On December 25, 1943, the acrid smell of cordite hung over the rubble barricades of Ortona, Italy, where Canadians and Germans were engaged in grim hand-to-hand combat. Even amid the thunder of collapsing walls and the blinding dust and smoke darkening the alleys, the men of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and The Loyal Edmonton Regiment were determined to celebrate Christmas. They chose the abandoned church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli as their banquet hall.
The dinner was set out on long rows of tables with white tablecloths, and a bottle of beer, candies, cigarettes, nuts, oranges, apples and chocolate bars at each setting. The companies ate in relays. As each company finished eating, they went forward to relieve the next. The menu was soup, pork with applesauce, cauliflower, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, Christmas pudding and mince pie. In the corner of the room was a small, decorated tree. Even amidst the dread of war, that most universal of Christmas symbols provided comfort and hope.
Though intimately associated with Christianity, the Christmas tree has a pagan origin. Many pagan cultures cut down evergreen trees in December and moved them into the home or temple to recognize the winter solstice, which occurs sometime between December 20 and 23. The evergreen trees seemed to have magical powers that enabled them to withstand the life-threatening powers of darkness and cold.
Legends about the first Christian use of the tree include that of a woodcutter who helps a small hungry child. The next morning, the child appears to the woodcutter and his wife as the Christchild. The child breaks a branch from a fir tree and tells the couple that it will bear fruit at Christmas time. As foretold, the tree is laden with apples of gold and nuts of silver. By the 1700s the Christbaum, or "Christ tree,” was a firmly established tradition in Germany.
©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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