Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Traditions Around the World

This post was originally published on Worldwide Genealogy -- A Genealogical Collaboration on 25 December 2014.

Imagine my surprise when I realized my day to contribute a monthly post fell on Christmas! I knew just what to write about this month. My dear mother-in-law started giving me the Lenox "Christmas Trees from Around the World" plates in 1991 and continued each year until the day she died in 2008. I would like to share with you some of them and the tree traditions from each country where our families originated as written on the back of each plate.


Austria celebrates a month-long tradition at Christmas, from the arrival of Saint Nicholas and his companion Krampus on December 5th until Epiphany on January 6th when the Wise Men appear. The Advent wreath is the first sign of the season as a candle is lighted with great festivity on the first Sunday of Advent. In Austrian homes the Nativity creche is also an important tradition often an heirloom carved in wood centuries ago. New figures may be carved over the years to include not only the Holy Family but any number of other figures. From Austria the world has received the beautiful hymn "Silent Night," composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber, a young organist, with lyrics by Joseph Mohr. In Austria the tree is the bright jewel of the home during the Christmas season. After the Christmas Eve supper, the tree is lighted in a blaze of flory as family members gather to sing Christmas songs, and peasant or classical carols.

1995 Lenox Austria plate

The 1995 Lenox plate tree is decorated with gold and silver garlands and candles, with presents arranged beneath the tree.


Canada celebrates the Christmas season based upon culturally diverse traditions. It is a holiday that shares a mix of old and new. The French, for instance, brought their tradition or displaying the creche, while the Germans introduced the fir tree as part of the celebratory process. They are also credited with the introduction of blown glass ornaments to tree decoration. The English had an old tradition of hanging a "Kissing Ball" or setting the table with Christmas crackers. Earlier decorations were highly influenced by the native Indian crafts, including the use of feathers.

2003 Lenox Canada plate

The 2003 Lenox plate shows the rich, balsam adorned with pine cones, kissing balls and feathered jeweled ornaments. Kugels and Neapolitan-style angles are represented. The Canadian maple leaf is featured throughout the design and garlands of cranberry wrap around the tree.


According to English myth, the custom of decorating trees for Christmas began in their country with Prince Albert. After the birth of their first son in 1841, he present Queen Victoria with a candlelit tree laden with sweets of the most expensive kind. Victorians, who were given to imitate the Royal Family, quickly adopted the custom after a picture of one of the Windsor trees appeared in an 1848 edition of the Illustrated London News. Charles Dickens delighted readers with his magazine account of the glittering Christmas trees decorated with miniature dolls, fiddles, drums, and figurines that had become the new fashion for the elated season in Victorian England.

1993 Lenox England plate

The 1993 Lenox plate is festive with delectable English confections and a garland of cranberries. A gilded angel with outstretched wings crowns the candlelit tree, around which are the traditional plum pudding, toys, figurines and Christmas gifts are placed in celebration of the merriest of English holidays.


Germany is truly the land of the Christmas tree. . .in no other country is the day so fully and heartily observed. "Weihnachtsbaum" (Christmas tree) is the symbol of the German yuletide. In 1531 the first Christmas trees were sold in the Strasbourg market. The four-foot trees were set up undecorated for the holiday on small tables. The oldest known Christmas tree to be decorated as we know the tradition today, was found in Strasbourg in the early 17th century. Decorations included only apples and nuts, with the addition of flat wafers, gilded candies and many different colored paper roses following later. By the 18th century, Christmas trees were decorated with many kins of sweet confections as well as gold leaf covered apples and other gilded fruits and nuts.

1991 Lenox Germany plate; the first plate of the series

The 1991 Lenox plate displays a typical German Christmas tree of the early 1600s. Simple apples and nuts adorn the tree just as they did when the world's first Christmas tree was decorated in Germany.


Christmas arrives in Hungary not once, but twice! The first celebration takes place on December 6th, which is Saint Nicholas (also known as "Mikols") Day. Children place boots in their window hoping to be rewarded for good behavior by Saint Nicholas who ill fill them with chocolate, fruit, walnuts and other goodies. The second celebration is December 25th, which actually begins the night before. Songs and good cheer arise as friends and family come together to share fits and a traditional meal that often includes fish, lentils and a special poppy pastry known as "beigli."

