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America’s First Lady has once again decorated the White House in style.

These videos are bittersweet. Who knows who will be there a year from now?

The Christmas tree arrived on Wednesday, November 25, the day before Thanksgiving:

Melania Trump and the White House staff did a marvellous job of decorating with grace and elegance:

As has been true throughout President Trump’s tenure, some see hidden themes in the decorations:

On the other hand, sometimes decorations are just that: decorations.

Hello, everyone!

Christmas is nearly here, and I have a few items to share of both a secular and a religious nature.

O Antiphon for Christmas Eve

First, the final O Antiphon, the one for Christmas Eve, is Matthew 1:18-23, detailed in the following two posts:

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

The Christmas 1968 Bible reading from space

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the moon. Listen to the astronauts on board read from Genesis:

The Christmas message from Outer Space

‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ — a delightful reading

Children might need a distraction while grown-ups are preparing for Christmas.

What better than listening to a reading of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’?

Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has done a cracking job of reading the story in his remarkable baritone:

Those who listened to it loved it. This is just one of the many compliments on his voice:

Christmas traditions — religious or not?

The trend over recent years, possibly a reactionary one, is that certain Christmas traditions that have evolved since the 19th century are either too secular or too pagan.

That said, some of these traditions can be said to have religious overtones.

The history of the candy cane is an intriguing one and one that could be used in Sunday School for its symbolism about Jesus:

Candy canes: useful for a Nativity lesson in Sunday School

There is a religious reason why we give each other gifts at this time of year. We recall John the Baptist’s ministry in preparing the way for our Lord:

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

He advocated giving as one way of preparing. Luke’s Gospel records John the Baptist’s words about charity (Luke 3:10-11):

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

This is how seasonal giving developed over time:

Christmas gifts — a history

As far as greenery is concerned, St Boniface transformed the fir tree into a Christian symbol in Germany during the early 8th century:

The Christmas tree — a history

Christmas cards were highly secular and of a facetious nature. They did not become religious until much later:

Bizarre Christmas cards from the 19th century

Louis Prang, a Prussian who emigrated to the United States, made Christmas cards popular there, beginning in 1873. Hallmark did not come along until 1910:

Louis Prang — father of the American Christmas card

I hope these give everyone a few spiritual talking points along with some fun during the countdown to Christmas!

Below are past posts about the surprising history behind Christmas traditions.

I have also included Christian reflections on our Lord’s birth.

Some are bound to be eye-openers. For starters, historically, Christmas wasn’t always a pious time of year, and it is acceptable to write ‘Xmas’. In the present day, attitudes towards Christmas have been changing in the United States:

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

The case for Xmas — yes, Xmas

Christmas prayer intentions

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

Carol services: ‘Christmas as secular entertainment’

Jesus’s nature as depicted in Christmas carols

Jesus, the ‘born leader’

What we can learn from Christmas — humility

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

The Christmas tree — a history (related to Christianity)

Christmas gifts — a history (and a Christian defence thereof)

Christmas feasting and revelry (the rehabilitation of Christmas)

British attitudes towards Christmas

Detail from Pew Research on Christmas celebrations and beliefs in the US (2017)

Take a break from gift wrapping and cooking to have a look!

And to everyone who is celebrating a birthday today — Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year — have a happy one. May your year ahead be merry and bright!

Last week, I covered President and Mrs Trump welcoming the 2018 White House Christmas tree.

Happily, gone are the days of Mao ornaments (2009) and casual Christmas tree welcomes (2016).

Last year, First Lady Melania Trump put her stamp on style with the theme ‘Time-Honored Traditions’, paying homage to two centuries of White House Christmases.

On November 26, The White House announced that this year’s theme is ‘American Treasures’, displaying a variety of aspects of Americana in a festive way (emphases mine below):

Designed by First Lady Melania Trump, the White House shines with the spirit of patriotism. This home, held in trust for all Americans, displays the many splendors found across our great Nation.

In the East Wing, the Gold Star Family tree returns. Decorated by Gold Star families, this tree honors all our troops and families who have sacrificed greatly to protect our freedoms. Gold stars and patriotic ribbon decorate the tree and visitors are encouraged to write messages to their loved ones who are on duty or abroad on the digital tablets provided.

More than 40 topiary trees line the East colonnade as guests make their way toward the East Garden Room, where the First Family Christmas card and ornament are on display. The Library remembers some of America’s most cherished authors, housing over 2,700 American classics. Four trees have been tucked away in each corner of the Library displaying the White House Historical Association’s 2018 ornament honoring President Harry S. Truman.

