Inquiring minds

Each week the staff at the Roseville Library answers more than 2,500 questions on every subject under the sun. Here are some of the most interesting ones they’ve gotten lately.

Q. There’s been a recent controversy about displaying Christmas trees in public places. What I want to know is whether a Christmas tree is really a religious symbol at all. They seem pretty pagan to me.

A. The Christmas tree is the classic example of what happened when the early Christian Church encountered pre-Christian customs. For Northern Europeans in pre-Christian times, the fir tree possessed magic powers, because it stayed evergreen when other trees lost their leaves. Germanic tribes displayed fir trees in their homes at the time of the Winter Solstice, and consecrated the boughs to the honor of the Hertha, Goddess of the Hearth.
When Christianity became established in Europe, early Church leaders did their best to suppress the celebration of the fir tree, and when that didn’t work, they performed a classic lateral maneuver. They co-opted the tree and the winter celebration in which it played so prominent a role. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the idea of a decorated fir tree became firmly entwined with Christmas celebrations in Germany and other parts of Northern Europe. It took longer to catch on elsewhere. In 1900, only one in five American families put up a Christmas tree as part of their holiday rites. By 1930, the custom was almost universal in the United States, perhaps reflecting the introduction of parallel-wired electric Christmas tree lights in 1927, which ensured that the tree was no longer plunged into darkness if one light bulb in the chain failed.
(The Christmas Encyclopedia.)

Q. There’s an old standard Christmas song called “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” It sounds like it was performed by a real young boy, whose voice had not yet changed. Is that true? Or was it really a grownup woman singing?

A. Jimmy Boyd was a genuine 12-year-old boy, when he recorded the song about the kid who witnessed his mother in a compromising clinch with Santa. The song was the hit of the holiday season in 1952 and continues to rank as one of the 25 most frequently requested Christmas favorites. After his voice changed, Boyd went on to a solid, if unspectacular, career as a singer and actor.
(Internet Resources and The Christmas Encyclopedia.)

Do you have a question for the staff at the Roseville Library? You can call them at 628-6803 or ask your question in person at the Information Desk, Roseville Library, 2180 Hamline Ave. Library hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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