Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A History of the New Year

The celebration of the New Year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a New Year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice.
Early Roman Calendar: March 1st Rings in the New Year
The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the New Year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. That the New Year once began with the month of March is still reflected in some of the names of the months. September through December, our ninth through twelfth months, were originally positioned as the seventh through tenth months (septem is Latin for "seven," octo is "eight," novem is "nine," and decem is "ten."
January Joins the Calendar
The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C. (In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February.) The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls—the highest officials in the Roman republic—began their one-year tenure. But this new year date was not always strictly and widely observed, and the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1.
Julian Calendar: January 1st Officially Instituted as the New Year
In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.
Middle Ages: January 1st Abolished
In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.
Gregorian Calendar: January 1st Restored
In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year's day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire —and their American colonies— still celebrated the New Year in March.
For more New Year's features see New Year's Traditions and Saying "Happy New Year!" Around the World.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Around the World

Christmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe. Discover the origins of Christmas traditions from around the world, like the Yule log, caroling and how Christmas is celebrated “Down Under.”

Most people in Scandinavian countries honor St. Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) each year on December 13. The celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden, but had spread to Denmark and Finland by the mid-19th century.

Did You Know?
Poinsettia plants are named after Joel R. Poinsett, an American minister to Mexico, who brought the red-and-green plant from Mexico to America in 1828.

In these countries, the holiday is considered the beginning of the Christmas season and, as such, is sometimes referred to as “little Yule.” Traditionally, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and wakes each of her family members, dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. For the day, she is called “Lussi” or “Lussibruden (Lucy bride).” The family then eats breakfast in a room lighted with candles.

Any shooting or fishing done on St. Lucia Day was done by torchlight, and people brightly illuminated their homes. At night, men, women, and children would carry torches in a parade. The night would end when everyone threw their torches onto a large pile of straw, creating a huge bonfire. In Finland today, one girl is chosen to serve as the national Lucia and she is honored in a parade in which she is surrounded by torchbearers.

Light is a main theme of St. Lucia Day, as her name, which is derived from the Latin word lux, means light. Her feast day is celebrated near the shortest day of the year, when the sun’s light again begins to strengthen. Lucia lived in Syracuse during the fourth century when persecution of Christians was common. Unfortunately, most of her story has been lost over the years. According to one common legend, Lucia lost her eyes while being tortured by a Diocletian for her Christian beliefs. Others say she may have plucked her own eyes out to protest the poor treatment of Christians. Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.

Many Finns visit the sauna on Christmas Eve. Families gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. It is customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.

Norway is the birthplace of the Yule log. The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. “Yule” came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates back to the Norse Yule log. It is probably also responsible for the popularity of log-shaped cheese, cakes, and desserts during the holidays.

Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, Christmas trees began showing up in other parts of Germany, and even more so after 1771, when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg and promptly included a Christmas tree is his novel, The Suffering of Young Werther. In the 1820s, the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. After Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.

In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. As its coloring seemed perfect for the new holiday, the plants, which were called poinsettias after Poinsett, began appearing in greenhouses as early as 1830. In 1870, New York stores began to sell them at Christmas. By 1900, they were a universal symbol of the holiday.
In Mexico, paper mache sculptures called pinatas are filled with candy and coins and hung from the ceiling. Children then take turns hitting the pinata until it breaks, sending a shower of treats to the floor. Children race to gather as much of of the loot as they can.

An Englishman named John Calcott Horsley helped to popularize the tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting in the late 1830s. Newly efficient post offices in England and the United States made the cards nearly overnight sensations. At about the same time, similar cards were being made by R.H. Pease, the first American card maker, in Albany, New York, and Louis Prang, a German who immigrated to America in 1850.

Celtic and Teutonic peoples had long considered mistletoe to have magic powers. It was said to have the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. Celts hung mistletoe in their homes in order to bring themselves good luck and ward off evil spirits. During holidays in the Victorian era, the English would hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways. If someone was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room, behavior not usually demonstrated in Victorian society.

