Roy Wood and his band mates in Wizzard may have wished it could be Christmas every day, but for most of us once a year is enough. Christmas Day itself only lasts for 24 hours, but these days the Christmas period seems to get longer every year, allowing ever more time for present shopping, as well as eating and drinking to excess. The Christmas message has long been diluted by commercial interests, but have you ever wondered where many of our so-called Christmas traditions come from? Here are some answers:
Why December 25th? No date for the birth of Jesus is given in the bible and there are no clues elsewhere in historical records. The choice is probably an amalgamation of several coinciding dates, including the winter solstice, the Roman festival of Saturnalia, and the Jewish festival of Hannukah, and was spread throughout Britain from the 6th century by the early Christian teachings of St Augustine and his followers.
Why Christmas cards? The concept of sending cards was thought up in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, an official at the newly formed Post Office, to encourage more people to use the postal service. Before the creation of the Post Office mail was only sent by the wealthy, but the introduction of the “penny post” in 1840 meant many more people could afford to send items through the post. The reduction of the price of a stamp to half a penny for cards in 1870 increased the market even more. An original example of one of Cole`s cards would now fetch over £5000 at auction.
Why Yule logs? From as far back as the Middle Ages logs, or even whole tree trunks, were traditionally burnt in Scandinavia to celebrate Yule, a festival held to mark the winter solstice. In some places the log would be lit from the remains of the previous year`s tree, and had to be done by someone with clean hands so as to ward off evil spirits. These days most Yule logs are to be found in the food aisles of supermarkets, masquerading as cake decorated with chocolate and other goodies.
Why Christmas crackers? Crackers were dreamt up in the late 1840s by London sweet maker Tom Smith as a means of expanding his business. In France Smith had seen “bon-bons” for sale – an almond wrapped in fancy paper. Smith tried selling his sweets with a motto or riddle within the wrapper. However he met with little success until the idea of making the packet open with a crack, like the sound of wood crackling in an open fire, came to him. After Tom died his son Walter introduced hats into the crackers, and travelled around the world to find new gift ideas to put inside.
Why Boxing Day? December 26th is generally only remembered in countries historically connected with the UK, such as Australia and Canada, as well as countries in Europe where it is seen mainly as a second day of holiday. The tradition started in the 12th and 13th centuries and was the day when collection boxes for the poor, usually kept in churches, were opened up and the contents distributed among the poor of the parish. These days Boxing Day is more closely associated with generosity towards retailers, as it is the day when many shops start their “January” sales.
Why the Christmas Tree? Evergreen fir trees have been used since pagan times to celebrate the winter solstice and the coming of spring. The first record of decorated trees in winter time comes from Estonia and Latvia, where an association of unmarried merchants and ship owners known as the Brotherhood of Blackheads put up trees in the city squares in 1441 and 1510. The tradition then spread from the Baltic states to Germany and further into Europe. Although the use of evergreen branches had been common in Britain it was not until the reign of Queen Victoria when decorated Christmas trees became popular. Possibly influenced by Prince Albert`s German roots the royal family began bringing a tree into their home in the 1830s and 40s, and the idea slowly spread to the British upper classes and beyond. It is now claimed that around 8 million natural trees are bought each Christmas in the UK.
We hope you have enjoyed our Christmas facts. May we take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2019.