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Monday, 4 December 2017

Christmas, the history behind our festive traditions


"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.


Father Christmas
Red robes, white beard, waist-slapping jollity and booming ho-ho-hos. He's been around for ever, hasn't he? Well, actually only since 1935, when Haddon Sundblo, a Madison Avenue advertising man, created Santa Claus for a Coca-Cola campaign. In previous lives he was thinner and paler, a character based on a 4th Century Asian bishop called Nicholas, who became the patron saint of children in most of Europe. It was in Holland, where they called him Sinterklaas, that he earned his reputation for giving stuff away. A small pair of wooden shoes would be left by the fireplace and he would fill them with sweets. No question of trying to fit in a fashionable bodkin, let alone a Nintendo Wii. Different countries still have their own variations on the theme, but that fat bloke in a red suit has pushed them all to the cultural margins.


What about Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer?
Debt-ridden shop worker Robert Mays invented him in 1947 as the hero of a bestselling book that made him a fortune. The song, written by an adman and a professional composer, came two years later. Who says Christmas isn't magical?


Christmas crackers
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.

Mistletoe
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.



Turkey
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.

Mince pies
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.

Christmas pudding
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.

The tree
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.



Cards
Not surprisingly, the custom of sending Christmas cards didn't start until there was a postal service to deliver them. The first were sent in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, boss of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He was far too busy to write letters so had an artist design 1,000 cards, illustrated with a festive family scene on the front and printed with the greeting, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You". Horrified at being caught out, all his friends sent him one back the next year. In 1880 cards had become so popular that the public were warned for the first time to post early for Christmas. A few of them might still be at the bottom of a mail sack somewhere...

Tinsel
The first mass-produced Christmas decoration, it was made in Europe in the 1600s from sheets of silver alloy hammered until they were paper-thin and cut into strips. The idea was to reflect the light from candles and fireplaces. Problem - after a few Christmases, the silver turned black. A cheaper, throwaway tinsel made from aluminium-based paper swept the festive market in the 1950s. Problem - it went up like a flash when it caught fire. Now we have a modern tinsel made from PVC that won't discolour and won't burn. Problem - it's toxic and can't be recycled. Over to you, Greenpeace..."

All words above taken from article here

Looking for a fool-proof way to cook your turkey look here
You may want a low carb mince pie recipe look here,
Have you seen 'The Best Low Carb Christmas Pudding Recipe Ever' …. look here

Thanks for reading ...

All the best Jan

27 comments:

Tom said...

...many things I didn't know!

Valerie-Jael said...

What a fun post! Hugs, Valerie

Iris Flavia said...

I never had Christmas pudding or Mince Pies.
Hmm, we celebrate on 24th.
That was an interesting read, thank you, Jan.

Karen L. Bates said...

Great post. Loved hearing the history behind our Christmas traditions. Thanks.

eileeninmd said...

Hello, this is a fun post. Thanks for sharing all these traditions.

Have a happy day and week ahead.

happyone said...

Fun hearing about the history behind the traditions. : )

Out on the prairie said...

grew my own geese this year

sandy said...

I saved the article to read later . looks so interesting and enjoyed what i read so far.

Carol Blackburn said...

So many things I never knew about. Such fun to learn about them, too. I hope you don't mind that I shared this on my FB page for the few friends that I have to see. Have a great week.

Jo said...

What an interesting post, I enjoyed reading about all these traditions which many of us take for granted.

William Kendall said...

Christmas crackers are one tradition that doesn't seem all that prevalent here.

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you. I hope the season treats you and yours kindly.

Christine said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting info, I didn't know the mince pies actually had meat way back then!

Lois said...

Fascinating information. Thanks!

Marcie said...

Some of this I knew, some of it is new. Thank you!

Carla from The River said...

This was so fun!
I liked the Christmas Pudding story.
I make my own Christmas crackers, but I would like true ones from the UK.
:-)
Carla

RO said...

As a trivia junkie, I love, love, love this post and have bookmarked it as a fave for future reference. Thanks so much for sharing this great info! Hugs...RO

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

This was a fun read, Jan! Some things I knew and others were a complete surprise :)

Margaret-whiteangel said...

Interesting post.
Can't imagine eating 'swan' for christmas, oh no!

baili said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH for such desired post Jan!!!!!!!....................

i always wondered about the whole scenario ,now i know :)

Sami said...

Interesting facts about Christmas.
For many, many years I wouldn't touch mince pies thinking they had mince meat as well as dried fruit. But then I tasted them and loved them! No mince though :)

Lisa said...

If mince pie eating is lewd behaviour goodness knows what the silliness after a couple of Baileys on Christmas day would be classed as!
Lisa x

Jules said...

Thanks Jan. I enjoyed reading this and will be careful not to indulge in any lewd behaviour on Christmas day! X

Lisa Isabella Russo said...

What wonderful information, thank you!

Magic Love Crow said...

Love this post Jan! Thank you!

Barbara Fisher said...

Such an informative post I learnt lots of things today! x

Prunella Pepperpot said...

A truly brilliant post. I loved reading about the festive facts behind our traditions!
Have a wonderful weekend :)