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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