Scranalogue

Culture Heritage Learning

Christmas Traditions

15th December 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

09510019Christmas (originally meaning the Mass or Birth of Christ) is a holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus in Christian belief. However, many Christmas traditions are based on other older pre-christian festivals. The Yule log, Christmas Tree, Mistletoe and Holly, for example, all derive from Scandinavian ceremonies associated with the Winter Solstice – December 21.

In mainly Christian countries, Christmas has become a major holiday of the year, but it is also celebrated as a secular holiday in countries with small Christian populations like Japan.

Christmas Today

08120374The modern Christmas, that we have come to know, is based on an exchange of gifts between family and friends; or on gifts being brought by Santa Claus. Local and regional Christmas traditions are still rich and varied. For example, in some countries in Europe, gifts are exchanged on December 6th or Epiphany – 6th January.

Coupled with celebration of the New Year, this whole mid-winter period has become a holiday set piece.

 

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth is a central figure of Christianity. He is known as Jesus Christ with “Christ” being a title meaning “Anointed”. He is also considered a very important prophet in Islam.

The main sources regarding his life and teachings are four Gospels from the New Testament of the Bible, written some decades after his death. He is depicted as a Jewish Galilean preacher and healer who was at odds with the Jewish religious authorities, and who was crucified outside Jerusalem during the rule of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. After his death numerous followers spread his teachings, and within a few decades Christianity emerged as a religion distinct from Judaism.

The Gospels State that:

  • Jesus was the Messiah – prophesied in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible)
  • He was the son of God
  • His birth by Mary was virginal
  • after His crucifixion He rose from the dead
  • He ascended into heaven

Many Christians believe that the accounts in the New Testament are historical facts, though others maintain that different parts have different degrees of accuracy.

Jesus is thought to have been born in a stable and was attended by Wise Men and Shepherds who brought gifts. In Christian thought, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth and the giving of gifts reflects that.

In Islam, Jesus (called Isa) is considered one of God’s most beloved and important prophets, a bringer of divine scripture, and also the messiah; although Muslims attach a different meaning to this term than Christians as they do not share the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus.

Other religions also have different perspectives on Jesus, but do not place as much importance on his life and teachings.

Santa Claus (also known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santy or simply Santa) is a folk hero in various cultures. He distributes gifts to children, traditionally on Christmas Eve. Santa’s name is a variation of Saint Nicholas.

Father Christmas is a well-loved figure in the United Kingdom and similar in many ways to Santa Claus, though the two have quite different origins.

Boxing Day

In English-speaking countries, the day following Christmas Day is called ‘Boxing Day’. This word comes from the custom, started in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago, whereby churches would open their ‘alms boxe’ (boxes in which people had placed gifts of money) and distribute the contents to poor people in the neighbourhood on the day after Christmas.

Yule & Pagan Festivities

Yule means “feast”. Yule derives from the early Scandinavians and refers to the festival at the Winter Solstice. For ancient Germanic and Celtic people, the impulse to celebrate solstice was a celebration of the cycle of nature and a reaffirmation of the continuation of life. These northern cultures survived a colder, darker winter and thus held a great celebration. This was held at the turning of the year on the shortest day – December 21 – which heralds the return of the sun’s light and warmth.

Many ancient traditions surrounding Yuletide are concerned with coping with the darkness and evils. In Shetland, there is still an Annual Up Helly Aa Viking style celebration of mid winter where a procession takes place throughout the town ending in a longboat being set alight in the harbour. Holly Evergreens were cherished at this time of year as a natural symbol of rebirth and life amid winter whiteness. But holly is prickly and will see off evil spirits before they could enter and harm a household.

The Julbukk, or Yule goat, from Sweden and Norway, carried the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge. In Iceland the giant Yule Cat eats humans who have not contributed to the community’s work. Other Germanic, Scandinavian, Viking and Celtic traditions include mistletoe and the Evergreen tree – in many places, hung upside down; and there’s the famous Yule Log.

Other Non-Christian Gift Giving Festivals

Although Christmas is celebrated by many non-Christians, there are alternative winter gift-giving holidays instead of or in addition to Christmas.

