During the holiday season—while we are unable to welcome families to the Museum in person this year—, Pointe-à-Callière has decided to share with you three little stories related to the holiday season!
Originating in Scandinavian folklore, gnomes are part of the dwarf family. Small in stature and living underground, they have an expert understanding of the various elements of nature. In fact, in several legends, one can learn that certain kings looked to gnomes for their great knowledge of the natural world. Their name comes from the Ancient Greek word gnṓmē, which means “intelligence.”
Gnomes are also tasked with watching over hidden treasure, which can include diamonds and, sometimes, enchanted swords. Their treasure is so well hidden, it is said that if a human finds it, it’s because the gnomes have deserted their guard posts and the time has come for the treasure to be found.
These mythical creatures are now part of the popular culture of many countries, where it is customary to place a gnome in one’s garden. Not only does it serve to decorate the landscape, it can also watch over the area and study the surrounding plants.
Why not put a gnome at the foot of your Christmas tree, rather than in your garden? Maybe he can watch over your treasures and presents during the holiday season!
The Christmas Tree and its Ornaments
If you celebrate Christmas, chances are you’ve got a decorated Christmas tree at home. But have you ever wondered how this tradition started? One needs to look all the way back to the 16th century, in Alsace, to find the earliest narratives or observations about trees decorated for the Christmas holiday. And why a fir tree? According to Jewish and Christian traditions, the fir is a symbol connecting the sky, the ground, and the soil with its roots.
In Canada, the first Christmas tree was put up on December 25, 1781 by the family of Baron Frederick-Adolphus Riedesel, near Sorel, creating quite an event for people in the region.
In Germany, the tradition of decorated trees in homes really began in the early 19th century. In 1820, in the German town of Lauscha, glass Christmas ornaments made their first appearance. Hung in windows, they served to scare off demons, much like dreamcatchers. Slowly, over time, they came to be hung on trees and were made from more affordable materials, like paper, which made them increasingly popular.
In 1841, Prince Albert convinced his wife, Queen Victoria, to bring a real tree into Windsor Castle and to decorate it with fruit, nuts, and sweets. For environmental reasons (oh yes, even back then), a small tree was chosen and set up indoors only on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, parents would decorate the tree while children were asleep, so that they could marvel at the sight of the lit candles and decorations on the tree on Christmas morning.
In the 1840s, the market for Christmas decorations grew, notably through advertisements in newspapers and magazines. It was at that time that increasingly larger and more majestic ornaments—including magnificent Christmas tree baubles—began to appear as tree decor!
A Train for Christmas
Before they were edged out by electronic games, toy trains long reigned supreme beneath the Christmas tree—in some cases, even serving as part of the decorations! First invented in 19th century England as a means of transportation that would go on to revolutionize the movement of people and goods all over the world, the train soon made a mark in the world of play and in the imaginations of young and old alike.
Scale models of locomotives have been produced since the very moment the train was invented! From simple toy trains made of wood to perfect replicas of locomotives… and later, with the invention of electrical networks, model trains quickly became and long remained the perfect gift! German companies Märklin and Bing were among the first to industrially produce toy trains and market them around the world. Then, through mail-order sales catalogues, toy trains became more widely known and made their way into homes.
In Canada, in the late 19th century, 4 of the 5 available mail-order catalogues came from Montréal stores: Carsley, John Murphy, Henry Morgan & Company, and Scroggie. Each, in its own way, fueled children’s desire to receive a toy train from Santa Claus, making it the most popular present under the tree in Québec homes.
In the early 20th century, toy trains began to appear in department store windows. Soon, there was some fierce competition in the Eaton catalogue with the arrival of more affordable Bing trains and the Hafner Canadian Flyer series in the 1920s. Each store wanted to become the store specializing in the sale of toy trains. Several strategies were used to attract families—children were even given the opportunity to ride a little train in the store! Over time, companies developed an ever-greater variety of these toys, further feeding this passion for toy trains. And though it no longer finds its way under the tree these days, the train, in all its forms, continues to fascinate both young and old!
To highlight the presentation of the exhibition A Railroad to Dreams, Pointe-à-Callière is letting you create your own toy train for Christmas! Whether you use it as a Christmas decoration or to carry people from station to station, the train remains a magical part of the holiday season!
1. La fête de Noël au Québec / Sylvie Blais and Pierre Lahoud, Les Éditions de l’Homme, 2007.
2. Les divertissements en Nouvelle-France / Robert-Lionel Séguin, National Museum of Canada, 1968.
3. Cap-aux-Diamants, “La magie des Noëls d’antan”, No. 47 – Fall 1996.
4. Les Quatre saisons dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent / Jean Provencher, Boréal, 1988.
5. Montreal’s First Noel / Eric Major, The Gazette, December 24, 2010.
6. Démons et merveilles Fées, lutins, sorcières et autres créatures magiques / Édouard Brasey, Ed. du Chêne, 2002.
7. L’arbre de vie / Gérald de La Peschardière, Peuple du monde No. 256 – December 1992.