Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Thoughts

    I have discovered there is a German equivalent to the Oxford English Dictionary and it is nicknamed 'The Grimm" because it was begun by the brothers of fairy tale fame. I happened to be trawling through it and giving myself a headache trying to read the technical German because I am curious as to why, if the English word 'wreath' has a Germanic origin, the Germans have such a different word for the Christmas wreath - kranz.  They are not even remotely similar.
     'The Grimm' states that 'kranz' is a homemade word although, there appears to be an Old Scottish word very similar to it - crance.  Jamieson's Dictionary of the Scottish Language credits the origin of their word to something Teutonic to do with hair although there appears to be a related Old French word - crans, meaning 'hair'.  It is very strange, both dictionaries point to a possible connection to the latin word - corona, meaning 'garland'.
     Wreath is from the OE or Anglo-Saxon as a noun form taken from the verb 'writhe' as something twisted or wound into a circular shape. I wonder why, if both words have a Germanic origin, they are so very different in sound.  The third century writer Tertullian complained that Christians should not be putting them on doors as it amounts to demon worship so the wreath has been around for a while. One has to wonder also why it was associated with Christmas; nobody is very clear on this.  Perhaps it is a remnant of the 'kissing bough' of Saturnalia.
      We now use a mistletoe ball for kissing.  Thanks to The Xmas Files by Patrick Harding, an excellent book on the origins of Christmas customs, the proper way to use the mistletoe is that every time someone kisses under it, they have to remove a berry.  Once all the berries are gone the kissing has to stop and then the mistletoe had to be burned on the Twelfth Night in case anyone kissing under it did not intend to marry.  Now you know.
'The Grimm' is searchable online if you can read German.

Beatles Song of the Week

Saturnalia est,
Et feceratisne quod?
Alius annus finis est,
Et unus novus inceperat.
Saturnalis est,
Spero tu iocum habes.
Tu proximi et tu cari,
Tu seneces et tu parvi.

Habete Saturnalia Beata,
Et Annum Novum Felicem,
Speremus bonum est,
Sine metum. 


Anonymous said...

I think that the link with "hair" is because of the root of the word coming from the old 'wreath' worn on the head. This was sometimes also referred to as a crown, or corona. You can see below that a ahd.(althochdeutsch/old German) word that is related is "diadema" or more commonly used "diadem" (as in Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem. The passage below from the website link says basically that the word is related to the wreaths worn for ceremonies like weddings and cultural celebrations.

das ahd. wort glossiert corona und diadema, vitta, also runder, gewundener kopfschmuck überhaupt. die deutsche fürstenkrone indes, deren zacken blätterform zeigen, scheint vom kranz ausgegangen (s. 2) und möchte ahd. demnach auch so geheiszen haben, wie der kranz umgekehrt lange auch krone hiesz; und vitta wird im 13. 14. 15. jh. auch vom kopfschmuck der frauen gebraucht, der wesentlich aus einem kranze bestand, und ausdrücklich auch als kranz, brautkranz erklärt (DIEF. 624b). vgl. ahd. 'cranz cirros' 10, a. mhd. ist kranz wesentlich der blumenkranz, wie jetzt.

The tradition is both Roman and Greek. The Greeks used the wreath for honoring their Olympiads. The Romans used the laurel wreath/crown as a symbol for the Caesar to wear. Wreaths were symbols for honor and the wreath alone, off the head, seems to have been used as a way to honor the dead or to honor the celebration that it symbolized. Wreaths were used already in the classical Roman period for burial honor, because they were often carved into the decorations for tombs. The Christians took up many of the old Greek and Roman traditions and adapted them for use in their church services and celebrations. The Christmas wreath may have developed out of this tradition from the Adventkranz, or Advent wreath (that is still worn in Scandinavian countries for St. Lucia.)

In Sweden, December 13 is Luciadagen, or St. Lucia's Day. It is the
beginning of their holiday season. St. Lucia was a young woman who lived
in first century Rome. She was a Christian who would not give up her
faith to marry an unbeliever. She was tortured and killed by order of
the Roman Emperor, Diocletian.

Stories of her courage were brought to Sweden by missionaries where
she became known as the Lucia Bride. Old people said the Lucia Bride
would go out early in the morning to bring food and drink to the poor.
She wore white robes and a crown of light.

The story is acted out in Swedish homes with the oldest daughter playing
the Lucia Bride. Early in the morning on December 13, she brings her
parents a tray of sweet saffron buns and some coffee. She wears a white
gown and a crown of greens, often made of holly. Her sisters and brothers
dress in white and follow her. The girls carry lit candles and the boys
wear tall, pointed caps and are called "star boys."

St. Lucia is also honored in Sicily, where she was born. Christians there
gather to celebrate her day with bonfires and torchlight parades...
a fitting celebration since Lucia means "light."

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

This story actually combines the Roman, Christian and bridal wreath traditions. Its possible that the wreath worn on the head simply was hung in the house or on a door at some point for decoration and remembrance. Now, of course, the wreaths tend to be larger than the wreath worn on the head, but they may have evolved out of the tradition of wreaths worn on the hair.


The Red Witch said...

Thanks for the comments, Chloe. I was aware of the Romans but not Saint Lucia. It definitely helps to see where the wreath began to be included in Christmas.
Even so, it kranz and krone seem very different words. It would be nice to find some of the intermediate stages where it shifted but of course the early Germans didn't write much so that isn't likely to happen.
Didn't 'the Grimm' make you chuckle a little a the name?