The Christmas season is well and truly upon us, and most Brits have already put up their tree and started tucking into the Quality Streets.
Every family has their own Christmas traditions, but there are some customs that people partake in every year that date back centuries.
Have you ever wondered why we put a tree in our living rooms, or what the origin story of Santa Claus is?
Here, we explain how some of your favourite traditions came about.
Who invented the Christmas cracker?
The Christmas cracker was invented by baker Tom Smith over 150 years ago.
On a trip to Paris, Mr Smith discovered the French ‘bonbon’, a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. Bonbons proved a hit at Christmas time and to encourage year-round sales, Smith added a small love motto inside the wrapper.
Tom’s son, Walter, added the elaborate hats and sourced novelty gifts from Europe, America and Japan.
Tom patented his first cracker device in 1847 – which enabled the iconic ‘pop’ sound. The mechanism used two narrow strips of paper layered together, with silver fulminate painted on one side and an abrasive surface on the other – when pulled, friction created a small explosion.
The ‘pop’ sounds is meant to replicate a crackling fire.
Why do we eat turkey for Christmas dinner?
Until Victorian times, beef and goose were the meats of choice for Christmas dinner.
Turkey was only ever eaten by the rich – which makes Ebenezer Scrooge’s gift of a turkey to Bob Cratchit the end of A Christmas Carol even more significant.
It wasn’t until after the Second World War that turkeys overtook geese as the most popular festive meat – partly due to the widespread adoption of the fridge in family homes, as people didn’t have to worry so much about uneaten meat spoiling.
The price of turkeys has massively dropped since WWII due to better farming methods, which has also been a big reason as to why more and more families have adopted it as their meat of choice.
Fun fact: it has been claimed that Henry VIII was the first person in Britain to eat turkey for his Christmas meal.
Why do we put up Christmas trees and who bought the tradition to the UK?
No one quite knows exactly when the tradition of bringing evergreen trees into the home in winter started, as it has been recorded for thousands of years all across Europe.
Pagans would decorate their homes during the winter solstice with tree branches as a symbol of life – which would come after winter.
Romans also decorated their temples with fir trees at the festival of Saturnalia.
It’s thought the tradition stemmed from Germany, as many Christians began decorating trees brought in from outside to represent Christ and new life.
While Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are said to be the ones that made Christmas trees popular in England during the 1800s, King George III’s German wife is actually responsible for bringing the tradition to the UK.
Charlotte used to decorate a Christmas tree with her family during the 1760s.
The nobility who would visit the family at the Queen’s Lodge in Windsor were inspired, and started to do the same.
Why do we have advent calendars?
Different sources suggest the advent calendar tradition dates back to the 1850s.
Advent calendars were created by German Lutherans as a way to mark the days of the season leading up to Christmas.
Nowadays, many people who aren’t Christians also look ahead to Christmas by having an advent calendar which is usually stuffed with chocolate – one for each day leading up to Christmas.
Sometimes Christians will have their own Advent candle which they’ll burn at home.
What is the origin of Santa Claus?
Santa Claus—otherwise known as Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle— can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named Saint Nicholas.
It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey.
Nicholas was known for his generosity and kindness, and is said to hav e given gifts to children and people living in poverty.
Many legends were created about Nicholas, and spread across Europe and eventually over to the US.
When did present giving become a tradition?
The custom of giving gifts at Christmas was created to remind people of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh.
For many centuries, gift-giving took place either around New Year’s, or on December 6 – Saint Nicholas’s birthday.
The popularity of this custom grew after the positive reception of the 1823 poem ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas and Dickens’s 1843 novel A Christmas Carol.
By the end of the 19th century, Christmas Eve became the most common date for gift-giving in Western culture.
Who invented Elf on the Shelf?
The tradition of Elf on the Shelf stems from the 2005 novel of the same name by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell.
The book tells the story of how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and nice.
Santa’s ‘scout elves’ hide in people’s homes to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities that have taken place.
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