With so many ways in which people celebrate Christmas across the globe, we thought it might be interesting to shed some light on the stories behind why we participate in some of the traditions that we do over the festive period. Have a look at these random but interesting facts, amaze your family and friends with your knowledge or just use them as tales to tell when Christmas dinner is finished…
Did you know that the very first time Christmas was celebrated was on December 25, AD 336 in Rome? However, for many countries across Europe, this day is not necessarily the main celebration. In the Nordics they celebrate the 24th of December which is a date relating to their pagan heritage.
There are mixed feelings about the ‘X’ in Xmas which is a commonly used term today, but interestingly the Greek meaning of ‘X’ is Christ. The name Boxing Day was coined from the money collected in church alms-boxes for the poor.
Santa Claus has many different names around the world, for instance it is Kriss Kringle in Germany, Le Befana in Italy, Pere Noel in France and Deushka Moroz (meaning Grandfather Frost) in Russia.
But Santa has not always been dressed in red. Before the 1930s there were many colour variations in use as well as garments and depicting Santa in all shapes and sizes. The original red in Santa’s outfits became popular in the US and Canada in the 19th century when Coca-Cola commissioned illustrations of Santa in 1931, becoming the first organisation that used Santa Claus for their winter promotion, marketeers take note!
The traditional Christmas cracker was something invented by a London sweet shop owner. Back in 1847, the owner Tom Smith spotted French bonbons wrapped in paper with a twist at each end, so he sold similar sweets with a message inside. Overtime, additional items were added as well as the ‘bang’ and by 1900, the sales were amounting to a staggering 13 million a year and still increasing today. That’s a lot of big bangs…
As the tradition goes you should eat a mince pie on each of the 12 days of Christmas as this would bring good luck, but did you know that it’s technically illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day in England? Oliver Cromwell actually banned Christmas pudding, mince pies and anything else that could be deemed as gluttony in the 17th century and the law has never been rescinded. Still we are fairly certain that a bit of legal jargon doesn’t really stop anyone eating mince pies that day!
Speaking of food, this most certainly features heavily in many households over the festive period. The most impressive foodies might be the Italians where the Christmas dinner can last for over 4 hours across more than 7 courses! In comparison, the Swedish ‘Julbord’ can contain an even greater number of dishes eaten as a buffet along with the traditional spirit ‘snaps’ that is only drunk after singing. And indeed, after more ‘snaps’ there is more singing and after more singing more ‘snaps’ and so on.
The UK spend a total of £48,000,000 on Christmas puddings every year, but the Christmas pudding was strangely enough more of a soup made with raisins and wine originally. The tradition states that the Christmas pudding should be stirred by as many people as possible to give good fortune for the year ahead. Get stirring everyone.
The tradition of food in stockings came from French nuns back in 12th century, who left socks full of fruit, nuts and tangerines for the poor. In the Netherlands, children leave out food and drink for St. Nicholas himself to honour him on his feast day. Today many continue this tradition by leaving milk and cookies out for Santa or as some would have it cookies and a very large brandy!
The brussels sprout does seem to divide the nation into a love/hate symbiosis even more so than marmite. The vegetable is so popular that an area the size of 3,240 football pitches gets cultivated specifically for the festive season. There’s even a world record held by the Swedish Linus Urbanec for the most sprouts eaten in a minute. So, if you are a fan of this vegetable then the number to beat is 31 sprouts per minute, that’s a lot of sprouts…
In Japan there’s a completely different sort of tradition. Thanks to a successful marketing campaign 40 years ago, Japanese people traditionally eat at KFC as their Christmas dinner. It is so popular that customers book their Christmas meal 2 months in advance. KFC franchise in Japan anyone?
The term Yule Log originally referred to the custom of carefully selecting an entire tree that would be burned over the 12 days of Christmas. In modern day, this tradition has transformed into a Chocolate Yule Log or ‘bûche de Noël’ instead, decorated to mimic the bark from a log with snow on top. This brings us nicely over the to the Christmas tree.
The tradition of decorating the tree at Christmas, is believed to have originated from Germany in the 16th century. Many of you would probably have seen the giant tree in Trafalgar Square, which is donated by Norway every year as a thank you for the assistance during World War II.
A staggering 60 million Christmas Trees are grown each year in Europe and in the UK, natural Christmas trees outsell artificial Christmas trees by a ratio of 3:1. Bearing in mind that it takes around 15 years before trees are ready to be taken into people’s homes, it might be worth considering recycling your Christmas tree. Some zoos have been known to take Christmas trees to use as food for their animals, particularly as the needles provide a good source of Vitamin C (now don’t go giving it to your children though, however tempting it might seem).
Under the tree is of course the presents that so many children (regardless of age!) have been waiting all year to open. The biggest Christmas gift in the world might possibly have been the Statue of Liberty given by France to the US on Christmas day in 1886 weighing 225 tons. The amount of wrapping paper required must have been staggering.
It is difficult to deny that most people spend far too much at Christmas, particularly in the UK where adults spend in average over £70 on buying presents. This is almost double the European average. Nearly 28 Lego sets are sold every second and an incredible £18,000,000,000 in cash is withdrawn from cash points over the festive season.
Marketeers take note! The iconic Rudolph the Reindeer was in fact created by the Montgomery Ward department store as a marketing gimmick to sell their Christmas colouring books for children.
To wrap this section up, 22.6 million rolls of Sellotape will also be sold in the UK in the run up to Christmas.
Now what would the Christmas spirit amount to without all the songs and singing linked to the festivities? The meaning of the word “Carol” is ‘dance’ or ‘song of praise and joy’, and the songs were originally sung during all four seasons. For instance, ‘Jingle Bells’ was written for thanksgiving and not Christmas and was also the first song to be sung in space by the US astronauts on December 16, 1965.
Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ is the bestselling Christmas single ever having sold over 50 million copies worldwide since 1942, whilst in the UK it’s the song ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ from Band Aid in 1984 having sold 3.5million copies so far.
And on that note, I think we’ll play out this year’s marathon of preparations leading up to the big day with a minced pie, some mulled wine with some pleasant music and prepare to watch all the classic films again whilst taking a well-deserved break. Home Alone anyone?
Just like the British and the Germans did in 1914 during World War I, in the famous Christmas truce in the trenches where the soldiers exchanged gifts, played football together across a neutral no man’s land as well as decorated their shelters.
We hope you have an incredible festive season and hope to speak to you in the new year.