Christmas

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed most commonly on December 24/25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. It is a feast central to the Christian liturgical year, and is prepared for by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast, and it initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night; in some traditions, Christmastide includes an Octave. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world's nations, is celebrated culturally by a large number of non-Christian people, and is an integral part of the holiday season.

The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, lighting a Christingle, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore.


Posts for Christmas

Réveillon dinner

Christmas in Lyon, France
Anonymous
Christmas in Lyon, France I am really looking forward to the réveillon feast. Mother is already preparing the roast goose and lobsters. The foie gras and the oysters have already been laid out, and the yule log cake is hidden somewhere from the clutches of my sister.

I cleaned my shoes for Père Noël

Christmas in Paris, France
Anonymous
I especially cleaned my shoes and laid them out by the fireplace for Père Noël. I want to show him that I have been good and clean, and deserve the best present.

My favorite Christmas dessert: Lebkuchen

Christmas in Nuremberg, Germany
Anonymous
Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen, is a traditional German baked Christmas treat, somewhat resembling gingerbread.

The origin of the Christmas Candy Cane

Christmas in Cologne, Germany
Anonymous
Christmas in Cologne, Germany

No one is sure about the origin of Christmas Candy Cane. One origin story says it started in Cologne, Germany in 1670 when a choirmaster wanting to keep his children quiet during the Christmas Service, gave them some home-made long white sugar sticks to eat. The candy sticks were crooked to resemble a shepherd's staff reminding them of the shepherds that visited baby Jesus. His neighbours thought it was a good idea and followed his example.

Later people added colours to the sugar stick, the white colour represents the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood Jesus shed when he died on the cross. Afterwards the peppermint flavour, which represents the hyssop plant, was added to the sugar stick, because according to the Bible, the hyssop plant is used for purifying.

Christmas market for the win!

Christmas in Cologne, Germany
Anonymous
Christmas in Cologne, Germany I am off to the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). Been looking forward to it for weeks. Love the atmosphere and going to indulge in Glühwein (hot mulled wine)

Feeding a wooden log

Christmas in Girona, Spain
Anonymous
Christmas in Girona, Spain Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) is an odd Catalan Christmas tradition, where families keep a hollow wooden log at home during the Christmas season. The children of the house 'feed' the log every night and keeps it warm with a blanket. If they take good care of it, the log will 'poop' out their candies and sweets for them on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. To make the log 'poop', children will hit it with sticks and then go to another room to pray, which then gives parents enough time to leave small presents, candies and sweets. Bigger presents are brought by the Three Wise Men on Epiphany.

Adorning Christmas trees with bread crumbs!

Christmas in Salzburg, Austria
Anonymous
In Austria, we do something extra with our Christmas trees, especially those in the town square. On top of the usual Christmas decorations, such as candles, ornaments and candy, we sprinkle the trees with bread crumbs for the birds! At home, we often adorn our trees with stars made out of straw.

Christmas crap

Christmas in Barcelona
Anonymous
Christmas in Barcelona

A Caganer is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia, and Northern Catalonia (in southern France).

The name El Caganer literally means "the crapper". Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the barretina) and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating.

Glühwein

Christmas in Germany
Anonymous
Glühwein (roughly translated as "glow-wine", from the hot irons once used for mulling) is popular in German-speaking countries and in the region of Alsace in France. It is a traditional beverage that is offered during the Christmas holidays. The oldest documented Glühwein tankard is attributed to Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen, a German nobleman who was the first grower of Riesling grapes.

Eierpunsch

Christmas in Germany
Anonymous
Eierpunsch (literally "egg punch") is the German name given to a warm, sweetened alcoholic, egg-based drink similar to egg nog. It is commonly a winter drink and can be found served in the popular Christmas markets of Germany and Austria. Eierpunsch is made with egg yolks, sugar, white wine and vanilla. Sometimes cream or custard can be added.

The history of the Christmas Tree

Christmas in Germany
Anonymous
Christmas in Germany The Christmas tree can be traced to pagan winter solstice rituals, that were worshipped trees, especially evergreens in the winter. Later, Germanic people adopted these pagan traditions for their own winter festivities. There is even the claim that Martin Luther, the reformer, started the tradition of Christmas trees. When the House of Hanover became the British Royal Family, they brought these German traditions with them. The traditions then spread to the American colonies. Finally, it has become a global phenomenon with the commercialization of Christmas.

The story of the Christmas Pudding

Christmas in Battle, Sussex, UK
Anonymous
Christmas in Battle, Sussex, UK

Originally the Christmas pudding was savoury. Then according to a popular and wholly unsubstantiated myth, King George I, sometimes known as the Pudding King, requested in 1714 that plum pudding be served as part of his royal feast in his first Christmas in England. This coincides with one of the earliest plum pudding recipes, which is given by Mary Kettilby in her 1714 book A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery. Puddings probably became sweet as techniques for preserving meat improved in the 18th century. This meant people could save meats for longer and not be forced to use it by Christmas. Thus the savoury element of both mince pies and the plum pottages diminished while their sweet content increased, as people began adding dried fruit and sugar. The mince pie kept its name, but the pottage was increasingly referred to as plum pudding.

It was not until the 1830s that the cannonball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, made a definite appearance, becoming more and more associated with Christmas. The East Sussex cook Eliza Acton was the first to refer to it as "Christmas Pudding" in her bestselling 1845 book Modern Cookery for Private Families.

Why is Christmas on December 25?

