On Monday, Dec. 2, JoAnne Swenson of the Oregon Historical Society was the guest speaker at People’s United Methodist Church’s First Monday gathering.

This monthly gathering of PUMC members ages 50+ meets for fellowship on the first Monday of each month, followed by an educational or inspirational program.

Swenson’s presentation was an overview of Christmas and winter holiday traditions throughout the world including in China, Japan, Denmark, The Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom.

She discussed the history of gift-giving, how Christmas greeting cards started, the origins of the yule log, the symbolism of poinsettias and where the Elf on the Shelf came from. She also shared the background on the “Christmas pickle” tradition and explained what “wassailing” is.

There were some interesting surprises during her talk, such as that Japan residents love to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner. It’s one of the only times many Japanese eat it all year, she said, leading them to call it “Kentucky Fried Christmas.”

The first known “personalized” Christmas card was mailed by actress Annie Oakley in 1891 when she sent a card she had designed featuring a photo of herself to friends and family in the United States while she was abroad visiting Scotland.

PUMC’s next First Mondays gathering in January will teach attendees laughter yoga.

Neal Patten can be reached at neal.patten@wcinet.com