The Vermeil room displays two trees that sparkle in hues of blues and golds amongst the vermeil on display for all to see. Inside the China Room are three tables, all replicas from previous state dinners using pieces from the White House permanent collection. They highlight different eras of state dinners. The Theodore Roosevelt Administration, John F. Kennedy Administration, and Donald J. Trump Administration are all represented.

The East Room highlights the diversity and ingenuity of American architecture and design with four custom mantelpieces showcasing the skylines of New York City, St. Louis, Chicago, and San Francisco. 72 handmade paper ornaments representing six regions across America hang from four 14-foot Noble fir trees. For the 51st year, the White House Crèche will also be on display.

As one makes their way through the Green Room, Americans are reminded of the country’s bounty and harvest. A variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains adorn the tree centered in the room, as well as the garland on the mantel. In the Blue Room, the official White House Christmas tree measures a soaring 18 feet tall and is dressed in over 500 feet of blue velvet ribbon embroidered in gold with each State and territory. Moving into the Red Room, guests will be able to celebrate children through the décor, which displays ways in which children can excel in their own path.

The State Dining Room is a celebration of our country’s national symbols, including the bald eagle, the rose, and the oak tree. The space is also host to this year’s gingerbread house, showcasing the full expanse of the National Mall: the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and, of course, the White House.

Crossing in to the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall, patriotism, the heart of America, takes center stage with more than 14,000 red ornaments hanging from 29 trees. The choice of red is an extension of the pales, or stripes, found in the presidential seal designed by our Founding Fathers. It’s a symbol of valor and bravery

Which is interesting, because someone latched on to another symbolism behind the red trees:

Someone else said the same thing:

I cannot think that red would have symbolised the Resurrection. White, surely.

Are people reading too much into the red trees, when the White House announcement simply says that red in the Founding Fathers’ era is the colour associated with bravery? Red trees also seem to be something of a fashion statement in the US; several retail chains sell them.

God always wins, but let’s not go overboard with the red trees.

Moving along, the First Lady wore red gloves in her photo op:

I agree with James Woods. If Melania were a Democrat, photos of her would be everywhere, all over the world.

This short video shows every room described above (also available on YouTube):

The Gateway Pundit got it right:

First Lady Melania dazzled as she walked through the different rooms of the White House; we are so blessed to have such a beautiful First Lady.

Flickr has more White House Christmas photos, which will remain at the top of the page for awhile.

The Daily Mail also has a beautiful photo spread and accompanying article.

It’s beginning to look — and feel — a lot like Christmas!

On Monday, November 19, 2018, President and Mrs Trump welcomed the arrival of a 19 1/2 foot Christmas tree to the White House:

The First Lady looked stunning in a plaid Michael Kors cape (photos at the link).

The Trumps look great, despite the daily pressure and harassment they receive:

The grower and his family were there to meet the Trumps:

The First Lady expressed her gratitude to everyone involved in decorating the White House for Christmas …

… and invited Americans to visit:

What a great kick off to the Christmas season!

On Monday, November 27, 2017, First Lady Melania Trump welcomed a group of schoolchildren to the White House which she has transformed into a magical Winter Wonderland.

Ballet dancers performed selections from The Nutcracker Suite. The US Marine Corps band provided musical accompaniment. (Ignore the sarcasm from the CNN reporter’s caption.)

AP has a good video here of the dancers and Mrs Trump’s warm hugs for each child. She also sat down to talk and listen to their Christmas letters to the US military and helped them decorate Christmas wreaths:

This video shows more of Mrs Trump’s dress (see the back at 40 seconds in). There were two tables set up for the pupils, but the children at the second table quickly left to stand behind Mrs Trump at her table. One girl sat on her lap:

One child compared America’s first lady to an angel:

Indeed. Mrs Trump’s dress was perfect for the occasion:

The Gateway Pundit reported that the children are from Joint Base Andrews:

NBC News tweeted heartwarming footage of Melania Trump welcoming students from Joint Base Andrews at a White House Christmas event. The children were stunned as the angelic First Lady entered the room.

“Are you the first lady?!” a boy asked as he hugged Melania Trump.

“She seriously looks like an angel,” added another child.

Look at the kids run to her:

They clearly enjoyed being with her:

The White House issued a press release on this year’s Christmas decorations, excerpted below (emphases mine):

The First Family will celebrate their first Christmas in the White House with a nod to tradition. This year’s theme, “Time-Honored Traditions” was designed by First Lady Melania Trump to pay respect to 200 years of holiday traditions at the White House.

In the East Wing, visitors find a tribute to our service members and their families with the Gold Star Family Tree, which has been decorated with gold stars and patriotic ribbon. Visitors are encouraged to write a message to their loved ones who are on duty or abroad on the digital tablets provided.

