It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store,
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.
In the Western world, Christmas Day is generally celebrated
on 25 December. Some historians believe the date was chosen to correspond with
the Roman winter solstice or the birthday of the Persian god Mithras, who was
born in a cave on 25 December long before the appearance of Christianity.
Many traditions, such as the giving of presents, are linked
to the Nativity. Pagan traditions, such as decorating the home with evergreen,
were adopted by early Christians to celebrate Christmas. Non-Christian
traditions, such as crackers and cards, were added much later.
Read on to find out more……..
The first Christmas card was produced in 1846 by Sir Henry
Cole, director of the Victoria and Albert museum. With the introduction of the
’halfpenny post’ in 1870, Christmas cards were produced for the mass market.
It is thought that Saint Francis of Assisi brought carols
into the church during Midnight Mass in Italy in 1223. However carols did not
become Christmas songs until the 16th century. The custom of carol-singing in
the streets dates mainly from the 19th century.
Christmas crackers were invented by an enterprising baker,
in the late 19th century. To encourage children to have a tug-of-war over his
confectionery, sweets were wrapped in coloured papers, which contained a
miniature explosive charge. Miniature toys, riddles and hats were incorporated
The Christmas pudding originated in Roman times as a mix of
meat and vegetables. In medieval times, the savoury content was replaced by 13
ingredients, which included dried fruit (known as plums), sugar and spices,
which represented Jesus and the 12 Apostles. To honour the Wise Men, every
family member stirred the ingredients from east to west. Christmas pudding in
its current form was introduced to the table by Prince Albert.
Astronomers know that there was no supernova star at the
possible time of Jesus’s birth. However, in 6 BC the planets Mars, Jupiter and
Saturn were close enough to form a triangle in the group of stars known as
Pisces. If the Wise Men had studied the stars and planets, they would have
interpreted the event as a great sign.
The Christmas tree originated in Germany and was associated
with a legend about a Devon monk (Saint Boniface), who used its triangular
shape to describe the Holy Trinity.
The first decorated tree appeared in Riga (Latvia) in 1510
and was strewn with paper flowers and then burnt on a bonfire as part of a
religious ceremony. In the 16th century, Martin Luther decorated a small fir
tree with candles to show his children how the stars twinkled in the night. In
the 18th century, Christmas trees arrived in England with the Georgian kings,
but they did not become popular until the Victorian era. After Victoria’s
death, Christmas trees became traditional in almost every British and American
In the pre-Christian era, homes were decorated with
evergreens to ward off evil spirits, witches and disease and to encourage the
return of Saturn, the harvest god.
The practice of removing greenery from the home on the
twelfth night of Christmas (5 January) originated from the belief that tree
spirits were released back into the countryside to regenerate the vegetation.
According to superstition, it is unlucky to leave decorations in the home after
the twelfth night.
The giving and receiving of gifts originated in ancient
Rome, and northern Europe, as part of the year-end celebrations, but started in
earnest in the late 1800s. Today, the exchanging of presents is central to most
In the Western world, the traditional time for giving
presents is Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. However, in some countries, gifts
are exchanged on 6 December, which is Saint Nicholas Day.
The Druids believed that holly protected the home from evil spirits.
In later times, holly was placed around beehives to encourage bees to hum in
the honour of baby Jesus. Decking the halls with ‘boughs of holly’ was thought
to cure coughs and other ailments. Today, the plant signifies peace and joy.
10. Mince pies
Mince pies filled with meat, fruit and spices were brought
from the Middle East in the 13th century by European crusaders. During the
English Civil War, Cromwell banned them as indulgent foods, but they were later
restored by the English monarchy in 1660. In the Victorian era, mince pies
became sweeter. They have continued to be a popular Christmas tradition ever
Mistletoe was revered by the Druids, who used a gold sickle
to cut it from an oak tree. The plant was hung in homes to ward off evil
spirits. In later times, kissing under the mistletoe signified friendship and
Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop who lived in Myra
(near the city of Anatolia in present-day Turkey) in the 4th century. After his
death, Saint Nicholas became best known as the protector of small children. In
many countries, Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated as a feast for children and
without any religious overtones.
13. Santa Claus
In 1868, Thomas Nast combined Saint Nicholas with a
merry-making medieval figure to create the traditional image of Santa. Although
an American invention, similar likenesses also evolved in France and Italy. The
traditional sleigh and reindeers came from Scandinavian Christmas myths.
In many Latin American countries, Santa makes the toys, but
they are delivered to the children’s homes by Baby Jesus. This helps to
reconcile religious beliefs with modern ones.
Santa’s residence was originally established at the North
Pole following the publication of a sketch in ‘Harper’s Weekly’ in 1886, which
showed two children tracing his journey from the North Pole to the United
States. However, in 1952 newspapers revealed that he actually lived in Finnish
Lapland. Today, Santa receives thousands of letters from children all over the
The Christmas stocking can be traced to legends about Saint
Nicholas. One version tells of three sisters who could not marry because they
were so poor. Saint Nicholas took pity on them and threw gold coins down the
chimney. The coins landed in stockings hung over the embers to dry.
The first mention of stockings being hung by the chimney was
made by Clement Moore in his story about a visit from Saint Nicholas.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicolas soon would be there.
Today, children all over the world hang up their stockings
in the hope that they will be filled with small gifts while they sleep.
16. Twelve Days
The twelve days of Christmas date back to the pagan feast of
Yuletide, which lasted 12 days. The religious significance lies in the story of
the Wise Men who arrived from the East with their gifts of gold, frankincense
and myrrh to attend the infant Jesus on the 12th day, which is traditionally 5
Throughout history, celebrating the birth of Jesus has been
an important part of Christmas. However, the Christmas that we celebrate today
is largely a secular event that contains Christian, pagan and cultural
elements. Whatever beliefs are held, Christmas is a special time for children
and for families, who will be immersed in it, whether at home, preschool or
By Dr. Lin Day (www.babysensory.com)
Step into Christmas at The Baby Sensory Shop (www.babysensoryshop.co.uk)
where you’ll find exquisite nativity figures, Christmas puppets, sparkly lights
and other innovative gift ideas and stocking fillers.