Dec 022009

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur
zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
In beauty green will always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

The lyrics to the above Christmas carol about a Tannenbaum, or traditional German fir tree, are just as popular today as they were back in 1824, when they were written by German organist Ernst Anschütz. In fact, the melody to the song has been adopted by Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, and New Jersey for their state song.

Germans are often credited with the custom of the decorated Christmas tree, although likely the custom dates back to a pre-Christian era. Common folklore tells the story of a monk named Boniface from Devonshire who traveled to Thüringen (Thuringia) in central Germany during the 600s to preach Christianity. It was said that he used the triangular shape of the Tannenbaum to describe the Holy Trinity, which caused people to think of the fir tree as God’s tree. Whether this story is true or not, it is a fact that a Christmas tree decorating industry grew up around Thüringen, which became known for its Glaskugeln (glass ball ornaments) and Lametta (tinsel cut from wafer-thin strips of silver). By 1850, the small town of Lauscha, in this region, became famous for its garlands made from blown glass bugles and beads.

In the mid-1800s, the custom of decorating a live fir tree for Christmas was so widespread that Germans became concerned about deforestation. It was customary for the tops of fir trees to be lopped off since this formed the perfect shape for a holiday tree, but it also prevented future growth and made the tree useless for timber. Laws were passed to limit families to just one tree, and subsequently the birth of artificial trees took place in the form of the Federbaum, or feather tree.

Holiday Feather Tree–Made from Vintage Tinsel Pipe Cleaners
and a Wooden ABC Block,

The earliest German feather trees were made from goose feathers that were dyed green and attached to metal wire or wood dowels. They resembled the white pine trees found in Germany’s mountains, with short-needled branches spaced widely apart, which made both the white pine and the feather tree perfect for hanging ornaments. Composition berries were usually attached to the end of every branch, often serving as candle holders. When Germans immigrated to the United States, particularly Pennsylvania and Texas, they brought their feather trees with them.

Although the commercial version of the feather tree did not really become commonplace until the second decade of the 20th century, there is a story about President Theodore Roosevelt introducing goose feather trees into the White House as the result of his two sons, Archie and Quentin, smuggling a live tree into Archie’s bedroom in defiance of their father’s order that no live trees be used for holiday decorations. True or not, the road for manufactured feather trees was paved in 1913 when Sears Roebuck advertised the first artificial trees in its catalog. These trees featured berries and candle holders on the tips of the branches, much like the handcrafted feather trees that the Germans designed, and a round or square white painted wooden base.  By the 1920s, the use of feather trees in the U.S. was widespread, with trees ranging in size from just 2 inches high to 30 inches, and later as tall as eight feet.

Their popularity was relatively short, however. Just 10 years later, the growth of the tree farm industry caused the use of feather trees to decline. Montgomery Ward began selling feather trees imported from Germany in a wider selection of colors during the 1930s, in the hope that these would catch on, but this did not happen. During World War II, feather trees pretty much disappeared from the landscape when they were no longer imported from Germany.

In the 1950s artificial trees emerged that were made with brush bristles, visca and aluminum, and later with fiberglass and vinyl; these replaced the feather tree. The Kansas Historical Society shares the following description of an aluminum tree from the Sears 1963 Christmas Book:

Whether you decorate with blue or red balls . . . or use the tree without ornaments – this exquisite tree is sure to be the talk of your neighborhood. High luster aluminum gives a dazzling brilliance. Shimmering silvery branches are swirled and tapered to a handsome realistic fullness. It’s really durable . . needles are glued and mechanically locked on. Fireproof . . you can use it year after year.

Today the feather tree is often associated with period history, especially German-American immigrant history, a Victorian Christmas, folk crafts and antique collectibles. On Etsy, you’ll see the feather tree motif used in hooked rugs and needlework, and a few artisans make table top feather trees by hand. Wood dowel versions of feather trees are also used by needle artists to hang decorations; I own one on which I hang perforated paper cross stitch ornaments.