Christmas in Rome, Italy
Anonymous

Historically, many dates have been suggested for Christmas: May 20, April 18 or 19, March 25, January 2, November 17, and November 20. There are two main reasons that December 25 was eventually chosen. First, it was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar, and the Romans had a festival in honor of the Sun god Sol Invictus on this day. Second, it was nine months after March 25, a date linked to the conception of Jesus. It is probably a combination of these factors that made the early Church choose December 25th as the date for Christmas. In addition, a date close to the winter solstice was beneficial in new converts adopting the festival, as many cultures celebrate the Winter Solstice. In fact, many Nordic countries still refer to Christmas as Yule, Jul, Jol, etc., which was the name for their winter solstice festival.

The meaning of Christmas colours

Christmas in Rome, Italy
Anonymous
Christmas in Rome, Italy

Christmas is associated with certain colours: red, green, gold, white, blue. But what do these colours represent?

  • Green - Evergreen plants, such as holly, ivy and mistletoe are pleasant to eyes, especially on bleak winter days. They remind people that spring would come soon and that winter wouldn't last forever! They have been used for thousands of years to decorate and brighten up homes during Christmas.
  • Red is the color of holly berries, and is said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross. Red is also the color of Bishops robes. These would have been worn by St. Nicholas and has also become Santa's uniform!
  • Gold is the color of the Sun, and the colour of burning fire. It brings warmth and hope to the people in the dark cold winter. Gold was one of the presents brought to the baby Jesus by one of the wise men and traditionally it's the color used to show the star that the wise men followed.
  • White - In western cultures, white represents purity and peace. People use white paper wafers to decorate paradise trees as the white wafers represent the bread eaten during Communion or Mass, when Christians remember that Jesus died for them.
  • Blue is the color of the sky and heaven. It is also the color associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus as she was always depicted wearing blue clothes. The reason for that is that in medieval times, blue dye and paint was more expensive than gold! Therefore only the Royal families and the very rich and important people could wear blue clothes. Mary was often painted wearing blue to show that she was very important and was very much respected.

Sinterklaas arrives from Spain

Christmas in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Anonymous
Christmas in Amsterdam, Netherlands Sinterklaas is the name for Santa Claus/Father Christmas in the Netherlands. He is very similar to the American Santa, who is probably derived from him, but rides a horse instead of having a sleigh drawn by reindeer. During the Reformation and the Dutch rebellions against Spain, Christmas celebrations and Sinterklaas were banned as they were symbols of Catholicism. However, the people protested and the festivities were restored. This is why we have this tradition of Sinterklaas returning to the Netherlands from Spain. In addition, Sinterklaas has helpers Zwarte Piet. These are supposed to be Moorish helpers that the Spanish brought over.

Martin Luther and the history of Christmas gift giving

Christmas in Eisleben, Germany
Anonymous

There is one story that credits Martin Luther, the Reformer, for starting the tradition of Bescherung or gift-giving. The story recounts how Martin Luther thought that gift-giving should be part of Christmas and not some other feast day. In this way, people, especially children, can associate receiving gifts with good behavior and being in God's grace. The tradition eventually spread to Catholic countries as well.

This German tradition is a likely origin gift-giving, as in some Catholic cultures sweets and not gifts are exchanged during Christmas. Moreover, North Americans did not celebrate Christmas as the initial English Puritans colonists did not celebrate it. It wasn't until German speaking immigrants started arriving in North America that gift-giving took off there.

Tradition of German (Christmas) Toy making

Christmas in Seiffen, Germany
Anonymous
Christmas in Seiffen, Germany

Historically, most wooden toys were made in Germany. For example, the Ore Mountains region is renowned for its toys. The tradition of toy making started as it was a secondary occupation of the local farmers during the long winters. The tradition continues to this day and some of best quality wooden toys are from the Ore Mountains region.

Many of the toys were exported to other countries, especially the USA with its large immigrant German speaking populations, who were familiar with these today. However, the First World War interrupted this trade in toys, and America started making its own toys.

The Krampus is coming

Christmas in Zagreb, Croatia
Anonymous
Christmas in Zagreb, Croatia Our extended family has a tradition of gathering for Christmas and then having someone dress up as the Krampus and ask the children if they have been good. If not, the Krampus will scare them a bit by appearing to drag them away from the family, the food and the presents. Works like a treat. Finally this year, I get to play the Krampus this year, though I have been warned not to overdo it and scare my cousins too badly.

Norway's annual Christmas gift to the UK

Christmas in London, UK
Anonymous
Christmas in London, UK Every year, Norway donates a giant Christmas tree for the British to raise in Trafalgar Square as a thank you for helping during the Second World War. Christmas carolers at Trafalgar Square in London sing around the tree on various evenings up until Christmas Eve.

A Christmas Carol

Christmas in London, UK
Anonymous

In 1843, one of England’s best loved writers, Charles Dickens, was determined to publish a Christmas book, which would reach people in two ways. First it would use a very original story to plead for compassion for the poor. Second it would be affordable, bringing quality literature in a well-made book to a wide audience. The book quickly became Dickens' most popular work. It has been in continual reprint ever since, and has been adapted for the stage and the screen.

A Christmas Carol changed people's conception of Christmas. It describes the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from a bitter old miser to a kinder person. The message resonated during Dicken's time and continues to resonate with people. It helped people gain a new appreciation for the importance of family union and for the plight of the poor. This new personal introspection as well as altruistic actions stoked people's enthusiasm for the holiday. Thanks to Dickens and his merry creations, even today people in many countries tend to think of Victorian England as a time and place where Christmas was "done right".

So have you been generous and kind? Would you be able face up to the three ghosts of Christmas?