Christmas Traditions

08/08/2012 09:31

Have you ever wondered why we decorate our homes, sing carols or kiss under the mistletoe? Well, here is a little history behind some of the most popular traditions that we still celebrate today.

A tradition we like to celebrate here in England is our Christingle service at the church, which means " Christ light" I remember this well when I was a child myself, when each child was given an orange with a small candle inserted in the top and a band of red ribbon wrapped around it. The orange represents the "world" the red ribbon "Christ's blood" and the candle "Jesus-light of the world" We celebrate it in most the schools here, but the oranges are decorated slightly different these days, they also add four cocktail sticks pushed into the orange, with added sweets and fruit, this is to represent the four seasons and the fruits and sweets are the fruits of the earth. Then carols are sung by candle light. I think its very special and brings home the meaning of christmas.

I love the Midnight-mass carol service on Christmas eve, and to be able to light a candle for absent friends and family at Chritmas is very special.

Originally, Carols were simply songs that were sung during the midwinter festival. Many churches would not allow the singing of carols in church which led to bands of carol singers standing outside churches to sing. This idea of only singing carols outdoors is why carol singers around the country now traditionally wander from house to house singing at Christmas time. The eighteenth century saw a change in the church and slowly some carols were accepted as part of Christian tradition and permitted back into the church.

I love Christmas Carols, 'Silent Night' is my favourite, it was a poem written by an Austrian Priest Joseph Mohr in 1816. It is said that on the Christmas Eve of 1818 in the small village of Alpine called oberndorf the organ at St. Nicholas Church had broken. So Joseph Mohr gave the poem to his friend Franz Xavier Gruber and it was composed with this in mind. The music to this poem was therefore intended for a guitar and the simple score was finished in time for the Midnight Mass. Silent Night is still regarded as the most famous Christmas carol of all time.

For Some of the churches in the UK, its traditional for the largest bell to be rung four times in the hour before midnight, then at midnight all the bells are rung in celebration. I love to hear the church bells ring out.

Christmas Cards first appeared in the UK in 1843, three years after the Penny Post came in. Commissioned by Sir Henry cole. We all still love to send and recieve Christmas cards today!

Christmas crackers are a favourite here, first made in 1850 by the London sweet-maker, Tom Smith. One night, while he was sitting in front of his log fire, he became very interested by the sparks and cracks coming from the flames. Suddenly, he thought what a fun idea it would be, if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half.

The Christmas Pantomime really first came to Britain in the 18th century from the 'commedia dell'arte', the Italian tradition of improvised theatre. The stories of the commedia dell'arte had many 'stock' characters in them such as clowns and jesters and a 'baddie' and the shouting "its behind you" is fun!

Writing letters to Santa is an old British custom, the wish letter was put into the fire place and then it would float up the chimney and be magically blown by the wind to the north pole to that!

The figure of Father Christmas or Santa Claus is based on St Nicholas,
the patron saint of children. His name in Dutch is Sinter Klaas, which turned into Santa Claus when he became popular in Britain around 1870.

The legend has it that Father Christmas once dropped some gold coins down a chimney. They landed in stockings that had been hung up to dry, and ever since that time children have hung up stockings in hope of finding them filled with gifts. I always Hang my stocking up on the eve of Christmas just before bedtime, and I always remember to leave a mince pie and a drop of sherry for Santa and a nice crunchy carrot for Rudolph.

It was Prince Albert that indroduced Christmas trees to the UK from his homeland, Germany, Where many of the Christmas traditions originated. Trees are decorated with lights as a symbol of eternal life and hope. Every year since 1947, Norway has presented Britain with a large Christmas tree which stands in Trafalgar Square.This is to commemorate Anglo-Norwegian co-operation during the Second World War.

Wreaths and garlands date back to the Roman times, when a garland of leaves meant good luck. Holly, Ivy and other greenery such as Mistletoe were originally used in pre-Christian times to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival and ward off evil spirits and celebrate new growth.

The prickly leaves of Holly represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns. In Scandinavia it is known as the Christ Thorn. Also the prickly leaves of Holly is seen as masculine, so it is often teamed with ivy, which is regarded as a feminine plant.


Ivy has to cling to something to support itself as it grows.
This reminds us that we need to cling to God for support in our lives.

Poinsettias ~ with their distinctive red leaves, are native to Mexico. The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.

The practice of hanging Mistletoe in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is 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 and that's where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.

The original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of Mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing! (Pucker up Mr Scotts, mossy expects a litte Christmas kiss this year, best be sure to get some Mistletoe with plenty of berries! ; )

Today most of us eat turkey on Christmas day, but in the Victorian times, the Christmas fare was goose and cockerel, with swan or peacock for the very rich. Mince Pies, like Christmas Pudding, were originally filled with meat, such as lamb, rather than a dried fruit mix as they are today.

The Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called 'frumenty' that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. Traditionally time to make a pudding is four weeks before Christmas, on or after the Sunday before Advent. Always stirred from East to West in honour of the three Wise Men, and everyone in the family should have a turn stirring whilst making a silent wish.

D Moss