While their use is no longer common, feather trees today are a link to the past, evoking nostalgic childhood memories and a longing for handmade holidays. Perhaps that is part of the charm of the handmade ornaments shown below that have been crafted by BBEST artists, any of which would look wonderful on a traditional Federbaum.

offered by Nonnie60

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at
Oct 212009

This past Saturday, as my husband and I prepared our evening meal, a “breakfast-like supper” consisting of fried eggs, bacon and toast, I began thinking about how common it is for our friends and family members to eat a morning meal at the end of the day. When I was growing up, my father peeled potatoes for crisp potato pancakes on Saturday nights, or he mixed a batch of batter and ladled it into our waffle iron. My husband reports that in his family, it was not unusual to have similar meals on weekend nights. In many family-style restaurants, in fact, breakfast or brunch (a combination of breakfast and lunch items served a la carte) is available all day, particularly on weekends. Is this an American custom? I’m really not sure. Ken Albala, in Food in Early Modern Europe, says that the word breakfast comes from the Latin word disjejunare, which means to un-fast. This word became disnare in the Romance languages, or disner in Olde French—eventually dinner in English. “Thus,” says Albala, “the word dinner actually means breakfast.”

I do know that dining traditions—and the times that people eat—differ according to geography, culture, occupation and economic conditions. An exchange student I knew in high school, for example, spent a year in Finland, where she learned to eat six meals a day. When my husband and I lived in southern California, it was commonplace for employers to hire a catering truck to bring in a mid-morning snack that consisted of sugary donuts and over-sized blueberry muffins, hot dogs and chili dogs, and almost anything you could heat in a tortilla: tacos, tamales, burritos,  enchiladas. Farmers and ranchers usually labor for hours outdoors, right after the sun rises, before they sit down to breakfast, and those on a tight budget often take advantage of what the land produces plentifully: grain-based foods.

In the United States, breakfast traditions have evolved over time. For example, early pioneers followed the lead of Native Americans who grew corn, cooking many corn-based products. These included breads prepared with various methods, such as corn pone pan-fried in oil, griddle-fried Johnnycakes, and ashcakes that were wrapped in cabbage leaves and cooked in the ashes of a campfire. Hoecakes were cooked on yes! the side of a hoe, and corn dodgers were mixed from cornmeal, water, buttermilk and baking powder. It is likely that today’s buttermilk pancakes and tortillas grew out of these early practices.

In addition to enjoying a broad range of corn-based breads, American settlers’ eating habits were heavily influenced by European dining traditions. Colonists of the late 1600s, for example, ate a simple continental breakfast of bread or porridge, accompanied by beer. By the early 1800s, the continental breakfast included a selection of breads and butter, cold meats, coffee and tea. During the Victorian Age (mid-1800s to 1900), Americans—particularly the middle class—had more income, so breakfasts became wide-ranging affairs with many different foods. These included hot cereal, fish, sausages, meat pies, breads with marmalade, butter and jam, bacon and eggs, fruit and vegetables—not too unlike an American brunch, but perhaps heavier in the meat department. Some typical menu items included broiled mackerel, poached eggs with asparagus tips, lamb chops, muffins, and cheese-and-crackers, served with beverages such as orange juice and coffee.

The breakfast cereals of the modern day were not common until the 19th century, when Victorians ate oatmeal. Unlike today’s instant oatmeal, however, they cooked it to death. They soaked the hulled oats overnight in water, then boiled it for four to twenty-four hours. Will Keith Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, created Toasted Corn Flakes as the result of this tendency to cook oats so thoroughly. He accidentally cooked oats too long; when they dried, they became flakes. But decades before Kellogg’s Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company was founded, the Quaker Oats company registered its cereal as a trademark, and in 1875 began selling oats in boxes. “Quick oats” arrived in 1922, instant oatmeal in 1966, and flavored oatmeal by the 1970s, when many of the younger Boomers were in high school.

But what about the donuts and pastries that also characterize many American breakfasts? When German, Dutch, and Scandinavian immigrants came to the United States, they brought their coffee cake recipes with them. These original cakes were not the sugary concoctions with which most of us are familiar, but bread-like baked goods. Over time, however, they changed. In the kitchens of northern European immigrants, coffee cakes became donuts and pastries filled with sugared fruit, cheese, yogurt and other creamy fillings, accompanied by a cup of coffee and a bit of friendly chat known as a Kaffeeklatsch. According to Evan Jones in his book, American Food: The Gastronomic Story, “. . . . The term coffee klatch became part of the language, and its original meaning—a moment that combined gossip with coffee drinking—was changed to define the American version of England’s tea, a midmorning or midafternoon gathering at which to imbibe and ingest . . . .”

I’m still not sure how breakfast has evolved into an evening meal, but Regina Charboneau, who writes for the The Atlantic Food Channel, suggests that breakfasts for dinner “may have been borne of lean times, maybe after the Civil War or during the Great Depression.” She explains that during the Great Depression of the 1930s, many people from the Deep South were already accustomed to doing without because boll weevils had destroyed their cotton crops. To ease the economic burden this put on families, people stretched their budgets by preparing breakfast for dinner. Whether or not the same reasoning applies today, breakfast for dinner appears to be a common practice—and a tasty one.