After passing through the East colonnade, visitors will see the China Room, which honors the holiday traditions of dining and hospitality. The room is set up for a family Christmas dinner, with the table displaying the china from President Ronald Reagan. Then, visitors will see the Library, which features President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1866 edition of “A Christmas Carol,” as they recall the time-honored custom of reading Christmas stories to loved ones.

On the State Floor of the White House, the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall celebrate the first themed White House Christmas, which was the “Nutcracker Suite” in 1961. The Green Room honors the festivities of crafts, paper, and classic design. The Blue Room holds the official White House Christmas tree, which is decorated with glass ornaments depicting the seal of each State and territory. The Red Room hosts delightful holiday treats, and has been decorated with peppermints, candy, and cookies. The State Dining Room holds a traditional gingerbread house, which depicts the South facade of the White House and features Mrs. Trump’s signature Christmas wreaths.

I mentioned the gingerbread house last week. It is something to behold.

The White House will be receiving many visitors in the run up to Christmas:

the White House will host more than 100 open houses and many receptions. More than 25,000 visitors will walk the halls taking part in public tours.

Unlike presidential palaces, it is considered the People’s House, and the Trumps have opened the doors to tens of thousands of Americans, many for special recognition, in addition to those attending tours.

After many years in storage, the Nativity scene has reappeared:

You can see it from a distance in this video, at the end of a corridor full of brilliantly decorated Christmas trees:

This video shows the Nativity scene close up at the beginning of the following video (detail photo here). How beautiful:

In addition to views of the other rooms — including the Blue Room with the main Christmas tree (also see) — that video also has an excellent extended close-up of the gingerbread house, complete with portico and columns. How did they make that? Wow!

Mrs Trump also has Christmas booklets printed which explain a bit about the history of the White House rooms. The boy in the illustration is the First Son, aged 11:

Along with millions of Americans, I am so grateful for such a wonderful First Family.

No more Mao ornaments, as favoured by the Obamas. Thank goodness for that.

Compare and contrast the 2016 White House decorations with this year’s. (No Mao ornaments, but the difference is startling.)

Even worse were the Clintons’ White House displays. Please read the story at that link (content too indecent to summarise here).

In closing, here is another video.

I am also grateful that the Gateway Pundit‘s Jim Hoft gave special emphasis to the Nativity scene:

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are bringing Christ back to Christmas.

Melania released video of the beautiful White House decorations.

And this year a Nativity scene was included.

Yes! Christmas makes a comeback!

And the White House has never looked as beautiful as it does now.

———————————————————————————-

UPDATE: CNN announced they will be boycotting the Trumps’ White House Christmas party for the media. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is delighted, and Trump says we should turn off CNN.

The 2017 White House Christmas tree arrived from Wisconsin on Monday, November 20.

First Lady Melania Trump and 11-year-old Barron Trump received the tree, which was placed in the Blue Room.

The Chapman family, owners of Silent Night Evergreens in Endeavor, Wisconsin, won this year’s National Christmas Tree Association contest and, by virtue of that, supplied the White House tree.

The Daily Mail has more.

A military band played O Christmas Tree (O Tannenbaum, my late father’s favourite carol) before the arrival of the horse-drawn carriage:

The building to the right in that video is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the vice president and cabinet officials have their offices.

Barron is taller than his mother, who was wearing high-heeled knee-high leather boots:

Mrs Trump spoke with the Chapmans before she and Barron posed for a photograph:

This video shows how many men it took to unload and take the tree indoors:

It looks as if there is also — in another room — a huge gingerbread representation of the White House, baked and assembled by the pastry chefs (click on each of the top two photos):

It is interesting that this year’s White House ornament (below) honours a Democrat. That said, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the longest serving US president. He died in office, but many Americans thought his four-term tenure was turning him into a dictator. In 1947, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment,  restricting a president to two terms. The 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1951.

Tree, sugar sculpture, wreaths and ornaments aside, for the first time in several years, a nativity scene will be on display in the White House.

The Trumps are making Christmas great again.

Hope AcademyThe history of the Christmas tree dates back to the ancient world and is not as straightforward as we might believe.

(Photo credit: Hope Christmas Trees)

Pre-Christian winter foliage

The practice of decorating one’s home with greenery during the winter was widespread in the ancient world near the Mediterranean and the lands that would become Europe.

At winter solstice, Egyptians used to bring green date palm leaves into the home to symbolise life over death.

Romans celebrated the shortest day of the year by honouring Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their homes with greenery. Those who displayed laurel leaves did so in honour of their emperor.

Much further north, Druids in ancient Britain used evergreen branches in their winter solstice rituals and placed the boughs over their doors to ward off evil spirits. They also regarded holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life.

Other ancient peoples in Europe cut down fir trees and planted them in boxes inside their homes during this time.

