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TRAPPERS, INDIANS DINED ON ELK MEAT IN UTAH CHRISTMAS

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One of the first recorded Utah Christmas celebrations took place in pre-Mormon times somewhere near the Weber River.

Osborne Russell wrote that in 1840 "at 1 o'clock," he, a Frenchman, fur trappers and Indians from five tribes with their wives and children sat down for Christmas dinner in a lodge 36 feet in circumference.The first dish was stewed elk meat. The second, "boiled deer meat," was followed by boiled flour pudding prepared with dried fruit and four quarts of sauce made from the juice of sour berries and sugar. Cakes were next, and six gallons of strong, sweetened coffee washed it down. Pipes were hauled out, filled with tobacco and lighted. The balance of the day was spent "shooting at a mark," Russell wrote.

Not long after - just 140 years ago this Christmas - Salt Lake City saw its first major Christmas celebration. Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, invited 150 Mormons to the Beehive House, for a dinner followed by an evening of dancing.

The Christmas party became a tradition at Young's house, according to Western historian John E. Baur.

Christmas is more than a one-night, one-day celebration in some parts of the Christian world.

Lore Erf, USU folklore archives assistant, who just completed requirements for her doctoral degree in American studies and folklore, said that in Osnabrueck, Germany, Dec. 1 launches the Christmas season. It is the beginning of the Catholic calendar year.

-Christmas checkup: On the eve of Dec. 6, St. Nikolaus comes to the family's home, accompanied by his black-faced servant Knecht Ruprecht, who is dressed in black. St. Nikolaus wears the garb of a priest. It is a time of trial for the youngsters. They line up, a prayer is said and St. Nick - primed by the parents - begins an inquiry of how each has behaved.

Erf remembers her brother hiding under the bed one year.

-Christmas gifts: Each child puts a shoe in the hall and in the morning these have appropriate contents - usually candies and gifts.

-Christmas party: Erf said Christmas trees are not seen before Christmas Eve. A carp dinner with horseradish sauce is traditional. Afterward, the room is cleared. Inside the parents go to work. The children are readmitted, the Tannenbaum is up and decorated, and gifts are out. The family prays, sings songs, opens the presents then goes to Midnight Mass, a ceremony attended in Osnabrueck by both Catholics and Protestants.

-Christmas list: Who did she contact with her Christmas want list?

Erf said it was not St. Nikolaus. She always wrote letters to Christkindl, who was more an elf or fairy, but with no identifiable features like our Santa Claus.

"I always thought Christkindl was a woman," Erf said.

-Christmas cards: The tradition of Christmas cards began in 1846. Joseph Cundall, a London artist, claimed to have issued the first edition. These were the size of a "lady's card." The cards were lithographed and hand colored.

-Christmas trees: Authorities differ on the origin of the Christmas tree. Some say it came from the ancient Egyptian practice of adorning houses with branches of date palms at the time of the winter solstice.

Another tale relates that Martin Luther, German reformation leader in the 1500s, cut a small fir tree, brought it into his children's nursery, put candles on it and lit them to illustrate the beauty of a forest under a starry sky.

It is known that in the 16th century, Christmas trees were displayed in Strasbourg. Trees were prevalent along the Rhine during the next 200 years. Then the fashion spread across Germany and elsewhere.

-Christmas theft?: Some, but not all, societies in the Old World believed that if you steal anything at Christmas without getting caught, you can steal safely for a year. Another belief regarding theft is that if you steal hay the night before Christmas and give the cattle some, they thrive and you will not be caught in any future thefts.

-Christmas spirit: If you are born "at sermon-time on Christmas morning," you can see spirits, one legend says.

-Christmas cheer: In some parts of Germany, water is said to turn to wine between 11 and midnight on Christmas Eve.

-Christmas farms: Agrarian activities are folk prescriptions for Christmas. Beat your trees on Christmas night and they will bear more fruit. And, on Christmas Eve, thrash the garden with a flail, with only your shirt on, and the grass will grow well next year - be forewarned that if you try this now, you may have to be very convincing when the police your neighbors called arrive on the scene.

In England, farmers and peasants saluted the apple trees, assailed them and even chanted to them.

Some tied bands of wet straw around the trees to make them fruitful. Others put a stone on each tree at Christmas Eve, assured the trees would bear more fruit.

-Christmas castles: Other Christmas beliefs were linked with nature. In the Bavarian Alps, cattle were supposed to be able to talk on Christmas Eve, but it was a sin to listen to the bovine conversations. Elsewhere bees sing and cattle kneel. Some Canadian Indians believed that, on Christmas Eve, deer knelt and looked up at the Great Spirit.

-Christmas moon: Even the man in the moon is explained in a Christmas tale related by writer Alexander F. Chamberlain. It seems on Christmas Eve, a peasant with a craving for cabbage slipped into a neighbor's patch. As he filled his basket, the Christ child rode by on a white horse and said, "Because thou hast stolen on the holy night, thou shalt immediately sit in the moon with thy basket of cabbage."

And, there he can still be seen.