For more information about breakfast history, visit the following Web sites:

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at

May 132009

“You’re getting up there,” read the card we received this month from my mother-in-law, who sent us a congratulatory card to honor our 30th wedding anniversary. Although my husband and I tend to celebrate special occasions in a fairly low-key manner—usually by dining out at a nice local restaurant—many other couples celebrate wedding anniversaries with gifts, parties, and exotic journeys. Anniversary celebrations are so popular, in fact, that there are hundreds of Web sites that contain suggestions for gifts and vacations. There are “traditional” gifts of paper, tin, crystal, silver, pearl and gold for the 1st, 10th, 15th, 25th, 30th and 50th anniversaries, and corresponding “modern” gifts of clocks, diamonds, watches, sterling silver, more diamonds, and gold.

The custom of celebrating wedding anniversaries on an annual basis is actually a modern notion. More than a thousand years ago, celebrations of any kind tended to be group events, rather than a celebration between individuals. Besides observing the passing of each season with traditional festivities, twice a year the unmarried men of a community would be paired up with the unmarried women in a prescribed group ritual. As weddings between individuals were introduced, however, anniversaries began to be celebrated in the same manner, but not as frequently as today. It is likely that the notion of presenting gifts originated in the Middle Ages in the Germanic region, when the gifts themselves were associated with the concept of bringing good luck to a couple. The typical occasions that were celebrated in this manner included the 25th anniversary, when a husband would place a garland of silver on his wife’s head, or the 50th anniversary, when the husband would present his wife with a golden wreath. By the middle 1930s, this custom evolved into celebrating the 1st, 10th, 20th and 70th milestones, in addition to the 25th and 50th anniversaries.

In the United States, traditional wedding anniversaries begin with gifts of paper and flowers, increasing in substance and value each year, relating directly to the perceived increasing investment the couple makes in each other. In Germany, however, couples uses a list of symbols that represent an increased strengthening in the marriage with each year that passes.

The Hallmark Web site says that the original 75th “diamond anniversary” dates back to the Victorian age, and that the 60th anniversary was added when Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, or the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne in 1897. “The Victorians, so fond of cataloging and classifying,” say Gretchen Scoble and Ann Field in The Meaning of Wedding Anniversaries, “were likely the first to adapt ancient customs into a prescribed list of gifts for each wedding anniversary.”

In 1922, in her Blue Book of Social Usage, Emily Post listed eight anniversaries that ought to be celebrated: the 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 50th, and 75th anniversaries. She admitted, however, that there was a trend toward celebrating each of the first 15 years of marriage, as well as every five years. For most couples today, this is the anniversary calendar that is used, although the American National Retail Jeweler Association has expanded that list with an annual gift for the first 20 years, with a suggestion for a gift every five years, up to the 75th anniversary.

Whether you follow the gift calendars of Hallmark, etiquette guides or jewelry associations—or no guide at all—the fact of the matter is that most couples enjoy presenting gifts to each other on the anniversary of their commitment to each other. Below are items in BBEST members’ shops that would be wonderful anniversary gifts.

Janine of AltheaP, for example, offers a personalized silk wall hanging. She created the first one for her own parents, when they celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.

Marion of artmixter offers a custom fiber 4×6-inch post card. “Give me a theme, choose your colours, and we’ll create a piece of unique art together!” she says.

Your partner will know you appreciate him or her when you gift that person with Kym of PaperParaphernalia’s journaling booklet, which is accompanied by a matching envelope.

Enjoy some wine at your celebratory dinner, chilled to perfection in this stoneware wine chiller by Pearl of fehustoneware.

These dainty earrings by Gloria of hemlockhollow are perfect for a Crystal Anniversary.

AJ of ajscountrycottage helps you create the perfect tropical setting as you enjoy a romantic dinner together (perhaps the prelude to a cruise?!) with her New Island Coconut Soy Candle.

The Hearts Wind Chimes in Chris1‘s shop is the perfect anniversary gift that can be used every day, reminding both of you about the affection at the center of your relationship.

Candy is never out of style as an anniversary gift! Present it with style in Pam of blazingneedles’ Knit Lace Round Box.

For those of you who prefer to select anniversary gifts according to one of the traditional or modern anniversary, floral or gemstone calendars, visit one of the following sites:

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at