Plum pudding is an English dish dating back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream.
Caroling also began in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.

In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. In Scandinavia, similar-minded children leave their shoes on the hearth. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.

In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means “the good news” and refers to the gospel.
In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This stems from an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year’s harvest.

Italians call Chrismas Il Natale, meaning “the birthday.”

In Australia, the holiday comes in the middle of summer and it’s not unusual for some parts of Australia to hit 100 degrees Farenheit on Christmas day.
During the warm and sunny Australian Christmas season, beach time and outdoor barbecues are common. Traditional Christmas day celebrations include family gatherings, exchanging gifts and either a hot meal with ham, turkey, pork or seafood or barbeques.

Ukrainians prepare a traditional twelve-course meal. A family’s youngest child watches through the window for the evening star to appear, a signal that the feast can begin.

Most Canadian Christmas traditions are very similar to those practiced in the United States. In the far north of the country, the Eskimos celebrate a winter festival called sinck tuck, which features parties with dancing and the exchanging of gifts.

In Greece, many people believe in kallikantzeri, goblins that appear to cause mischief during the 12 days of Christmas. Gifts are usually exchanged on January 1, St. Basil’s Day.

A manger scene is the primary decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South American nations. St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers.

According to reports by Captain John Smith, the first eggnog made in the United States was consumed in his 1607 Jamestown settlement. Nog comes from the word grog, which refers to any drink made with rum.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ideas for a Low-Key Lexington Holiday

Do you get so wrapped up in the holiday tradition that every surface of your Lexington home is adorned?
"People tend to do all these elaborate things year after year. But each year you add a new thing, each year you have a new chore," says Tracey McBride, author of "Frugal Luxuries by the Season: Celebrate the Holidays with Elegance and Simplicity."
If holiday decorating is bringing out the Grinch in you, then perhaps it's time to pare down.

Spreading the spirit outdoors
Bob Pranga, known as Dr. Christmas, the holiday decorator for Candice Bergen, Jaclyn Smith, Andy Garcia and, in years past, Madonna, says the glitterati is not known for elegant simplicity. "Very few people here are minimalists," he says of his celebrity clients.
Truth be told, neither are most non-celebrities, either. "I find the smaller the yards, the more they put in them," Pranga laughs.

Those who decorate for others, however, know that impact, not inundation, works just as well.
"I do one wreath on the peak of the house, one on the front door and two spotlights. I'm done in 15 minutes, and it looks great," says Becky Shearn of Decorating Den Interiors in West Chester, Ohio.
Instead of unpacking every last box of lights and baubles this year, give one or two of these low-key ideas a try.

Hang simple wreaths with red bows every few feet. If you have a fence in the front, a well-placed garland may be all you need, Pranga says.

Wrap a garland or red ribbon around a street-side mailbox, a lamppost or a big tree in your front yard. In North Palm Beach, Fla., Christopher James of Christopher's Creative Designs is usually exhausted after decorating homes for folks like Rush Limbaugh. At his own home, he does little more than add red ribbons around the necks of the decorative resin geese in his front yard.
Skip stringing lights on every eave and bush. McBride puts them only on the arbor in front of her house. You could just do the perimeter hedges in front of your home. If you want to light your foliage but hate the hassle, look for the new net-style lights that drape over your shrubs or wrap easily around trees.

Shine one or two colored floodlights on the branches of a tree or on a single, large decoration in your yard. Or choose a yard decoration that lights up by itself: a '50s-style plastic Santa or candles or a pair of wire reindeer pre-wrapped with mini white lights.
Confine your spirit to the front door. Flank the door with two small lighted pine or rosemary trees, or lean a big sled with a bow next to your entry.

Making the most inside
When you want to dress up a woman's outfit, you don't haul out every piece of jewelry and wear every shade of makeup. A few choice pieces make all the difference. Your Lexington house is no different.

"The simpler you keep it, the stronger the message," says Sarah Boyer Jenkins, FASID, an interior designer in Chevy Chase, Md. One or more of these ideas is all you need this year.

