By: John L. Kiener, General Sessions Judge, Washington County

     Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the members of the Jonesborough Genealogical Society.

     Everyone has their own memories of Christmas. In Feelings of Jonesborough, Becky Poteat Sims expresses them the best, as follows: “I love Christmas in Jonesborough, with pinebough trim, red lanterns, and red velvet bows.” It certainly captures the holiday spirit of Christmas past. I listen while youthful carolers stroll through the streets singing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night, Holy Night.” I experience a feeling of peace and goodwill to all. Quietly and gently, big white fluffy snowflakes begin to fall majestically on our town. Merry Christmas, Jonesborough!

     A check of the Tennessee Blue Book indicates that “Christmas . . . December 25” is a legal holiday. A look at An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee under the heading “Festivals and Events reveals that the 61st and last event of the year is “Festival of Christmas Trees and Twelve Days of Christmas, Gatlinburg.”  {Halfway through the list, Number 32, is Historic Jonesborough Days, Jonesboro, July}.

     Mary Christmas has relatives in Washington County! A look on pages 458 and 459 of History of Washington County, Tennessee, 1988, published by the Watauga Association of Genealogists – Upper East Tennessee, states under the family name of “William Alburta Ray Family.” Both ‘Little Bill’ as he was known, and Julia Jane came from old American families. His Ray ancestry in America dates back to Thomas Ray (died in 1653) who settled about 1625-1630 near the mouth of the James River, and married Mary Christmas, born 1608. (Note her name, daughter of Doctoris William Christmas, who died 1655).

     Christmas is “Christ’s Mass,” according to The New Columbia Encyclopedia. The text tells us that in the Christian calendar it celebrates the nativity of Jesus Christ. According to their research: “The observance probably does not date earlier than A.D. 200 and did not become widespread until the 4th century.”  We find that Christmas cards first appeared in 1846. The current concept of a jolly Santa Claus was first made popular in New York in the 19th Century. The Christmas tree was a tradition from the Middle Ages in Germany.

     The reason for choosing December 25 has been the subject of a lot of research. The reasons for the date include its nearness to Epiphany, which in the East, originally included a commemoration of the nativity. This information from The New Columbia Encyclopedia also points out that: “The date of Christmas coincides closely with the winter solstice, a time of rejoicing among many ancient cultures.

     The genealogy of the person of Santa Claus, taken from The New Columbia Encyclopedia, states: “Nicholas, Saint, patron of children and sailors, of Greece, Sicily, and Russia, and of many other places and persons. Little is known of him, but he is traditionally identified as a 4th century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. His relics were stolen from Myra in the Middle Ages and taken to Bari, Italy. St. Nicholas is the subject of many legends. He is credited with restoring to life three boys who had been chopped up and pickled in salt by a butcher. Another famous story concerns his giving three bags of gold to the daughters of a poor man and thus saving them from lives of prostitution.  Later tradition transformed the bags into three gold balls, which became the symbol of pawnbrokers. In the Netherlands and elsewhere, St. Nicholas’ feast (December 6th) is a children’s holiday, appropriate for gifts. The English in colonial New York adopted from the Dutch the now unrecognizable saint, calling him Santa Claus (a contraction of the Dutch sint Nikolaas). They moved his feast to the English gift holiday, Christmas. The career and qualities attributed to Santa Claus are all recently acquired.

     I would welcome additions to the Genealogy of Santa Claus – for use in next year’s article.

     Again, from Jonesborough, have a Happy Holiday Season!