The 2005 Lenox plate depicts the legend that a tree was brought by angels to surprise the children. Hence, families wait until Holy night, December 24th, to decorate their tree. A bell is rung, signaling that the angels have brought the tree and the Baby Jesus has arrived with gifts. The tree, lit with candles and sparklers, is then unveiled to the delighted children.

2005 Lenox Hungary plate

Special holiday candies called "szalon cukon," wrapped in bright red and gold foil, are also used to decorate the tree. "Matyo" felt ornaments, decorated with the colorful embroidery that Hungary for which is renowned, make unique and festive tree decorations. Hungary's rich tradition of beautiful handcrafted work and wonderful culinary delights give special meaning to the phrase "Yokarar Csony," Merry Christmas!


The Christmas celebration in Old Russia began with the appearance of the first evening star on Christmas Eve. Children eagerly awaited the wheat cakes placed for them on the window sill by St. Nicholas, the kind and generous bishop chosen as the patron saint of Russia almost one thousand years ago. At supper, the table was set with a layer of straw beneath the cloth to symbolize the bed in the manger. After a meal of fish and special cakes, family members, dressed in costumes, paraded through the neighborhood singing Christmas songs known as "Kolyada." Russian children waited in anticipation, not for Santa Claus, but for the old woman Babouschka, who brings each little child a present as she searches every house on her long journey to find the Christ Child.

1996 Lenox Russia plate

The 1996 Lenox plate is decorated with jeweled eggs, ornately detailed balls, and sparkling crystals inspired by Imperial Russia. A bear, gilded-domed palace and Russian dolls are gathered under the star-topped tree.

United States of America

Along with its own original celebrations, Christmas in America combines a unique blend of customs and traditions from around the world. All contribute to the holiday season, making Christmas in America a very special time of year. Although the Christmas tree originated in Germany, large cities to small towns throughout the United States display a "Community Tree" -- a custom which began in Pasadena, California, in 1909. Typically, trees are decorated with a variety of ornaments, old and new, that are rich in sentiments.

1998 Lenox America plate

The 1998 Lenox America tree is decorated with jolly Santa Claus figurines and old fashioned candles. The boughs are adorned with garland and strings of popcorn. Antique toys and brightly colored fruit evoke the feelings of a colonial Christmas while delicate snowflakes, icicles and baubles shimmer. A star glistens from the tree top and shines upon the colorful array of packages and toys beneath the tree.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!

To learn about the Christmas tree traditions in Ireland and Poland, I hope you'll click over to my Tangled Roots and Trees Christmas post.

The surnames of my husband and my grandparents were: Adametz (Austria), Dagutis (Lithuania), Fishtahler (Hungary), Jennings (England), Klimsansluski (Lithuania), Lange (Russia), Muir (Scotland), and Schalin (Russia). The Fishtahler, Lange, and Schalin families considered themselves German, though they immigrated extensively in Europe (Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Serbia) before coming to the new world (Canada and the United States).

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Philip Schuyler Country Home in Schuylerville, New York

Philip Schuyler was an American general during the Revolution and a United States Senator from New York. He lived from 1733 to 1804. Schuyler planned the defense of Albany in preparation for British General John Burgoyne's attack, though was replaced by General Horatio Gates for the actual battles. After Burgoyne's second defeat at Saratoga, the British burned Schuyler's summer estate along the Hudson River near a community originally called Saratoga.

Philip Schuyler's country home in Schuylerville, New York; personal collection

After the British surrendered Philip Schuyler hurriedly rebuilt his summer home in just a few weeks. He never liked it as much as the original house and referred to it as his "commodious box." He expanded this estate to tens of thousands of acres, as well as adding slaves, tenant farmers, a store, and mills for flour, flax and lumber. Several schooners were also built near the estate, which sailed on the Hudson.

Throughout Schuyler's life, the house received many famous visitors, including Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison and Marquis de Lafayette.

Schuyler House; personal collection

It is now owned by the National Park Service and may be toured during the summer months.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Charles Theodore Jennings, Sr. (1931-2018): Eulogy for My Father

We held the memorial service for my father on 17 November 2018 at the church Mom and Dad attended for nearly 40 years. We laughed and cried as we expressed our love and gratitude for the greatest man I have ever known.

Mom and Dad's long-time paster and good friend delivered the eulogy, which I would like to share here so those who did not have a chance to know my father may get a glimpse of the character of a wonderful man.

