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Where do Christmas traditions come from?

Looking back on Christmas I realised a thing or two. For millions of children all around the world: from USA to Uganda to the UK, Christmas Eve is one of the most magical times of the year, but for parents like me it’s always a complete nightmare until the last present has been wrapped and the last Brussel Sprout has been peeled. This then signifies the time when parents can pop on their PJ’s and crack open that special bottle of bubbly to welcome in Christmas Day.

In scouting the web for interesting festive facts, I found the following Christmas Chestnuts interesting. The customs that we associate with Christmas and have come to take for granted as being timeless weren’t always Christian traditions or even slightly close to conventional customs at all. Sometimes borne out of a way of life or even as an Eureka moment.

When are presents opened at Christmas?

Although those of us that live in the UK reserve Christmas day to rip that wrapping off the gifts, in most countries throughout Europe, Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration for Christmas and not Christmas Day. It is also the day when people in Germany, Sweden, Romania and Portugal exchange their presents. Historically in America and England presents were given on Boxing day, hence the name.

Today in Europe and America as predominantly Christian societies, we still celebrate Christmas but we also honour the religious celebrations of those from other countries and religious faiths.

Where did the Yule Log come from?

Did you know that it used to be a traditional to bring the Yule Log into the house and light it on Christmas Eve. It was lit using a piece of the previous year’s log and then it would burn non-stop until twelfth night which is round the 5th January.

In remembrance of the Yule log, cake manufacturers began to craft cakes in the form of Yule logs. Why not try and make a Yule log of your own? You could also use this recipe from the Foodnetwork to bake the best ever Yule Log.

Yule, or Yuletide is a festival historically celebrated by Germanic people. Scholars have connected the original celebrations of Yule to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin, and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht. (PS thanks to wikipedia for that nuggat - I’m not that well read!)

Where did Christmas Carols come from?

Christmas hyms are the best part of two thousand years old and can be traced as far as the 4th Century to a Christmas service in Rome.

The word “carol’ originally described a dance with singing or a song of praise and joy! The origin of carols comes from Pagan songs, which were sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and usually taking place around 22nd December which served well for the transformation from a pagan tradition to a Christian tradition. By the 19th century 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens had been written and had made carol singing the thing to do at Christmas. Going out into the street was a new craze and made the fashionable thing to do, and today, we still go out carol singing.

Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons but the tradition of singing them at Christmas is a relatively new tradition that spread quickly to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries. Christmas carols in their modern form, whether you like them or not have survived the last couple of centuries and there is no sign of them loosing their popularity and embodiment of the Christmas spirit yet.

Where did the Nativity play originate?

By the 13th century, most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether. St. Francis of Assisi reinstated Christmas in 1223, when he started performing nativity plays throughout Italy. The people in the plays sang songs sometimes in Latin, but normally in a language that the people watching the play could understand which enabled them to join in!

Over the year’s nativity plays became part and parcel of Christmas and are performed all over the western world by school children, church members and community centres. Nativity plays still remain in essence, the simplest way of telling the first chapter of modern day Christianity’s epic new testament tale.

Where did the Christmas Cracker come from?

Forget about the brussels, Christmas crackers are one of the best things about a British Christmas dinner. The anticipation of what sort of naff toy will drop out of the mangled cracker once pulled is further enhanced by the rather rubbish joke that follows. e.g. What hides in a bakery at Christmas? A Mince Spy? Duh! And I didn’t even get it.

The tradition of Christmas crackers originated around 1845-1850 by a London sweet maker, Tom Smith. He took his inspiration from the French 'bon bon' whilst on a trip to Paris in 1840. On his return to London and tried selling his copy of the French sweets but they didn't sell well.

In 1861 Tom launched a new range of crackers called 'Bangs of Expectation'! which he gained inspiration for from his fire. It is told that Tom bought the recipe for the wiff and sniff of gunpowder that we now associate with the BANG! in crackers from Brock’s Fireworks.

Crackers earned the nickname 'cosaques' and are thought to be named after 'Cossack' soldiers who rode their horses whilst firing guns into the air. Cossaque soldiers wore red as there dress uniform. How interesting that the traditional Christmas crackers were red?

What about the Christmas tree?

The history of Christmas trees is an ancient tradition that goes back to ancient Egypt and Rome. The tradition of symbolising the worship of evergreens in everyday life. From Egyptians, to Celts and Vikings, everyone celebrated the decorating of temples and holy places with evergreens.

Although people across the globe have been decorating temples and domestic interiors with evergreen flora for centuries, the Christmas holiday tradition in its modern form originated with the medieval Germans.

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband introduced the Christmas tree to England in 1848.

At this point Christmas trees were fairly dull, it wasn’t until the 1890s that Christmas ornaments started arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity began to rise.

The Victorians weren’t the best at Health and Safety and introduced the idea of candle-lit baubles on the trees. Needless to say, some Victorian homes caught fire. Rule number 1: never leave a naked flame in charge of a Christmas tree?

I hope you and your family had a very Merry Christmas and you've learnt a few interesting facts. Here’s wishing you and your family a very Happy New Year.

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