December has finally arrived and marks the start of the Christmas festivities; the office parties, the Christmas lights sparkling, the Christmas carols, the nativity plays and pantomimes, crackers and poinsettias, the Christmas trees, the holly wreaths, Advent calendars, baubles and tinsel, fairy lights, garlands and mistletoe, Santa Claus, oh and the endless shopping for presents and the turkey!
But where did it all start? Well, head back to the 4th century and you meet St Nicholas who had a reputation for kindness and generosity – by all accounts a thoroughly good chap. He became the patron saint of Russia where he was known by his bishop’s mitre, white beard and red cape. Head to Greece and he’s the patron saint of sailors, whilst in France he’s the patron of lawyers, and in Belgium he’s the patron of children and travellers. As his following increased across Europe, in the 12th century an official church holiday was created – the Feast of St Nicholas and marked by the giving of gifts. In the 16th century along game the Christmas tree, indoors and out, decorated with apples, roses, coloured paper and gilded candies. Tree lights came a little later, believed to have first adorned the tree of Martin Luther. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought the Christmas tree to the UK from his native Germany – their family photograph around the tree at Windsor Castle sealed its ongoing popularity.
Over the years, Christmas traditions have grown and passed down through families; hanging candy canes on the tree, turkey for Christmas lunch, a family outing to the local pantomime and nativity play, the sending of Christmas cards, the singing of carols, watching the Queen’s Speech, leaving a mince pie and glass of something for Santa on Christmas Eve… But what about traditions from around the world?
In Argentina, paper lanterns called ‘globos’ are lit and let go to float up to the sky; in Canada, friends gather together with the favourite cookie recipe and baked, exchanging cookies with each other; in Greece on Christmas Eve, children walk through the streets, banging drums and triangles, and singing; Greenland lead the way in using fireworks on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus; and in some parts of France, they serve thirteen different deserts, from fruit and nuts to pastry!
Christmas is a time of celebration, a time of relaxation, enjoying quality time with family, opening gifts and eating delicious food and a myriad of other traditions. But spare a thought for those less fortunate – the poor, the homeless, the lonely – it’s their Christmas too.