"Dear family and friends we have come together today to remember Charles Theodore Jennings, who was born on 14 December 1931 and who died just after Veterans' Day, early in the morning of 12 November 2018. We are here to honor a dearly loved husband, father, grandfather, brother in Christ, and friend; and I know of no one who deserves more the praise and love than we give him today. To you, the family he loved so dearly, we give our sincere condolences and love. We know these last years of his life were not only difficult for him, but very difficult for you. It is so very hard to see your hero, your mentor, your father and instructor in life become as fragile and weak as he became. He, along with your wonderful mother, was in so many ways the strength of your lives and in these last years you became that for him. I know he was so very grateful for your love and care and we commend you for it.

While he was known by his clients in his work as Charles, he was better known to all of us as Ted. I have heard each of his children say in his or her own way, "he was the smartest or greatest man I knew." That was also my impression of Ted from the very first time I met him. He, of course, was an engineer and you expect engineers to be very smart, but Ted was smart not only in technical things but in practical things as well. I did not think that there was anything he could not do, from giving good advice on how to handle some difficult issue, to building a race car -- something he loved to do -- to helping me make a BBQ grill out of an old 500-gallon drum. If I needed help with anything, Ted was the first person I thought of and I missed him dearly when he was no longer able to do the things he so naturally did.

Ted and Dot moved to eastern North Carolina in 1978 and soon became very much a part of our community. They had gone on a vacation somewhere south of here and on their return trip home to northern Virginia, they passed through New Bern. Ted loved the water and they were impressed as they crossed the Neuse River bridge with the vista of water and land. Ted's engineering job was one that he could do working out of the home and they were thinking about choosing a place for their retirement years. So they came back to this county where "the land meets the water," and with the help of a realtor they found a place on Dawson Creek to build a home. As soon as it was completed they moved here. While living here they became active members of Bethany Christian Church, where Ted served as an elder. Ted became a member of the Volunteer Fire Department and they both served their community in various ways. We were truly enriched by their presence among us.

As I mentioned earlier, Ted died just after the conclusion of Veterans' Day and it is appropriate that we should remember that he was a veteran of the Korean War. He met his future wife before he served in Korea but it was after he had served his country that he and Dot were married in 1957. Schalene writes, 'They were married in my Dad's parents' home in Arlington, Virginia, on a Friday evening, by a volunteer fireman, who was late to the wedding because he was busy putting out a fire. My Mom's parents didn't attend. They didn't like Dad; he was wild -- drank beer, raced cars, and sent a practice grenade to Mom from Korea. They didn't know if it was real or not so they stored it in the chicken coop!' Ted, of course, was none too happy that this was his in-laws impression of him and when Dot's mother would speak of his 'wild side,' he would counter with a story about when he did something good.[1] Fortunately, the 'wild side' faded away and became distant memories of the indulgences of his youth.

Mom and Dad's wedding at this parents house in Arlington, Virginia;
personal collection

Ted took seriously his role as a husband to his wife Dot, whom he loved dearly and as a father to his children. Because he worked out of the home, that gave Ted the opportunity to interact a lot with his children. He was almost always home when they got out of school. He served as their coach in many of the sports they played and he attended their school functions. John write about his Dad: 'One of my best memories was Dad as a teacher. Almost every evening, after dinner and after I completed my homework, Dad would have me sit down next to him with a pencil and pad of scratch paper. He would teach me the things HE thought I should learn, usually engineering related...I tried to keep a straight face even when things got way over my head. I tried not to give away the fact I wasn't as smart as he was."

Ted was always there for his children. His son, Ted, Jr., says of his Dad: 'One thing that never changed from my being a kid through adulthood, if I didn't know something or wasn't sure, I'd ask Dad. He always knew. From, what to do when a kid was picking on me in school, to how to fix a transmission, I really think he knew it all. He was so willing to help with anything.' Schalene tells how when she was stood up on a date in high school her father took his sad daughter out for ice cream and told her how to handle the young man if he ever called again. He did call again and she handled him just as her father had explained that she should. She was pleasant, never acted like being stood up bothered her at all, and turned him down every time he asked her out.

Ted loved fishing and being out on the water. One of Schalene's favorite pictures of her dad is the one on the front of the bulletin. It is a picture of Ted out on the Chesapeake Bay. He and Dot chose their place on the water at Dawson Creek because of his love for boats and fishing. One of Ted Jr.'s great blessings after his retirement from the Coast Guard was to move back home to be near his parents. He and his Dad were able to go fishing together on a lot of weekends. A favorite place to go was the treacherous drum Inlet in the spring where they caught flounder and speckled trout. When Ted told me about their fishing trips I became quite envious. They had good catches and bad catches, but always they had a good time.