Consider your tree, mantelpiece and wreath as the "Garanimals of Christmas," as Pranga puts it. Match those three and "that's all you really need," he says. Tie them together visually by keeping the accessories the same. If you have a red ribbon on your wreath, use the same on your tree and mantel, too.

Stick with a theme. "If you do all white and gold or all nutcrackers, it makes it simpler because it helps you eliminate, and keeps you from getting sidetracked," McBride says.
Skip the towering tree. Use a small tabletop tree, or put baskets of presents around a skirted table with a crche or other focal point on top. Make the mantel an eye-catcher with a swag of greenery and some ornaments or pinecones placed atop. One of Shearn's favorites is a reindeer candelabra with tiny ball candles on the antlers.

Pair electrical candles with red ribbons around the pots of your existing houseplants, and you have the simplest holiday decorations ever. Or simply put electric candles in the windows. "They show inside as well as out," Jenkins says."

Cut last year's taper candles to different lengths and wrap them together with a raffia bow for an instant pillar look, James suggests. Holiday greenery and some pillar candles on a mirrored tray or pretty platter work nicely on the dining table, too.

Keep your table free for food; swag greenery on the arms of your chandelier. Dangle a few holiday balls or decorations from each arm with fishing line or sturdy thread.

Add lights. McBride adds twinkling white lights to one window treatment each year. She's also tucked lights around the mirror in her bathroom for instant holiday appeal.

Let the decorations come to you. Swag a thin faux garland on a bare wall or over a room entry, and clip Christmas cards along it as they arrive. Jenkins suggests putting a pretty basket with a red bow on your coffee table and filling it with incoming holiday greetings.

Cook your decorations. Leave your boxes in the basement, bake sugar cookies using a straw to poke a hole before baking. Tie them up on the tree or around the house. "Then you don't have to worry if your 2-year-old grabs an ornament," McBride says.

Some final thoughts
Track down a Christmas decorator, such as Dr. Christmas or Christopher James, if lack of time is the only factor. They put it all up and take it all down.

Avoid the temptation to overdo it by paring down your decorations. Have a yard sale, or take them to a consignment shop. Use the proceeds to buy presents.

Steer clear enticing stores with great Christmas ideas until after the holidays. "That way, you won't feel compelled to copy all those gorgeous displays," Jenkins says.
Leave town. "Go visit someone else's house, and let them do the work," James jokes.
Sourced from: 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiday TV Line-Up

Feeling in the holiday spirit? Few things are better than catching your favorite Christmas classic on television. Here is the lineup of holiday films scheduled this week on network television:

Tuesday, Dec. 9
Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, 5 p.m., ABC Family
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, 8 p.m., ABC
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 8 p.m., CBS
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, 10:31 p.m., AMC

Wednesday, Dec. 10
The Year Without a Santa Claus, 6 p.m., ABC Family
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, 9 p.m., ABC Family
The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause, 10:30 p.m., AMC

Thursday, Dec. 11
Reindeer Games, 10 a.m., AMC
Jack Frost (1998), 5 p.m., ABC Family
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, 7 p.m., ABC Family
Blake Shelton’s Not So Family Christmas, 8 p.m., AMC
Scrooged, 9 p.m., ABC Family
Holiday Affair (1949), 9:45 p.m., TCM

Friday, Dec. 12
Jack Frost (1979), 4:30 p.m., ABC Family
White Christmas, 7 p.m., AMC
The Santa Clause, 7:30 p.m., ABC Family
Miracle on 34th Street (1994), 9:30 p.m., ABC Family

Saturday, Dec. 13
Home Alone 3, 11 a.m., ABC Family
Miracle on 34th Street, 3 p.m., ABC Family
White Christmas, 3 p.m., AMC
Mickey’s Christmas Carol, 5:30 p.m., ABC Family
The Santa Clause, 6 p.m., ABC Family
Miracle on 34th Street, 7 p.m., AMC
Frosty Returns, 9:30 p.m., CBS
Fred Claus, 11:30 p.m., ABC Family

Sunday, Dec. 14
Miracle on 34th Street, 7 a.m., ABC Family
Disney’s A Christmas Carol, 9:30 a.m., ABC Family
Jack Frost (1998), 11:30 a.m., ABC Family
Fred Clause, 1:30 p.m., ABC Family
Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 6 p.m., ABC Family
The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause, 10:30 p.m., AMC

Monday, December 8, 2014

Classy Holiday Decorating Tips for Your Lexington, MA Home!