  • Judaism’s Hanukkah has developed a tradition of gift-giving similar to Christmas.
  • Christmas has some acceptance in the Islamic world, where Jesus is regarded as a prophet. Additionally, the observance of Eid ul-Fitr is sometimes accompanied by greetings similar to traditional Christmas greetings.
  • Diwali is a Festival of Light in India and it is important to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Nepalese Buddhists. This involves decoration with lights and giving gifts.
  • Observances of the Kwanzaa festival, which reinforces African American heritage, are also celebrated in December with decorations, feasts, and gift-giving.
  • Many atheists and modern-day pagans celebrate the winter Solstice as an alternative to religious end-of-year holidays.

Eid ul-Fitr

Eid ul-Fitr often abbreviated as simply Eid, is an Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. On the day of the celebration, a typical Muslim family gets up very early and attends special prayers held only for the occasion in big mosques. The festivities and merriment start after the prayers with visits to the homes of friends and relatives and thanking the Creator for all blessings. Eid is a time to come together as a community and to renew friendship and family ties. This is a time for peace for all Muslims in the world to devote to prayers and mutual well-being.

Diwali

Diwali is a major Indian and Nepalese festive holiday, and a significant religious festival for Hinduism , Jainism and Sikhism. It is celebrated as the “Festival of Light,” where lights or lamps are displayed to signify the victory of good over the evil. It may have originated as a harvest festival, marking the last harvest of the year before winter. In India, it is a national festival enjoyed by most regardless of faith. Homes are decorated with lights, fireworks are set off and sweets and gifts are given. Prayers are also said to various gods who are associated with the festival. The date, like Easter in Christian Faiths, is calculated and is usually around the end of October, beginning of November.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah or Chanukah is a Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival or Feast of Lights. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word meaning “dedication”. Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, and the holiday is celebrated for eight days. The start of Hanukkah usually falls in December but occasionally is in late November. The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of special Hanukkah lights on each of the festival’s eight nights. A special 8 limbed lamp is used which symbolises the lamp that remained lit for 8 days although only having oil for one.

Images © Edward Martin, Archive Services University of Dundee| Licensor Scran

25th October 2016
by Scran
0 comments

Day of the Dead

The 1st & 2nd November are the Days of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos, the annual festival in Mexico where families remember the dead. It is believed the souls of the departed return to the land of … Continue reading

Beltane Festival & May Day

25th April 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

The term Beltane is thought to mean bright fire. The festival’s origins lie in Scotland’s distant past when people lived by herding animals. They marked the seasons with community celebrations. Beltane signified the transition from Spring to Summer.

03020133

Before banks had holidays or even the advent of Christianity, there has been a festival held at the start of May to celebrate the first day of summer. Early agricultural peoples across Europe used seasonal indicators like the flowering hawthorn to mark the start of the summer in northern Europe. For the early farmers, summer was a time of warmth and plenty of food between the winter and before the hard harvest work, a great excuse for a party.

Paganism Plagiarism

02555262

Minister conducting a May Day service, Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

When the first Christians arrived in Britain to spread their faith, they used many of the existing customs as a foundation. Major Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter fall near important dates on the solar calendar like winter solstice and spring equinox. By incorporating familiar holidays and symbols, Christian missionaries could encourage piety without asking their converts to stop their fun or completely change their society. Even today, services are held at the top of Arthur’s Seat as the sun comes up over Edinburgh on May 1st. Images of the pagan symbol of rebirth and renewal, like the Green Man who is particularly associated with Beltane, have been included in Christian gravestones for centuries.

00999677

Green Man screaming in panic

Bring Back the Best Bits

This basic need for a holiday still holds true today. In our increasingly hectic world, people are becoming more curious about their ancient ancestors and customs. Revivals of pagan celebrations of the seasons are becoming popular, and sometimes spectacular events.

5

Green Man in the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle

In Edinburgh, a contemporary Beltane Fire Festival is held on Calton Hill on the evening before 1st May to mark the beginning of summer. This variant of the Beltane festival was started in 1988 by enthusiasts, with academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Since then it has become an immensely popular event in the city’s calendar, drawing on a variety of historical, mythological and literary influences including the Green Man and the May Queen.

