Christmas Baby December Teacher Resource Guide

December, the last month of the year, is also the month with the shortest days in the northern hemisphere - and the longest ones south of the equator. This is the season of snow and frost in the north, chickadees and cardinals coming to bird feeders, and all the color and merriment of the Christmas season. There are probably more major holidays in this month - many of them newly created - than in any other month of the year. Perhaps people feel the need to celebrate to cast off the winter gloom and turn the season into something magical and pleasant.

Some creatures, however, prefer to sleep through the winter rather than party through it. Black bears are snoring by December, with their hearts beating only eight times a minute and their furry backs pressed up against the den entrance to keep out the cold. However, if someone starts poking around in their den, a bear can wake up in anywhere from several minutes to a second or two. This is different from other hibernating animals, who take longer to wake up.

Bears do this by keeping their heads and bodies warm enough so that they are always ready to 'switch themselves back on' at very nearly a moment's notice. Scientists don't know how bears can stay this close to awake and yet survive without drinking for more than three months at a time - one of the strangest mysteries hidden under the December snow.

One of the oldest, and probably also one of the strangest, Christmas traditions is the Boar's Head Feast, where a boar's head is carried ceremonially with an apple or an orange in the mouth, accompanied by the singing of the Boar's Head Carol - a carol with a very rousing tune. The custom originated in England, and seems to be a survival of pre-Christian sacrifices of boars to Freyr, the farming and weather god. The ceremony is thousands of years old and is still carried on in many places in England today, and some in America too.

Queen's College in Oxford is the center of the Boar's Head Feast, and there is a legend about how a medieval Oxford student saved himself from a wild boar that was rushing at him violently, by stuffing his book of Aristotle down the animal's throat, killing it. A boar's head is still brought into the main hall of the college, with torch bearers to light its way and a choir to sing the carol. A number of other universities in England also hold a Boar's Head Feast, although the head itself is no longer eaten at the end of the carol. It is possible that this is the world's oldest holiday ritual - an oddity surviving from an older time.

Strangely enough, since most people try to keep their Christmas trees from being set on fire by overheating lights or, in a few cases, the actual candles used to decorate them, setting the tree ablaze was originally the whole point of setting it up in the first place. In Germany of the 16th century and earlier, young men and women would set up decorated trees in large public squares, and dance around them on Christmas, singing. After the dance, the trees and their decorations would be set on fire as a form of early fireworks. However, when people began to set up trees inside their individual houses, this became impossible, so decorations became fancier and candies began to be left near the trees for children instead - the beginning of the transformation from a rowdy bonfire scene to the cozy modern Christmas tree.

Notable December Holidays, Events, and Celebrations

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