With the holiday season in full swing, you might be wondering how extravagant to get with your Lexington home’s holiday décor. If you’re selling your Lexington home this season, it’s especially important that you decorate just enough, without going overboard and taking the attention away from your home’s best features.

As your Lexington real estate agent, I’d like to share some tips for traditional, classy holiday decorating that every potential Lexington homebuyer or holiday home guest will appreciate!
  • Door wreaths. The front entryway to your Lexington home is the first place that most Lexington homebuyers and home guests look. Make sure it especially catches your eye around the holidays with a classy, eye-catching holiday wreath. Wreaths have come a long way. There are so many styles to choose from now, so have fun with it!
  • Gold and silver décor. The classiest approach to holiday décor is gold and silver decorations. Decorate a Christmas tree in all metallic gold and silver ornaments, bows, ribbons and lights. Decorate your fireplace mantel with gold or silver vases, ornaments and holiday statues. Wrap gold or silver garland around posts or stairwells. Because these colors pop all on their own, you don’ t need a lot of decorations to make a big difference.
  • Greenery. When most of the greenery found in nature disappears this time of year, the scenery can seem gloomy. Bring that greenery indoors this holiday season with green evergreen branches on your mantel, a green wreath on your door, a green Christmas tree, green garland around your front door and a winter plant as your table centerpiece. Add some pine cones, holly and poinsettias to the greenery to really make it stand out.
  • Personal ornaments. As a rule of thumb when selling your Lexington home, you should store away personal décor, such as family photos and children’s artwork. However, for the holidays, I find that personal ornaments on a Christmas tree are okay. In fact, they really give a home that extra homey feeling, which potential Lexington homebuyers will appreciate around the holidays. But if any ornaments are falling apart or are dreadfully unattractive, store them away until next year.
Hopefully these holiday decorating tips will give you good headway for your own holiday décor in your Lexington home this winter! When you’re ready to sell your Lexington home, or you’re ready to buy a Lexington home, don’t be afraid to contact me, your Lexington real estate agent. The Lexington real estate market runs nonstop through the holidays. Anytime that you’re ready, I’m ready to help you!

Happy holidays, Lexington!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Upcoming Events in Lexington MA

Friday December 5, 2014
4:00 PM until 10:00 PM 
Our holiday concerts have become a cultural cornerstone of the holiday season in Lexington. The 4 p.m. Kids’ Holiday POPS! matinee offers a program suited for families with young children, many of whom will count this experience as their very first symphony concert. The evening Holiday Fanfare! concert at 8 p.m. features holiday favorites that evoke joyous memories and music from many parts of the world. Sing along and celebrate with Lexington Symphony, friends, and family as we rejoice at this special time of year. Location Lexington High School

Wednesday December 10, 2014
10:00 AM until 11:00 AM 
Take part in the intergenerational program that connects Youville Place residents and families with young children from LexFUN! – Includes craft activity and socializing. Location: Youville Place Assisted Living, 10 Pelham Rd

Sunday December 14, 2014
12:00 PM until 4:00 PM 
Discover the magic of trains at the annual Model Train Weekend at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library (National Heritage Museum), Sunday, December 14 from 12 - 4 pm. This family-friendly event is a perfect holiday-season outing for adults and children of all ages. The HUB Division of the National Model Railroad Association presents miles of track with trains running on multiple main lines as they chug up mountain climbs, past coal mines, through small villages and into tunnels. Some engines pull 50 cars past hundreds of charming venues including icy lakes with skaters, snow-covered farms, and urban skyscrapers. Admission is $7 per family; $5 for member families.
Location: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library (National Heritage Museum) 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA