For many Christmas is something they begin to look forward to almost the minute the New Year passes. For others it is a time of stress, fighting hordes of shoppers in busy malls, and sitting up until the small hours of Christmas Day getting last minute gifts wrapped. There are so many traditions, both old and new, surrounding this once a year occasion. Whichever way you feel about the holiday season and all it entails here are some fun facts about this special time of year that may help you get more into the joy of the season.
An English tradition, a Christmas (or Plum) pudding is heavily laden with dried fruits, lemon and orange peel and a host of other yummy ingredients that make it a fitting dessert to end Christmas dinner with. This differs greatly from the original 14th century pudding recipe (frumenty) which was more of a porridge or soup that contained mutton and beef. Until recently it was quite normal for coins to be cooked into the pudding and finding one was supposed to give the finder good luck. This tradition still exists in some households but given the metal composition of coins today it is wise to wrap them in aluminum foil before stirring into the pudding mixture.
World War I Truce
In 1914, as the British faced off against the Germans, troops from both sides decided to halt their attacks on each other on Christmas Eve, and instead of shooting at each other the British sang carols, the sound carrying across to the Germans. The next morning German troops climbed out of their trenches and approached the Brits, greeting them with “Merry Christmas”. While it could just as easily been a ruse to cause the British to drop their guard the Germans were actually being friendly. Christmas Day of 1914 was a very rare occasion as young men from Germany and Great Britain shared a camaraderie that included gifting each other items such as cigarettes. The next day it was ‘business as usual’ and the war continued.
Did you know that both Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman got their start in life as advertising gimmicks? Rudolph was created by Robert L. May and was used to entice shoppers into the Montgomery Ward department store. Today he is a firm favorite with kids everywhere and has even become so popular that there songs have been written portraying the cute red-nosed reindeer character. Frosty the Snowman originally smoked a pipe and had ‘his’ likeness used for various advertising campaigns involving of all things alcohol, a far cry from the cute little snowman character that now gets featured on greeting cards.
It was in the Victorian era, an era known for very stuffy attitudes towards intimacy of any kind that the tradition of kissing under hanging mistletoe began. What many people do not know is that mistletoe has many healing properties and is said to be able to improve fertility, heal wounds, bring good luck and help ward off evil spirits. While stealing a kiss or two under the mistletoe may not have been the solution to all of their problems a number of marriages have resulted from a Christmas kiss.
Today one of the highlights of the holiday season is gathering the family around to decorate the Christmas tree. Though this is now a tradition throughout many parts of the world it actually began in Germany. When Queen Victoria of England married Prince Albert of Germany in 1840 the Prince brought the tree-trimming tradition with him. It didn’t take very long for the decorated tree to become a tradition in the US and only took 8 years from the wedding of Victoria to Albert for a picture of a Royal tree to appear in a newspaper. The enchanting idea appealed to many and became a firm favorite with Americans across the nation very quickly.
While Americans drive through deep snow to enjoy a turkey dinner with all the trimmings on Christmas Day, those living in New Zealand and Australia are enjoying a beautiful summer day that calls for a barbecue on the beach. In other parts of the world the traditions vary significantly, with Greeks holding off on the gift exchanging until New Year’s Day. Some Greeks also believe that in the 12 days leading up to Christmas the country is overrun with wild goblins (kallikantzeri). In Portugal places at the Xmas dinner table are set not only for the living but also for those who have passed. For those living in Spain there is the opportunity to win the world’s largest lottery and a trip to a sauna is not out of the question for those living in Finland. In England for centuries gifts were exchanged on the day after Christmas Day (called Boxing Day), but is now more often than not done on December 25th.