The origins of Christmas go back to before the birth of Christ as many civilisations celebrated the Winter Solstice in December. It seems likely that the early Christians chose December 25th as the birth of Christ to be in direct competition with the pagan Roman festival of Saturn. The birth date of Jesus Christ has never been officially determined.
Christmas Decorations are further evidence of already existing pagan religions combining with Christianity. Ancient Britons would decorate the inside of their houses with evergreen foliage such as Holly and Ivy in the winter to ward off evil spirits and help bring in the spring. As the pagan beliefs became lost in the mists of time these decorations have now become a symbol of Christmas, though nowadays, the foliage has given way to paper, tinsel and fairy lights.
Christmas trees are the centre piece of nearly every British home at Christmas time. Each year they seem to appear earlier but officially they are only supposed to go up for the 12 days of Christmas (supposed to represent the twelve apostles). The origin of the Christmas tree in Britain comes from Germany. They were made fashionable by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria, who introduced them from his native land.
Presents are traditionally given at Christmas and are supposed to signify the gifts offered to the Christ child by the three kings on his birth. The original gifts were gold, frankincense and myrrh. In Victorian times boxes containing money were also given by the wealthy to their servants who opened them on December 26th, hence the name for this day, Boxing Day.
Father Christmas had never been heard of in Britain before Victorian times. He was another import from continental Europe. In Britain, originally, he was dressed in green and was more identifiable with paganism. The words Santa Claus, another name for Father Christmas, come from the corruption of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of Children. Legend has it that this jolly white bearded man, dressed in red, lives in the North Pole and at Christmas time delivers presents to every boy and girl. He lands on the roof in his sleigh pulled by reindeer and climbs down the chimney, leaving all the presents under the Christmas tree.
Christmas Turkey is the main course for Christmas dinner but it was originally beef in northern England and goose in the south, though the very poor had to make do with a rabbit. Turkey had already been introduced to Britain from America for many years but it was the Victorians that made it a Christmas tradition. The turkeys were marched down from Norfolk to London wearing leather boots for the long journey. Once they arrived in London they must have thought they were in turkey heaven as they were fattened up for a couple of weeks before going under the knife.
Christmas Pudding is the traditional dessert for Christmas dinner. With its history going back hundreds of years. A Christmas pudding contains dried fruit, spices and brandy. The puddings are best made at the end of the summer and during the months leading up to Christmas, more brandy is added to give a really rich flavour. A coin is usually placed in the pudding and whoever finds it can make a wish. Christmas puddings are very popular and over 40 million are eaten each Christmas.
In Britain much of the religious side of Christmas has now largely lost out to commercialization. There are usually lots of parties leading up to Christmas but Christmas really starts on Christmas Eve when most people get off work at lunch time. This is the day when there are lots of Christmas parties going on so a good excuse to down a few drinks.
Christmas Day is spent with the family at home and usually starts off with opening all the presents that Santa has left under the tree. This is followed by the Christmas dinner which usually leaves everyone so stuffed that they are only able to lay on the sofa and watch TV. The evening meal is usually a Christmas buffet with a Christmas cake as its centre piece. More traditional families will play parlour games at this time
Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is usually spent visiting friend and relations and is usually another excuse for more drinking as at every house visitors will be offered drink as soon as they set foot through the door.
There are about four days to rest from all the excessive eating and drinking before it all kicks off again on December 31st, this time for New Years Eve or Old Years Night, which ever you prefer.