Christmas traditions: The story of Santa Claus, and why we have Advent calendars and eat mince pies

Original Article

Why do we eat turkey on Christmas Day?

Goose, boar and peacock have all been popular Christmas meats over the centuries, but nowadays, turkey reigns supreme as the traditional Christmas Day meal in the UK.

Legend has it King Henry VIII was the first English monarch to eat turkey on Christmas Day, popularising it among the upper classes after the bird was imported from America. The introduction of refrigerators in the 1950s brought the dish into the mainstream and onto dining tables around the country.

However turkey, stuffing and pigs in blankets are not the norm for the rest of the world; most countries have different classic Christmas meals. The Swedes often eat pickled herring and meatballs, in Mexico they eat tamales and in Southern Italy they favour fried eel.

Why do we eat mince pies?

Mince pies were known as Christmas pies, or crib pies, as their oblong shape was meant to resemble Jesus’ cradle. The pies were initially made of meat, usually mutton, and influenced by crusaders who came back from the Middle East with spices.

Samuel Pepys wrote about them, but in his time they were much more savoury than we are used to now. In the 18th century the pies became sweeter, with the import of sugar from slave plantations in the West Indies.

Why do we eat Christmas pudding?

Christmas pudding, sometimes known as figgy pudding, originates from the 14th century. But unlike the festive treat that takes over our supermarket shelves today, Christmas pudding once existed as a porridge called “frumenty”. 

Made of beef, mutton, currants, wines and spices, frumenty was typically eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas celebrations. 

Eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, beers and spirits were later added to the Christmas dish, which meant by 1595, it had transformed into a plum pudding.

In 1650, it became a festive dessert, but in 1664, it was banned by the Puritans. It didn’t make a return until 1714, when King George I re-introduced it as part of the traditional Christmas meal.

By the Victorian times, it had evolved into the rich, delicious pudding we love today. 

What is Advent and where do Advent calendars come from?

The season of Advent is traditionally celebrated by Christians in the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. It begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27 and December 3 each year and symbolises the “coming” of Christ.

The Christian message has since evolved into a modern day tradition, when both children and adults count down the days to December 25 with their own Advent calendars

This festive practice originates from Germany, and dates back to the early 19th Century, when German Protestants marked the days of Advent by burning a candle or drawing on walls with chalk. 

The first handmade, wooden Advent calendar was created in 1851, and by the early 20th century, the first printed Advent calendars had been created.

Gerhard Lang later added small doors to the Advent calendars in the 1920s, while short Bible verses and traditional pictures were added behind the doors in the 1930s. 

Advent calendars later disappeared for a short period, due to the rationing of cardboard and a calendar printing ban imposed by the Nazis, but made a return when Richard Sellmar of Stuttgart obtained a permit from the US to begin printing them again.

By the late 1950s, Chocolate Advent calendars were popular and nowadays, the cardboard Christmas countdowns contain a variety of treats, including beauty products, children’s toys, gin and even cheese. 

Why is it called Boxing Day?

Boxing Day is not to do with Santa’s discarded wrapping and boxes, but has its origins in the practice of giving presents and money to poor people.

One legend has it that the British upper classes gave tradespeople and servants boxes of food and fruit as a seasonal tip. Others believe that boxes full of alms to give to the needy were left in churches over the Christmas period, and on Boxing Day these were collected and distributed.

Why do we kiss under mistletoe?

Its original usage was far from romantic: the parasitic plant was viewed by ancient cultures as a cure for ailments such as menstrual cramps and spleen disorders. Eating the berries actually causes vomiting and stomach pain because they contain toxic substances.

Druids viewed it as a symbol of life as it grew even during the winter. It was consumed to increase fertility and used to decorate houses during winter and summer solstices. In Norse mythology mistletoe has connotations of love and friendship.

It is unclear exactly where the link between Christmas and mistletoe arose, however. By the 18th century the practice of hanging mistletoe at Christmas began in Britain. It was bad luck if you refused to kiss someone under the mistletoe.

Original Article

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