Dad on his boat in the Chesapeake Bay; personal collection

There are some things you appreciate all your life, but even more so as the years pass by. I am sure Schalene, Ted Jr., and John have come to appreciate more and more the wonderful parents and family heritage they have been blessed to have. They have had what many others from dysfunctional and broken families have never known. They had a stable home with wise and loving parents who made them their first priority. They were gifted with a father and mother who prepared them to  become the self-sufficient, capable, mature adults they have become with families of their own. They will no doubt carry on the legacy they have received from their parents. In doing so they will be doing just what Ted and Dot hoped they would do as their children.

In 2002, just months before turning 71, Ted suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, an almost always fatal condition. Still he bounced back but with some problems remaining. He was not paralyzed but suffered the inability to process language and sometimes was not able to speak. It led to some interesting conversations when you visited with him. After months of therapy Ted got back to almost normal. He even worked on restoring a sprint race care like the ones he had raced in the early 1950s. But the hemorrhages continued and resulted in a gradual more severe mental decline. Dot became his caregiver and when things became too difficult to manage in their Quail Woods home, and also because of her own declining health, she sold their house and moved Ted and herself to an assisted living facility just outside of New Bern. In September 2014 Dorothy died, and on Thanksgiving Day 2014 Ted was in Duke Hospital fighting for his life. His condition improved minimally and he was moved to the nursing home in New Bern where he died last Monday. He lived well beyond what would normally be expected of someone who had suffered such terrible traumas. For the last few years, the time around Thanksgiving became for his family not just a time to celebrate a holiday but a day like today. It became a day to be together and remember how very blessed they were for the parents they had. It is a tradition I think will continue.

Proverbs 4:1-4 instructs us with this parental advice: 'Listen, children, to a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, and my mother's favorite, he taught me, and said to me, Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.'

Ted was a teacher of his children. His instructions, however, were not so much a quoting of the Bible as they were a matter of being a living example and giving practical advice. Ted was a genuine person -- a husband and father who lived as be believed a husband and father should. Did he ever make mistakes? I am sure he did even as I am sure his mistakes became learning experiences for himself and for his family. While I am confident he was guided by his faith in God, he would never be the one to say, 'Look at me and be as I am.' I think rather that he would hope that you would look to God and become the very best you can be.

Last photograph of Mom and Dad together, April 2014;
personal collection

Dear friends, we see or we don't see God in the people who are close to us and in the lives they live. I am glad that today we remember and honor a man, a father, grandfather, and friend in whom we saw the presence of the Spirit of God. And today, with full hearts and with settled minds we commit the care and keeping of his life to the God in whom we believe. God will surely hold him safe in his arms until that day we will meet again."

[1] Actually, this story is about Dad's Mom, not his mother-in-law. Mom's parents changed their mind about Dad soon after I, the eldest, was born. They saw the loving care Dad gave to his family and thought Mom had chosen her life's partner wisely. I told the story about Grandma Jennings' Dad stories in A Tribute to My Father.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Five Firefighters Killed in Lynchburg

William Reuben Moore was born 1846 in Franklin County, Virginia, to Thomas Moore and his second wife, Frances Delaney. William married Mary Olivia Wrenn, who went by Olivia or Ollie, my second cousin three times removed, on 2 June 1875 in Lynchburg, Virginia.

I have been unable to find William and Olivia in the 1880 census and know very little about their lives. Olivia died on 9 January 1881 in Lynchburg at the age of 26 years. I know William and Olivia had a least one child as their headstones are engraved "Mother" and "Father," but I have not yet found the children.

William was a volunteer fireman and was still volunteering with the Lynchburg Fire Department soon after its formation in April 1883 as a Captain. Just a month later five firefighters died while fighting a major fire downtown, including William Reuben Moore.

Memorial plaque located at Presbyterian Cemetery commemorating the first
firefighters killed in the line of duty in Lynchburg, Virginia; courtesy of FAG
volunteer LJH

Lynchburg and Its People, published in 1900, described the fire:

"The question about the paid fire department had not been fully settled. March 28, Alexander Thurman was elected chief, and the work of organization started.

The Fifth Street station had been finished, and in May the Gamewell electric fire alarm was in operation. None dreamed of the fearful experience that awaited the new department so early in its history.

