It’s the most wonderful time of the year filled with many traditions that have been adopted throughout history. Have you ever wondered where all these customs, which are so inherent to our Christmas celebrations, come from? Here are some fun festive facts to bring a new meaning to Christmas.
They were the invention of a London sweet maker called Tom Smith in 1845-1850. After seeing French ‘bon bon’ sweets [almonds wrapped in pretty paper], he adapted his sweets back in London, and also included a small motto/riddle in with the sweet. Unfortunately they did not sell very well until inspiration struck whilst sitting in front of a crackling fire. Smith thought it would be fun for his sweets to open with a crack when pulled in half. At the time they were called ‘cosaques’ reportedly named after the ‘Cossack’ soldiers who were renowned for firing guns into the air while riding on horseback.
Stockings have been an essential part of the Christmas tradition for centuries. While there are no written records of the beginning of the Christmas stocking, there a several popular legends that attempt to tell the history.
The most popular legend was about a poor man who had no money to get his daughters married, and was worried about what would happen to them after his death. St. Nicholas, who was passing through, heard the villagers talking about this and decided to help by throwing three bags of gold through an open window, with one landing in a stocking. When the girls and father woke up the next morning they found the bags of gold and were, of course, overjoyed.
The evergreen fir tree has been used to celebrate winter festivals [pagan and Christian] for thousands of years. Pagans would decorate their homes with branches during the winter solstice as a reminder of spring to come. The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples for the festival of Saturnalia. Fir trees were used as Christmas trees about 1,000 years ago in Northern Europe. Many early trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains. In the Middle Ages trees were decorated and paraded through the streets and setup in market squares. Martin Luther, the 16th century German preacher may have been the first person to bring a Christmas tree into the house, in the way we know it today.
St. Nicholas, previously mentioned in the history of stockings, was a Bishop who lived in Myra [part of present day Turkey] during the fourth century. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased.
St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia [where he is known by his red cape, flowing white beard and bishop’s mitre]. In France he was the patron saint of lawyers, the patron saint of sailors in Greece, and in Belgium the patron of children and travellers.
In the 16th century in Northern Europe, after the Reformation, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became less popular. However, the legend of Sint Nikolaas, which developed into Sinterklaas, was kept alive in Holland. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace where Sinterklaas would reward good children with treats in their shoes. In the UK, particularly in England, he became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’, an old character from stories and plays during the Middle Ages in the UK and parts of northern Europe.
Tinsel was invented in Nuremberg around 1610. Tinsel was originally made from extruded strands of silver. Because silver tarnishes quickly, other shiny metals were substituted. Before the 16th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees.
The tradition of hanging mistletoe in your house goes back to the times of the ancient druids. Mistletoe is meant to bring good luck to households and ward off evil spirits, as well as a sign of love and friendship. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe came from England. 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.
Glass baubles were first made in Lauscha, Germany, by Hans Greiner who produced garlands of glass beads and tin figures that could be hung on trees. The popularity of these decorations grew into the production of glass figures made by highly skilled artisans with clay moulds.
Christmas pudding is the traditional dessert to a British Christmas dinner. The Christmas pudding we have nowadays, however, is a lot different to what the original was like. Christmas puddings originated as 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currents, prunes, wines and spices. By 1592, frumenty changed into plum pudding, thickened with eggs, dried fruits and breadcrumbs which gave more flavour. In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal, having tasted and enjoyed plum pudding.
Mince pies were originally filled with meat, such as lamb, rather than the dry fruit mix as they are today. During the Georgian times, mince pies were a status symbol at Christmas, where wealthy peopled liked to show off at their parties by having pies made into different shapes – the more complicated the better. Nowadays, they are normally made in a round shape and are eaten hot or cold – we like ours with brandy cream! Here’s Create’s must-try recipe for the ultimate mince pies.
However you celebrate Christmas, we hope it is warm, merry and bright!