Beltane celebrates fertility and the earth’s ripe abundance. Various rites were performed to ensure the fertility of nature and the fires were believed to purify and protect against plague and epidemics. Modern day Beltane festivals are mainly for public entertainment.

The Victorians

06950248

Peebles First Beltane Queen – Friday 23rd June 1899

The Victorians also realised the value of a celebration for the whole community and began ‘reviving’ local customs in towns across Britain, like the Riding of Marches in Peebles to define the town’s boundaries. Here the Beltane originally celebrated the advent of the Summer Solstice in May and in folklore was a Celtic festival devoted to Baal, the God of Fire.

The modern celebration, marking midsummer, is primarily a children’s festival and incorporates the Riding of the Marches. In 1899, the first Beltane Queen was crowned with all due pomp and ceremony, moving the celebration to mid June. The Peebles Beltane Festival continues into the 21st century bringing tourism to the town.

Images © Scottish Media Group, National Museums Scotland,  Beltane Fire Society & Gerry McCann, Historic Environment Scotland, Collection of Bert Robb & Eric Stevenson  Licensor Scran

Gathering the Voices

26th January 2016 by Scran | 1 Comment

3715_25717_005-000-012-847-R_2016-01-20_13-24-08Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, is the day for everyone to remember the millions of Jews murdered during the Holocaust, and the millions of people killed Nazi Persecution throughout World War Two.

In recent years, the Gathering the Voices Association has been collecting and recording survivor’s stories – some came on the Kindertransport, meanwhile others survived concentration camps and many made remarkable journeys to get to safety in Scotland.

3717_25765_005-000-012-871-R_2016-01-21_12-55-14One such person was Marion Camrass; her story begins in Poland 1932. She was born into a wealthy family in Krakow. As a child during World War Two she fled the fighting by travelling into Soviet Russia and eventually to Siberia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In 1946 she joined her aunt in Glasgow, where she completed her school education, went to university and finally settled.

3715_25751_005-000-012-864-R_2016-01-20_14-05-45We are delighted to say the Gathering the Voices Association has shared a selection of material with Scran, becoming our newest contributing partner.

Now you can listen to the interviews on Scran, not only the story of Marion Camrass but also that of Gretl Shapiro – hear all about their lives in Scotland after World War Two. Each interview has a full transcript available for reference and fascinating, accompanying images.

There are also supporting materials on topics such as religious discrimination and sectarianism.

 

Images © Gathering the Voices

The Christmas Card Phenomenon

9th December 2015 by Scran | 0 comments

Festive Greetings06712558

Christmas greetings cards have become a regular feature of the traditional British Christmas with billions changing hands within the UK each year, but where did this tradition begin and why did it continue to thrive?

Humble Beginnings?

The first Christmas card is thought to have been designed by British artist John Calcott Horsley in 1840. With the invention of the telephone still over 30 years away, sending hand-written letters by mail was the primary means of communication. Faced with the tedious task of writing to all his friends and family members with Christmas greetings, a friend of Horsley, civil servant Henry Cole, conceived the idea of a printed card bearing a suitable message which could be signed and sent to one and all. Horsley embraced the idea and produced a design which was published in 1843. Cole had 1000 of the cards printed and placed on sale at the rather princely sum of 1 shilling each. Little did he realise just how popular his idea would become!

National Mania

09230757Times have changed since Henry Cole’s moment of inspired laziness: mail is no longer the mainstay of communication. The telephone network has joined up the remotest corners of the world and the cheap, paperless, instantaneous communication afforded by e-mail has threatened to make ‘snail mail’ altogether obsolete. The Christmas card, however, goes marching on, and in no small way.

We are still crazy enough about Christmas cards to cause enormous disruption to the postal system every December. This year, postboxes will be stuffed with an estimated 2 billion cards and on the busiest day the national mailbag will contain almost double its usual 84 million items. Such is the congestion that Royal Mail recommend posting second class seasonal dispatches 8 days in advance to guarantee arrival in time for the big day.

