CHRISTMAS is upon us once again and is celebrated by billions of people around the world. There are some weird and wonderful traditions around the world from Christmas pickle ornaments hidden on the tree to sculpted radishes to add colour to the holiday celebration. Here’s a look at some of most popular and less wacky traditions.
1. Christmas Cards
Sending cards started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole who was a civil servant who had helped to set up the new Public Records Office (now known as the Post Office). He wanted to encourage ordinary people to use the new service and with the help of artist John Horsley created the first Christmas card. Advances in printing brought down the cost of making cards and by 1900 the custom had spread across Europe.
2. Christmas Trees
Estonia and Latvia both claim to have first used trees at Christmas in 1441 and 1510 respectively, but they didn’t arrive in Britain until the 1830s. They became popular after Prince Albert had a tree put up in Windsor Castle in 1841 and in Victorian times they were decorated with candles. In 1885 a hospital in Chicago burned down because of candles on the tree. In 1895, Ralph Morris invented the first electric lights, similar to what’s used now.
3. Mince Pies
Love them or loathe them they are a popular tradition and originally were filled with meat rather than dried fruit. In Stuart and Georgian times they were seen as a status symbol at Christmas as rich people showed off at their parties with pies made in different shapes. Children often leave one with a drink for Father Christmas and a carrot for the reindeer on Christmas Eve. Around 370 million are sold in the UK each year.
4. Christmas Stockings
Arising from the legendary St Nicholas who secretly threw bags of gold down the chimney of a poor man for his unmarried daughters. They landed in the stockings hanging to dry on the chimney and hence the custom was born. Many children now hang up an empty sock or bag on Christmas eve so that Santa can fill it with small stocking filler gifts.
5. Holly and Ivy
Originating from pre-christian times they were used to celebrate the winter solstice adding a splash of colour, warding off evil spirits and celebrating new growth. An old English tradition states that whatever plant was brought into the house first over winter would tell whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year!
6. Christmas Crackers
First made around 1845-1850 by Tom Smith, a London sweet maker, early versions were based on an idea he brought back from France where he had seen almonds wrapped in pretty paper. He added a small motto or riddle and eventually the ‘crack’ when pulled open. After he died his sons introduced hats thought to symbolise the crowns worn by the Wise Men.
With origins in Mexico the first turkeys were brought to Britain by William Strickland in 1526. It was very fashionable in high society in the late 19th century and enjoyed very much by Henry VIII. It used to take a week’s wages to buy a turkey so it was a luxury until the 1950’s when they became more widely available. Around 76 per cent of families in the UK will serve up a roast turkey.
8. Christmas Pudding
It originated in the 14th century as a porridge called ‘frumenty’ made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. It evolved over the years with the addition of eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and spirits to become the customary Christmas dessert around 1650. In the UK a silver sixpence is often added for luck.
The tradition of hanging it in the house dates back to the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and ward off evil spirits. There are two beliefs as to how the custom of kissing under the Mistletoe originated. One being it has the power to bestow fertility and the other considers it a plant of peace where enemies declare a truce.
10. Christmas Carols
Carols originate from pagan songs sung at the winter solstice celebrations as people danced around stone circles. The word ‘carol’ actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! They used to be written and sung throughout the year but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has survived. Carol services are still a popular custom today.