IT’S the time to deck the halls with boughs of holly – but have you ever wondered why we do the things we do at Christmas?
From singing carols to decorating the Christmas tree, all of our festive conventions have an interesting story behind them.
The reason we have Christmas trees is surprising[/caption]
Here are some of the most intriguing stories behind our Christmas traditions.
Hanging out Xmas stockings
The idea of Christmas stockings came from the story of a poor widower in the fourth century who had three daughters and was worried his lack of a dowry would prevent them getting married.
As he refused all direct charity, Saint Nicholas, a very kind and charitable bishop who lived in Myra, Turkey, is said to have dropped gold coins down the chimney, which were caught in the stockings the girls had drying by the fire.
And voila – a Christmas tradition of leaving stockings out for Santa was born.
The Christmas tree
Celebrities like Jess Wright have been posing beside their trees[/caption]
Stacey Solomon and baby Rex pose beside their tree[/caption]
The Christmas evergreen fir tree was introduced by an English monk called St Boniface in the eighth century who did missionary work in Germany.
He came across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree as a false idol and in anger he cut down the oak tree and a young fir tree sprung up from the roots.
Saint Boniface told the pagans this was the Tree of Life and the triangular shape represented the trinity and the life of Christ, and therefore Christianity.
Robin’s are associated with Christmas because festive post men in red coats were nicknamed robins when delivering Christmas cards at the beginning of the 20th century.
There is also a fable about a fire in baby Jesus’s manger getting out of hand – and a brown robin placing himself between the flames and the face of baby Jesus, fluffing out its feathers protectively and getting his breast scorched red as a result.
This redness was then passed onto future generations of robins.
Red and round Santa
It was Coca-Cola’s adverts in 1935 that created the image of the jolly, round, white-haired man we all associate with Santa today, wearing red robes with a white trim – the soft drink’s colours.
But the red and white colours come way before that and were actually the colours of Saint Nicholas himself, who – unlike today’s jolly-looking Santa – was often depicted as thin and bookish-looking.
Sometimes known as “figgy pudding”, our Xmas pud originates from the 14th century and was a porridge of beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and mixed spices, typically eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas celebrations.
Eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, beers and spirits were later added to the dish to make it a tastier, more festive plum pudding and King George I introduced it as part of the Christmas meal in 1714.
Holly and Ivy
The prickly holly leaves represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore when he was crucified and the red berries the drops of blood shed by Jesus because of the thorns.
Ivy is a plant that clings onto something to support itself as it grows and it was meant to remind us how we need to cling to God for support in our lives.
In pagan times, Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant.
An old tradition from the Midlands of England said that whichever plant was brought into the house first over winter, would tell you whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year.
Crackers originate from a sweet maker called Tom Smith, who, in 1847, created French bonbons – a sugared almond wrapped in paper with a twist at both ends – but they didn’t sell.
One night he sat in front of a roaring fire and the crackle gave him the idea of including a ‘bang’ with the cracker.
He replaced the bonbon with a gift, enlarged the packaging and his son, Walter, later included the now-obligatory paper hat.
The rich fruit cake often associated with Christmas were originally Twelfth Cakes, which were eaten at the parties on Twelfth Night which ended the 12 days of Christmas on 5th January.
It then became fashionable to have large iced decorations on and over the cake (using ‘Royal Icing’ which sets very hard), to show you were rich enough to be able to afford lots of sugar to make the icing.
So the cake had to become more rich, solid and full of fruit to support the icing.
During the industrial revolution, the big celebrations were then moved to Christmas rather than Twelfth Night because more people had to start working again straight after Boxing Day and so the cakes became Christmas Cakes.
Mince Pies were originally filled with meat, such as lamb, rather than the dried fruits and spices mix they contain today.
They were also made in an oval shape to represent the manger that Jesus slept in as a baby, with the top representing his swaddling clothes.
Sometimes they even had a pastry baby Jesus on the top!
During the Stuart and Georgian times, mince pies became a status symbol and the rich would show off by having pies made by their expensive, pastry cooks in different shapes like stars, crescents, hearts, tears, and flowers.
Mistletoe is a plant that grows on a range of trees including willow, apple and oak trees.
The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids as it was supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and ward off evil spirits.
It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology – hence the custom of kissing under the mistletoe.
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