"What is the Christmas story? The history behind our festive traditions ...
Here's where our Christmas traditions come from and how we celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th of December. They're the essential bits of Christmas. Squeezing a fir tree into your living room. Eating an odd-looking bird. Welcoming an intruder who breaks in by coming down the chimney. Gazing at your fifth mince pie of the day and finally wondering what on Earth might be in it. How many of us stop to think how it all began? Dennis Ellam did... and today he explains where our festive traditions come from.
The mastermind behind the Christmas cracker was a London sweetshop owner called Tom Smith. In 1847, after spotting French bonbons wrapped in paper with a twist at each end, he started selling similar sweets with a "love motto" inside. They were so popular as a Christmas novelty that Tom made them bigger and included a trinket. But the real flash of inspiration came when he poked the fire and a log exploded with a sharp CRACK! That gave him the idea for a package that went off with a bang. He launched his "Bangs of Expectation" with top-of-the range gifts such as jewellery, ivory carvings, perfume and miniature dolls. By 1900 he was selling 13 million a year. But we can't blame Tom for the corny jokes and paper hats. They came later.
Kissing under the mistletoe really took off a couple of centuries ago, but the plant's racy reputation dates back much further than that. In 300BC, the ancient Druids cut sprigs of the climber from the trunks of oak trees with a golden knife. They believed it had sexual powers and, boiled with the blood of a pair of sacrificial white bulls, that there wasn't a finer aphrodisiac. Its reputation lived on. By the 18th Century mistletoe balls, trimmed with ribbons, hung in the best hallways, where demure young ladies could stand waiting underneath, lips puckered. The magic wears off, though. After each kiss, the gentleman should pull off a berry until there are none left, after which the rest of it should be ceremonially burned, otherwise it's 12 months of bad luck and celibacy.
Goose was the popular choice for Christmas dinners for generations. Middle-class families with lots of relatives might go for a boar's head, while the seriously rich showed off with a swan. The turkey didn't arrive until the 1600s, when merchants brought it back from America and marketed it as an exciting new festive taste - if you stuffed it with sage and onions and laced it with cranberries, that is. And ignored its natural dryness. It really took off with the Victorians after Charles Dickens had Scrooge ordering a turkey in A Christmas Carol. Nowadays a turkey isn't just for Christmas. It's for sandwiches well past Twelfth Night. Followed by curries if you're not careful.
Strictly speaking, it's illegal to eat them on December 25, so watch out. Feasting at Christmas was banned by Oliver Cromwell in 1647 as "lewd behaviour" and that particular law has never been repealed. Mincemeat at first meant what it said. There were bits of shredded meat among the dried fruits and spices. The first recipes were probably brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders. But it was the Victorians who realised the concoction might taste better with the meaty bits left out.
A close relative of the mince pie. And just as challenging to the waistline. It first appeared on the table in the 14th Century when it was more like a porridge made of beef and mutton, with currants, prunes, raisins and spices stirred in, plus a liberal lashing of wine, thickened with breadcrumbs and egg. In the 1700s, minus the meat, it became a fruity end to the Christmas meal. And in the 1830s Eliza Acton - the Delia of her day - included a Christmas pudding recipe in her cookbook. For a humble pudding, it's shrouded in superstition. You are supposed to stir it in an east to west direction, representing the journey of the Three Wise Men. A silver coin hidden inside brings good luck to whoever finds it. Unless, of course, he swallows it.
So who DID suggest cutting down a huge piece of shrubbery, dragging it into the house, covering it with lights, then sticking a model fairy on top? Then leaving it there until it drops needles all over the floor. Blame a German. The Romans had hung up the odd bit of green branch, but it was evangelist Martin Luther from Saxony who first decorated a whole fir tree. That was in 1510. The idea finally spread to Britain during Queen Victoria's reign when her German-born husband Prince Albert had one sent over to remind him of his own childhood Christmases. A drawing of the Royals and their children standing around their perfect tree appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1846 - and next year there was a rush to copy them. Artificial trees were invented in the 1930s, by the Addis Company, who turned them out using spare machines in their, err, toilet-brush factory.
All words above taken from article here
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Thanks for reading ...
All the best Jan