you know that Rudolph might actually be a girl!? Only female reindeer
keep their antlers throughout winter. By Christmas time most males
have discarded their antlers and are saving their energy ready to
grow a new pair in the spring.
UK Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus became more and more
alike over the years and are now one and the same.
people say that Santa lives at the North Pole. In Finland, they say
that he lives in the north part of their country called Lapland.
everyone agrees that he travels through the sky on a sledge that is
pulled by reindeer, that he comes into houses down the chimney at
night and places presents for the children in socks or bags by their
beds, in front of the family Christmas tree, or by the fire place.
children receive their presents on Christmas Eve night or early
Christmas morning, but in some countries they get their presents on
St. Nicholas' Day, December 6th.
Nicholas putting the bag of gold into a stocking is probably where
the custom of having a tangerine or satsuma at the bottom of your
Christmas stocking came from. If people couldn't afford gold, some
golden fruit was a good replacement - and until the last 50 years
these were quite unusual fruits and so still special!
biggest Christmas stocking was 51m 35cm (168ft 5.65in) long and 21m
63cm (70ft 11.57in) wide (from the heel to the toe). It was made by the
volunteer emergency services organisation Pubblica Assistenza Carrara
e Sezioni (Italy) in Carrara, Tuscany, Italy, on 5th January 2011.
Just think how many presents you could fit in that!
the 16th Century in Europe, the stories and traditions about St.
Nicholas had become very unpopular.
someone had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the
UK, he became 'Father Christmas', a character from old children's
stories; in France, he was then known as 'Père Nöel'; in Germany,
the 'Christ Kind'. In the early USA his name was 'Kris Kringle'.
Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas
with them and Kris Kringle became 'Sinterklaas' or as we now say
countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas' Day on
6th December. In Holland and some other European Countries, children
leave clogs or shoes out to be filled with presents. They also
believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for
Sinterklaas's horse, they will be left some sweets.
Nicholas became popular again in the Victorian era when writers,
poets and artists rediscovered the old stories.
1823 the famous poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' or 'T'was the Night
before Christmas', was published. Dr Clement Clarke Moore later
claimed that he had written it for his children. However, some
scholars now believe that it was actually written by Henry
Livingston, Jr., who was a distant relative of Dr Moore's wife. The
poem describes eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became
really well known in the song 'Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer',
written in 1949. Do you know all eight names?
Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century AD in a place
called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very rich man
because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of
money. He was also a very kind man and had a reputation for helping
the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. There are
several legends about St. Nicholas, although we don't know if any of
them are true!
most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging
up stockings to get presents in first started! It goes like this:
was a poor man who had three daughters. He was so poor, he did not
have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn't get married.
(A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the brides
parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries,
even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down
the chimney and into the house (This meant that the oldest daughter
was then able to be married.). The bag fell into a stocking that had
been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second
daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given
him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening
until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged
the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want
to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when
anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from
of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. St. Nicholas is not only
the saint of children but also of sailors! One story tells of him
helping some sailors that were caught in a dreadful storm off the
coast of Turkey. The storm was raging around them and all the men
were terrified that their ship would sink beneath the giant waves.
They prayed to St. Nicholas to help them. Suddenly, he was standing
on the deck before them. He ordered the sea to be calm, the storm
died away, and they were able to sail their ship safely to port.
Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the
persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. No one is really knows when he
died, but it was on 6th December in either 345 or 352 AD. In 1087,
his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italianmerchant
sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the
Italian port of Bari. On St.Nicholas feast day (6th December), the
sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea,
so that he can bless the waters and so give them safe voyages
throughout the year.
are several colours which are traditionally associated with
Christmas. This site uses Red, Green and Gold. But why do we have
them and what do the colours represent?
the colours and their meanings come from the western/northern
European traditions and customs, when Christmas is in the middle of
winter and it's dark and cold.
plants, like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe have been used for thousands of
years to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark
winter. They also reminded people that spring would come and that
winter wouldn't last forever!
