We all have our traditions at Christmas Having traditions make Christmas comforting and fun but a lot of the time we take part in these customs without even truly thinking about their origins. Where did they actually come from? Why do we bring Christmas trees into our home to decorate? Why do we eat mince pies and send Christmas cards to one another? Here we discuss some of the most popular Christmas traditions and how we came to celebrate them.
Think about the amount of Christmas cards you have sent or received over the years. They are a lovely way to keep in touch with family and friends who you may not speak to as very often but where did Christmas cards come from originally? Sir Henry Cole and artist John Horsley helped set up the post office, which was originally named the Public Records office. In 1843, to encourage people to use their new service they created the very first Christmas card. As they grew in popularity, the cost of sending Christmas cards decreased and started to become popular by the mid to late 1800s. The custom then spread throughout Europe by the beginning of the 1900s.
Christmas Crackers were invented by Tom Smith, a sweet maker from London. Inspired by traditional French sweets, Bon-Bons, Smith started to include riddles and mottos inside each one but it wasn’t until he discovered a way to create the “crack” when they were pulled apart that they became extremely popular. His two sons, Tom and Henry decided to add the hats and novelty gifts we know today. The hats represented the three wise men or kings from the nativity story. To this day, Tom Smith Crackers remains one of the most popular and largest Christmas Cracker manufacturers in the world.
Dances and songs of joy have been around since pagan times and Christmas Carols have been written and adapted over hundreds of years. Even though Christmas Carols are still enjoyed and are a big part of Christmas celebrations, more recent songs such as Band Aid’s, Do they know it’s Christmas, Slade’s, Merry Xmas Everybody, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas are also know known as Christmas Classics and are enjoyed just as much as the older, more traditional Christmas carols. Christmas carols were actually banned by Oliver Cromwell in 1647 as he thought Christmas should be a solemn time. More jolly Christmas carols were created during the Victorian times including Jingle Bells and other popular carols we still sing today.
Originally mince pies were actually made of minced meat (hence the name). They were inspired by Middle Eastern flavours and combined meat, fruit and spice. These flavours were brought to the UK by the Crusaders on their return from the Middle East. Mince pies were originally made with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the Apostles. The shape was also originally oval to represent the manger from the nativity story. It was not until the Victorian times that the meat was removed and replaced with the filling we use today.
Already popular in Europe, the first Christmas tree only appeared in the UK in the 1830s. Prince Albert placed a one in Windsor Castle in 1841 inspiring others to copy this trend. The rest is history. Although Prince Albert gets the majority of the credit in bringing the Christmas tree to Britain, it was the German wife of George III, Queen Charlotte who was the first person to have a decorated Christmas tree in the country. The tree is meant to represent the tree of life from the Garden of Eden and would have been traditionally decorated with ribbons, apples and candles.
Hanging mistletoe has been a tradition since ancient pagan times, with the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originating in England. Each kiss meant that a berry had to be plucked from the plant until none remained. One story says that the kissing under the mistletoe comes from Norse Mythology when the god of truth and light, Baldur was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe. His distraught mother wept tears of white berries which then brought him back to life. Overjoyed by the miracle, she blessed the plant and promised a kiss to all those who passed under it.
Originating in Mexico, the first turkey arrived in Britain in 1526. It is known that King Henry VIII enjoyed turkey which meant it became extremely popular and fashionable in high society during his reign and beyond. It was not until the 1950s that the Christmas turkey became more widespread and not just enjoyed by the upper classes of society.
Nothing beats waking up on Christmas morning to a stocking full of treats. However, having a sock full of presents is definitely a strange concept. The legend behind this tradition goes back to St Nicholas who was known to send bags of gold down the chimney at the home of a poor man. The gold fell into the stockings that were drying next to the fire.
Advent Calendars are going from strength to strength, with new versions of the custom being created every year, from chocolate ones to beauty and even alcohol. But who started the original tradition? In the 19th century Germany, a mother created an advent calendar to help her son count down the days to Christmas so he would stop asking her all the time. She attached a sweet and a coloured picture to each day of the calendar and this inspired her son to take this idea and mass produce advent calendars in 1908.
The tradition originally started on St Andrews Day (30th November) but this soon changed to December 1st. Before this during the mid - 19th century, German protestants made chalk marks on their doors or lit candles during the days leading up to Christmas.
Although red robes have been associated with the traditional bishop robe of Saint Nicholas in the 4th century, it wasn’t until the famous Coca Cola advert launched in the 1930s that the current image we have of Father Christmas was popularised. Before this, Father Christmas was not seen as the Jolly character he is today.
The word wreath comes from the old English word, writhen, meaning to twist. They have been around since the Ancient Roman and Greek periods during which time they were used as status symbols and sporting trophies. Christmas wreaths, similar to modern-day equivalents date back to Christians in Germany during the 16th century. The green foliage represents everlasting life while the circular shape signifies the never-ending cycle of God.
So, when the beginning of December arrives and you open that first door on your advent calendar, or when you place your baubles on your Christmas tree and sit down for your Christmas dinner, you will be able to appreciate exactly where these traditions we enjoy so much came from all those years ago.