodox Church didn't
change to the Gregorian calendar.
Christmas comes after New Year's
in Russia, in Greece, even in Or-
thodox churches in the United
"When the Communists over-
threw the government in 1917,
Christmas wasn't done away with
all at once," Prof. Lobanov re-
calls. At that time he was 25
years old, fighting with a White
Russian army in the South.
Civil War Christmas
"During the years of civil war,"
Prof. Lobanov continues, "no pres-
sure was applied against it other
than that due to inflation.
"In 1921 or 1922 the communists
began a campaign to stamp out
the Christmas holidays because
of their religious nature.
"Now they realize that the holi-
day is a part of Russia. The
churches are full on Christmas
day. The government has lately
confined its efforts to replacing
the traditional Father Christmas
with a non - religious Father

Carols Have
Long History
It is almost impossible anymore
to separate the words "Christmas"
and "carol."
Through long association, the
words have become connected, un-
til it becomes hard to realke that
there ever was any other type of
The word "carol" in Greek ori-
ginally meant a dance, -especially
the kind exemplified by, the chil-
dren's dance, "Here we go round
the mulberry bush."
Religious Element
Gradiu ally the meaning
changed, until to the 12th century
Anglo-Saxons, the word "carol"
meant a drinking song. Apparent-
ly drinking and the Christmas
season were equated in the Anglo-
Saxon mind, for a typical line
from the earliest composition that
was called a carol in England
went, "Lordlings, Christmas loves
good drinking."
Eventually the merry songs of
the season began to embody some
religious element, and now, ac-
cording to one expert, "nothing
deser'ves to be called a carol which
does not tell its sacred strain."
The true birthplace of the carol
was Italy, and Saint Francis of
Assisi is commonly accepted to be
the originator. Although no
Christmas verses by St. Francis
have come down to us, there still
remains a "psalm" for Christmas
day composed Dy St. Francis.
Spread to Spain
From Italy the carol spread to
Spain, France and Germany with-
out loss of its essential character-
istics of simplicity, religious fer-
vour and mirth.
Fiction is an element that crept
into these early forms and some-
times it was fiction touched with
humor. For instance, one carol has
gypsies reading the palms of the
Holy Family.
The Noels are a peculiar group
in which the word noel or nowell
is repeated, generally as a refrain
as in the English specimen, "the
first Noel; an angel did say." Noel
used in this sense meant "news."
The original purpose of carols re-
quired that they be in the vernacu-
lar. But the mediaeval clergy were,
as a rule, fairly familiar with
Latin and some of them composed
carols that became widely popular.
Rich in Lore
The earliest known copy of an
English carol 'is a fragment pub-
lished about 1410. By then English
carols resembled their continental
forerunners, making extensive use
of alliteration, literalness and
simplicity. Some of the old carols
were very rich in legendary lore,
often from sources that cannot
be identified.
There is often adaptation of Or-
iental surroundings to Western lo-
cale as in the famous Cherry Tree
Carol, which in the original legend
is a date palm.
Some Christmas carols as
"Christmas-day in the morning,"
originally mystical or allegorical,
according to experts, have been so
corrupted by oral tradition as to
become just nonsense verses.
The present day has seen al-
most a total decline in the writing
of carols, with only Gilbert Ches-
terton's Christmas lyrics consid-
ered worthy of mention by author-



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