Christianity’s effect

Once Christianity began to spread, some early theologians told their followers to discontinue the practice of displaying greenery in mid-winter because it was a pagan practice.

In the 2nd century, Tertullian objected equally to displaying laurel leaves in honour of the Roman emperor:

Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.

Later, around 700, the missionary Boniface — later canonised — was spreading the Gospel message in what is now Germany, where the people worshipped Thor. In Geismar, Boniface chopped down the Oak of Thor where human sacrifices were made and worship took place. The stories differ as to what happened next. One says that a fir tree sprung up in its place, causing the missionary to think it was a providential sign that the evergreen should be a Christian symbol. Another version says that Boniface pointed the people to a fir tree which he said symbolised the Holy Trinity because of its triangular shape as well as the love and mercy of God.

Paradise trees

During the Middle Ages, Christmas Eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve.

Churches used to feature dramas as part of Christmas worship. The plays tied in biblical themes and linked the Creation story to the Nativity. Churches had as backdrops ‘paradise trees’, which were draped with fruit.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the plays were no longer performed in church but out in the open air. Not surprisingly, these outdoor performances soon turned into rowdy, drunken events.

When the Reformation took root in the 16th century, many places banned the plays from the public square and the trees from churches. People began to put up paradise trees in their homes instead. These displays were called paradises even when they were simple boughs.

People decorated their paradises with round pastry wafers to symbolise the Eucharist. This developed into the tradition of decorating trees with sweet biscuits and the near-universal use of round ornaments.

The Reformation

The use of Christmas trees was controversial from the time of the Reformation through to the mid-19th century.

Legend tells us that Martin Luther had one in his home, although Christianity Today says this has little basis in fact. My Lutheran readers are welcome to tell me more in the comments.

The story has it that, in 1500, Luther was walking through a wood on Christmas Eve. The snow shimmering on the boughs of the fir trees moved him to bring a small evergreen in to his home for his children. He decorated it with candles which he lit in honour of Christ’s birth.

The tradition of Christmas greenery continued and returned to church sanctuaries. In the 17th century, however, some Lutheran ministers made their dislike for it known. Johann von Dannhauer said these displays distracted from Jesus Christ, the true evergreen tree.

Trees displayed in church often had a wooden pyramid of candles standing next to them. The candles represented families or individuals who belonged to the church. Later these pyramids were placed on the tree itself. It sounds like quite a fire hazard, but this gave us the tradition of a tree with lights.

In the early United States, Dutch and German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition with them. Hessian troops who had helped to fight in the Revolution also made the festive trees popular.

That said, the Puritans in New England banned all Christmas celebrations and decorations. Schools and commerce ran as usual on December 25.

American displays of trees in churches sometimes courted controversy. In 1851, a minister in Cleveland, Ohio, had to defend placing a tree in his church. He nearly lost his job.

The 19th century

In England, the Georgian kings from the House of Hanover carried on their displays of Christmas trees. German immigrants to England did so, too. However, the public resented the German Monarchy and wanted nothing to do with such traditions.

It was only with the popularity of Queen Victoria that the Christmas tree tradition spread across the country. Her consort Prince Albert, of German descent, set up a grand tree at Windsor Castle for the family in 1841. At this time, presents were hung on the branches where possible.

Elsewhere, members of the European nobility popularised the tradition. In 1808, Countess Wilhelmine of Holsteinborg lit the first Christmas tree in Denmark. Although unaware of the Countess’s experience at that time, Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Fir Tree in 1844. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816. It wasn’t long before all Austrians had one. In France, the Duchesse d’Orléans had a tree in her home in 1840. The Russian royal family also had a Christmas tree.

In the United States, civic leaders were unhappy with the way that Christmas Day turned into revelry. Clement Moore’s 1822 poem, known today as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, and other similar works helped to change the nature of Christmas to a family-oriented celebration focussed on the home.

In 1851, a farmer in the Catskills (New York) named Mark Carr loaded two ox sledges with evergreen trees and took them to New York City. He sold every one of them.

20th century and later developments

By 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree.

By 1920, nearly all American households had one.

A decade later, during the Depression, tree growers were unable to sell fir trees to companies for landscaping. There just wasn’t enough money for that type of thing. Nurserymen decided to convert their businesses into Christmas tree farms. They soon discovered that the public preferred cultivated trees for their symmetrical shape.

Today, Christmas trees are big business. Ordering them online requires purchasing in November to avoid disappointment. For those who prefer artificial ones, aerosol pine sprays give that unforgettable scent of Yuletide cheer.

Whatever we choose to display, it seems that displaying greenery is an atavistic part of winter celebrations and the anticipation of new life. For believers, that new life is the Infant Jesus.

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