A brief history of our favourite Christmas traditions

christmas-baubles

Well, here we are, December is already upon us, and for those who celebrate it but have failed to notice, Christmas is well and truly on its way. Traditionally popular for gift buying, December is the month Christmas shopping begins in earnest. It is also a time for other traditions; the trimming of trees, the hanging of lights, the writing of Christmas cards, letters to Santa, turkey and mince pies, absurdly silly knitwear and mistletoe and woe in soapland.

Therefore, as a writer and lover of history, I thought it would be interesting to explore some of our Christmas traditions and where they originate.

Medieval times brought us the Holly and the Ivy. The tradition of decorating the home with evergreens is an ancient one stretching back to pagan times. Evergreens were valued for their ability to retain life in the middle of winter and holly, traditionally thought to be masculine and ivy, feminine, were believed to bring stability to the home.

holly-and-ivy

Elizabethan times brought us sugar and spice and all things nice. ‘Eat, drink and be merry’ epitomised Christmas in Elizabethan England. Spectacle was of great importance and those households that could afford it, would indulge in a Christmas feast concluding in a banqueting course of sweet and colourful delicacies. Beautifully decorated sweetmeats were accompanied by hot drinks including ‘lambswool’ – made from hot ale, cider or sherry, apples and spices, which, when hot, would explode to create a ‘wooly’ top.

xmas-punch

Victorian times brought us the Christmas tree and the Christmas cracker. The image of a glittering tree, it’s branches illuminated by twinkling lights and decorations, is one of the most powerful and recognisable images of a ‘traditional’ Christmas. The introduction of such is said to be credited to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband – both great advocates of Christmas – however, he simply popularised an already existing custom originally introduced to England much earlier.

christmas-background

The story of the Christmas cracker is down to one man’s ingenuity; Tom Smith, a confectioner’s apprentice working in London in the early 19th century. After a trip to Paris in 1840, he admired the French sugared almond bon-bons wrapped in coloured tissue paper, and introduced them to London. Some years later, after watching logs crackle on a fire, he imagined a bon-bon with a bang. Adding a strip of paper – infused with chemicals which, when rubbed, created enough friction to produce a noise – inside a coloured paper wrapper containing mottoes and poems, the Christmas cracker was invented.

christmas-cracker

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The Christmas Promise – my book review

the-christmas-promise

Originally posted in The Fens – A FREE lifestyle magazine with the heart and soul of the Fens (for further information follow the link here), this is my review of The Christmas Promise by Sue Moorcroft, published by Avon.

‘Hats off to Ava Bliss.’ The Christmas Promise promises, and delivers, a lovely Christmassy read with a little more to boot. Curl up with your favourite hot drink, or better still – a glass of wine, and settle down to the ups and downs of Ava Blissham in this modern, romantic festive tale.

Ava Blissham, milliner by trade, is struggling to make ends meet with her fledgling, bespoke hat making business. Christmas is fast approaching and as an only child, with both parents now retired and living abroad, Ava isn’t particularly looking forward to the festive season. Luckily Ava has a couple of good friends and a night out with them sees her being introduced to a possible love interest. However, the path to true love never runs smoothly, especially when there is a vengeful ex-boyfriend on the scene. Throw a spotlight on the pros and cons of the ‘instant sharing’ world of today’s internet based society, add some cyber bullying and revenge porn, not to mention the dazzling world of celebrities, including Ruby, the savvy wife of a famous footballer, plus an interesting insight into the cut and thrust world of viral marketing campaigns, and The Christmas Promise makes for a very modern day romance.

Set between London and the fictional Cambridgeshire town of Middledip, the narrative flows at a steady pace as does the storyline. As well as the two main protagonists, Ava and Sam, the author also introduces some other lovely, well-rounded characters, and Wendy was, without a doubt, one of my favourites – her strength of character and eternal optimism, despite the dark cloud hanging over her, at times reminded me of my own lovely mum.

Clearly well researched, The Christmas Promise also provides a fascinating insight into the craft of hat making. Add to that a liberal sprinkling of festive good cheer, despite Ava’s obvious dislike for Christmas (she has her reasons), readers will not be disappointed with a tale about romantic love, of family love, of friendships, old and new, and most of all, hope. A modern day cautionary tale gift wrapped in a traditional love story.

PS – if you’re lucky enough to have a current copy of The Fens (thanks to Sue and her lovely publisher) you can win a FREE signed copy of The Christmas Promise. Just turn to page 44 and follow the instructions. Good luck!