Conscientious Choice

06712561Two billion cards amounts to a lot of paper and a lot of spending. Many consumers are now looking for more conscientious ways to enjoy the tradition. Each year, around a quarter of shoppers will choose charity cards in the hope that good causes can benefit from their seasonal spending. However, the percentage of proceeds finding their way to good causes varies widely. Research by the Charities Advisory Trust suggests that some charity cards are just not all that charitable after all: the most miserly example they uncovered passed only 0.3% of proceeds to the named good cause. Others will aim for a more ethical celebration by boycotting Christmas cards altogether, feeling that their seasonal goodwill is better expressed by not contributing to the tonnes of paper waste generated from cards each year.

‘Tis the Season to Recycle?

  • 06710368An estimated 1 billion Christmas cards and 83 sq km of wrapping paper will end up in our bins this year
  • We bought around 7.5 million Christmas trees in 2001: at least 1.1 million were recycled
  • 20 – 30% more glass and cans will be collected for recycling over the festive period

Christianity back into Christmas?

Horsley’s original card had its opponents too, but for different reasons. It bore an image of a family raising their glasses to Christmas which incited fury amongst Puritans of the time. In what was still very much a Christian state the uproar was caused by the association of the evils of alcohol with the sanctity of the feast of Christmas. It is interesting to note that, while scenes of the Nativity and other connected imagery went on to become regular features in the design of Christmas cards, the genuine article was quite secular in its design.

Controversy about the presence or absence of Christianity in Christmas traditions rages in Britain to this day with many Christians bemoaning the seeming transformation of the feast from a religious event into an orgy of consumerism. Others would praise the fact that in our modern British society, one characterized by a far more diverse range of religion and cultural traditions than the Victorians would have recognised, the goodwill of Christmas is now often shared across faiths and cultures. The disagreement reaches beyond the UK too. In 2005 the president of the USA received angry feedback about the official White House Christmas card: the secular design of the card horrified some recipients (it featured two of the head of state’s pet dogs frolicking in the snow on the White House Lawn).

Question of Taste

The official White House card illustrates how the sending of Christmas cards has become protocol in the USA. The same is true in Britain: businesses are careful not forget their customers, and refuse collectors all over the country will receive cards from perfect strangers during the season. Is a Christmas card from the paperboy evidence of lasting Christmas spirit or just a hint that a tip might be in order?

A wide variety of designs have evolved to suit these myriad purposes. Horsley’s original design showed a scene of Christmas cheer. Cards like this are still popular, alongside Nativity scenes and informal cartoons. When the Christmas card was still a relatively new idea the Victorians became very fond of elaborately engineered pop-up and trick cards. Nowadays, hand-making cards is a popular hobby and parents everywhere are still best pleased with the lovingly prepared designs in glitter and glue brought home by their sticky-fingered schoolchildren.

What makes a good Christmas card? Can a piece of stationery really embody the Christmas spirit? Why not try making a Scran card to find out? Search for an image and click Create to make a greetings card in a few easy steps and see if you can make someone’s Christmas!

Images © Scottish Life Archive, The Scotsman Publications Ltd | Licensor Scran

Democracy, Migration & Nationalism

2nd September 2015 by Scran | 0 comments

It’s all happening in Highland this week at Culloden Academy.  Scran has been invited to work with senior pupils studying the SQA Higher History syllabus. The focus will 'SS Marloch' setting sail for Canada 1924 be on accessing resources and records related to the three main topics for the year;

  • Migration & Empire 1830-1939
  • Growth of Democracy 1850-1950    inc. the Suffragettes 
  • Growth of Nationalism, Germany 1815-1939

Besides learning how to use Scran as a research tool, the Culloden students will also be thinking about digital assets, copyright how to attribute their sources appropriately.

This “Good Luck” image is a firm favourite in the Scran office and you can find it amongst our records on emigration. It shows five well-dressed ladies posing with the Captain on board ‘SS Marloch’, before setting sail for Canada in 1924.

After school, the Social Subjects & RMPS staff will have to knuckle down too. The twilight session is part of our ongoing schools CPD and CLPL offer.

Image © Newsquest (Herald & Times), Setting Sail for Canada, 1924.  Licensor www.scran.ac.uk