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