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Traditions and Folklore

Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Christmas Day is a day of tradition. A day when everyone gathers together to exchange gifts and to eat and drink more than they could ever imagine. Our wealthy ancestors would have had a banquet of boars head, roast swan or peacock but in the last 150 years we have moved to turkey or goose. For desert, there is the plum pudding, first introduced over 200 years ago as a kind of broth containing spices, raisins or bread crumbs with a drop of wine or ale and boiled in a cloth. The Victorians later introduced the idea of placing lucky charms and coins in the puddings. Another popular tradition at Christmas is mince pies. These do not contain mincemeat as the name suggests but a mixture of fruit, peel and spices contained in a pastry case. First made in Tudor times, they were originally rectangular in shape and known as ‘coffins’ for that reason. The superstition then was that every mince pie eaten would bring one month of luck in the year ahead.

 

Christmas Cards

Whilst it seems as though everybody sends and receives Christmas Cards and think of it as a modern tradition, very few people realise just how far back into history this custom extends. Small symbolic gifts have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs bearing the inscription ‘ah nab’ which means all good luck. Whilst the format that we now recognise was not created until the 1840’s, Christian illustrations were used from the 15th century onwards with the inscription ‘A good and happy New Year’ and were often kept in Bibles as bookmarks. The early Victorians were great letter writers but the vast amount of correspondence required to contact friends and relatives required a simple solution and so the card with its printed message which just needed a signature came into use. The first Christmas card as we know it was created by Henry Cole in 1843. Cole had previously ‘invented’ perforated postage stamps and postcards but was considered slightly eccentric. He engaged an artist, John Calcott Horsley, to illustrate the card, a lithographer, Jobbins of Warwick Court, to print them and a professional ‘colourer’ called Mason to hand colour each card. It is thought that almost 1000 of these cards bearing the message ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’ were sold at one shilling each. The idea proved tremendously popular and soon cards were being used by almost everyone, including tradesmen who left their greetings cards at the houses of their customers in the hope of getting a Christmas tip.

Beautiful Decorations - A Feature of Every Home

Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, introduced Christmas trees into this country from his German homeland, where they had decorated fir trees at Christmas time for centuries. The first tree was erected in Windsor Castle in 1841. Prior to this most British people were familiar with the ‘kissing bough’ which was a half circle of evergreen mounted on a frame to which was fixed a row of candles, with red apples hung underneath. The candles were lit on Christmas Eve and then every evening until the Twelfth Night and the folk would stand underneath and kiss. Other decorations have been traced back to the Druids. Mistletoe was considered sacred due to its perceived healing qualities, whilst Ivy was connected with Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and was thought to be only suitable for external decoration. Holly is the traditional decoration, reminding us of the crown of thorns worn by Christ at his crucifixion while the red berries signify the blood.

Boxing Day -What Does it Mean ?

Boxing Day, the 26th December, is the same day as the Feast of St. Stephen, who became the first Christian martyr when he was stoned to death for his faith in AD33. The term ‘Boxing Day’ celebrates the practice of opening the church alms-boxes, although during the last century it became more closely associated with the ‘Christmas Box’ given to tradesmen. The distribution of money to the poor from the alms-boxes was started by the Romans and continued until the reformation. Today tradesmen such as milkmen, dustmen, postmen and paper boys and girls are given a ‘Christmas Box’ of a few pounds by their grateful customers although it is rarely taken from a box or given on Boxing Day.

 

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Christmas Traditions

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Hay’s Galleria, 55A Tooley Street

London  SE1 2QN

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