Twelve Months of Genealogy – December

When December comes around we all turn to planning our holiday celebrations. This month let’s look at the way our ancestors celebrated the holiday season.

The first week of December we will look at religious services. If your family followed a Christian faith then usually the last Sunday in November is the start of Advent. Advent has a Latin origin and means “coming.” The Advent candle and calendar are two symbols of the observance.

You can find out more about the observance of Advent here.

Did your ancestors observe Advent? What family traditions came out of this celebration?

Maybe your family was of the Jewish faith and celebrated Hanukkah. Hanukkah is an eight day celebration of the Festival of Lights. Every night of the festival the family gathers and a new candle is light on the menorah and the children are given small gifts. This year Hanukkah is celebrated from December 20th to the 28th.

You can find out more about the celebration of Hanukkah here.

How did your ancestors celebrate Hanukkah? Were they able to observe the holiday openly and freely? Does your family celebrate Hanukkah the same way your ancestors did?

In week two we will look at the traditions that your family follow today. Do you know where they came from? When they started? Is your family starting new traditions that your great great grandchildren will be following in the future?

Christmas trees, cards, lights and puddings became popular during the Victorian era. The Christmas tree was lit with candles. The fruit and spirit filled Christmas pudding that Mrs. Cratchit was so concerned about in “A Christmas Carol” is not the same pudding that was consumed in medieval times.

Can you trace your holiday traditions through the family to see when they may have started?

The third week of December we will look at the holiday meal. When we think of Christmas dinner we think of turkey. Each country usually has their own version of Christmas dinner and the delicacies that are served. I know that my ancestors in England and Ireland liked to serve goose or ham for dinner. The type of meal served at Christmas for our ancestors would depend on the amount of money they had to spare.

Was there one item that the family would splurge on? Is there something you serve at your Christmas table that has come down the generations? Has the preparation of it changed in any way? Is there one item that must be on your Christmas table or it’s just not Christmas?

The last week of December we will look at the celebration of the New Year. I have Scottish ancestors and Hogmanay was more important than Christmas. On December 31st the New Year would be piped in and Auld Lang Syne would be sung. During the song everyone would cross their arms in front of them and then hold hands with the people next to them.

The big parties and special meals continued into the first of January. The house had to be spotless so cleaning would be done the week prior. Then there was the importance of who stepped over the threshold first. It had to be a dark haired man bearing gifts such as coal and a potato. Some other gifts could be salt, shortbread, whiskey and a black bun.

Did your ancestors have a celebration for the New Year? Was it what we think of now with the hats, streamers and counting down to midnight? Or was it different?

Did your ancestors celebrated the Epiphany? Epiphany usually started on Christmas day and ended around January 6th. The original twelve days of Christmas.

Take some time this holiday season to learn more about the history and traditions of your family’s holiday celebrations.

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