There was nothing unusual in the early morning of May 30. It was a hot, dusty day and business was moving along as usual, when about ten o'clock the city was startled by a rude alarm of fire. The alarm came from the box at Main and Ninth streets, and before the fire department arrived Jones, Watts Brothers & Cos.' big iron front hardware store seemed to be in a blaze from bottom to top. It seems that a clerk threw a lighted paper upon the basement floor where the oil was kept, and it immediately caught fire. The elevator shaft was open and the building caught so quickly that there was not time to close the safe. The newly organized department began to fight the fire in earnest, but it was powerless. The streams of water seemed to feed the flames, and soon the Virginian Building, corner of Main and Tenth street, was afire. Then the Sample Room, a tailor shop, a frame stable corner Church and Tenth streets, Peters & Flood's tobacco factory and two frame houses on Church street caught, and were soon wrapped in flames. Holcombe Hall, Friends' warehouse, Mrs. C. J. M. Jordan's house and several other buildings caught, but were extinguished before much damage was done. At one time it seemed as if two or three blocks would be destroyed, but fortunately the winded changed and they were saved. The people were almost frantic, and once it looked as if there would be a riot; men wanted to take the hose from the firemen. The Home Guard and the Blues were called out to preserve order, and they had scarcely gotten on the ground when another disturbance arose and a race riot was imminent.

The fire was at length confined to the buildings already burning, and the firemen turned their attention to them. Edward McCrossin and W. P. Redman climbed to the top of the reeling iron front of the hardware store to attach a rope in order to pull it down, before it fell and killed some of the men. This was successful, and when it was over the Virginian Building blazed up and Halsey Gouldman, J. A. Vaughn, J. T. Clement, Captain W. R. Moore and Felix Delbelvre went into the house with two streams of water. They had been there about thirty minutes when the division wall fell with a crash and buried them beneath its ruins. A shudder of horror went through the crowd as soon as it was learned that the men were buried under the hot bricks. The citizens rushed in to help remove the debris and it was with difficulty that the police and the military companies could keep them back and prevent other accidents. Willing hands worked for hours searching for the bodies. None thought that any escaped death, and they were correct, for when the bodies were reached it was found that they had been killed almost instantly.

Besides the great loss of property in this, the most disastrous fire ever known in Lynchburg, the awful death of these brave men carried sorrow to every heart. The city council called a meeting that night to honor the heroic dead, to arrange for their funeral, and to have a monument erected to their memory by the city.

The funeral was appointed for Thursday, May 31, at 4 p.m., at the Opera House. When the time arrived all business was suspended, the houses were draped and the streets were crowded with people. The five caskets rested in front of the stage, and every available space in the building was occupied by citizens eager to show their last respect to the brave men. Revs. T. M. Carson, S. B. Southerland, G. C. Vanderslice, W. T. Hall, W. E. Edwards, and W. R. L. Smith took part in the service, and Major John W. Daniel delivered the funeral oration. After these ceremonies were concluded the longest procession ever witnessed in Lynchburg, consisting of the white and colored military companies, various orders and associations, fire companies, city officials and citizens took up its line of march to the Presbyterian cemetery. There the services at the grave were performed by Revs. J. H. Williams, R. R. Acree and J. M. Rawlins.

A subscription for the widows and orphans of the dead fireman was at once started, and in a few days after the funeral a mass meeting was called at the Opera House to arrange for the investment of the funds raised. Peter J. Otey, N. R. Bowman, R. L. Waldron, Charles M. Blackford, and W. A. Strother were appointed trustees. The total amount was three thousand, four hundred and sixty-eight dollars. Later the council decided that instead of a monument in the cemetery it would erect a memorial fountain at the foot of Courthouse Hill. This was done and the fountain stands there today as Lynchburg's recognition of the brave deed of these faithful men."

The fire department purchased several burial plots at Presbyterian Cemetery. Four of the firefighters killed in the 1883 fire were the first firefighters to be buried there. Capt. William R. Moore, a volunteer firefighter, who worked for the Northern & Western railroad was buried in a family plot at Spring Hill cemetery.

In 2009 the Lynchburg fire department erected a memorial at Presbyterian Cemetery, commemorating the firefighters killed in the 1883 fire because the marble headstones were growing harder to read. According to the News & Advance, it was "feared that one day people visiting the graveyard won't know who these men were and the sacrifice they made."