Romans would exchange evergreen branches during January as a sign of
good luck. The ancient Egyptians used to bring palm branches into
their houses during the mid winter festivals.
many parts of Europe during the middle ages, Paradise plays were
performed, often on Christmas Eve. They told Bible stories to people
who couldn't read. The 'Paradise Tree' in the garden of Eden in the
play was normally a pine tree with red apples tied to it.
mentioned above, an early use of red at Christmas were the apples on
the paradise tree. They represented the fall of Adam in the plays.
is also the colour of Holly berries, which is said to represent the
blood of Jesus when he died on the cross.
is also the colour of Bishops robes. These would have been worn by
St. Nick and Santa Claus!
is the colour of the Sun and light - both very important in the dark
winter. And both red and gold are the colours of fire that you need
to keep you warm.
was also one of the presents brought to the baby Jesus and
traditionally it's the colour used to show the star that the wise men
followed. Silver is sometimes used instead of (or with) gold. But
gold is a 'warmer' colour.
is often associated with purity and peace in western cultures. The
snow of winter is also very white!
paper wafers were also sometimes used to decorate paradise trees. The
wafers represented the bread eaten during Christian Communion or
Mass, when Christians remember that Jesus died for them.
is used by most churches as the colour of Christmas, when the altar
is covered with a white cloth (in the Russian Orthodox Church Gold is
used for Christmas).
colour blue is often associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus. In
medieval times blue dye and paint was more expensive than gold! So it
would only be worn by Royal families and very rich people. Mary was
often painted wearing blue to show she was very important.
can also represent the colour of the sky and heaven.
custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by
Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant (Government worker) who was
very interested in the new 'Public Post Office' and wondered how it
could be used more by ordinary people.
Henry had the idea of Christmas Cards with his friend John Horsley,
who was an artist. They designed the first card and sold them for 1
shilling each. (That is only 5p or 8 cents today(!), but in those
days it was worth much much more.) The card had three panels. The
outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the centre
panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner! Some people
didn't like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of
wine! About 1000 (or it might have been less!) were printed and sold.
They are now very rare and cost thousands of Pounds or Dollars to buy
first postal service that ordinary people could use was started in
1840 when the first 'Penny Post' public postal deliveries began.
Before that, only very rich people could afford to send anything in
the post. The new Post Office was able to offer a Penny stamp because
new railways were being built. These could carry much more post than
the horse and carriage that had been used before. Also, trains could
go a lot faster. Cards became even more popular in the UK when they
could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny - half the
price of an ordinary letter.
printing methods improved, Christmas cards became much more popular
and were produced in large numbers from about 1860. In 1870 the cost
of sending a post card, and also Christmas cards, dropped to half a
penny. This meant even more people were able to send cards.
engraved card by the artist William Egley, who illustrated some of
Charles Dickens's books, is on display in the British Museum. By the
early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe and had become
especially popular in Germany.
first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In
late Victorian times, robins (an English bird) and snow-scenes became
popular. In those times the postmen were nicknamed 'Robin Postmen'
because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow-scenes were popular
because they reminded people of the very bad winter that happened in
the UK in 1836.
Cards appeared in the United States of America in the late 1840s, but
were very expensive and most people couldn't afford them. It 1875,
Louis Prang, a printer who was originally from German but who had
also worked on early cards in the UK, started mass producing cards so
more people could afford to buy them. Mr Prang's first cards featured
flowers, plants, and children. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his
brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest
card makers today!
the 1910s and 1920s, home made cards became popular. They were often
unusual shapes and had things such as foil and ribbon on them. These
were usually too delicate to send through the post and were given by
cards have all sorts of pictures on them: jokes, winter pictures,
Santa Claus or romantic scenes of life in past times. Charities often
sell their own Christmas Cards as a way raising money at Christmas.
also make money from seals or stickers used to seal the card
envelopes. This custom started in Denmark in the early 1900s by a
postal worker who thought it would be a good way for charities to
raise money, as well as making the cards more decorative. It was a
great success: over four million were sold in the first year!
Sweden and Norway adopted the custom and then it spread all over
Europe and to America.
first first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way
we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher
Martin Luther. A story is told that, one night before Christmas, he
was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining
through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and
told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars
of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. Some people say this is the
same tree as the 'Riga' tree, but it isn't! The Riga tree originally
took place a few decades earlier. Northern Germany and Latvia are
story says that St. Boniface of Crediton (a village in Devon, UK)
left England and travelled to Germany to preach to the pagan German
tribes and convert them to Christianity. He is said to have come
across a group of pagans about to sacrifice a young boy while
worshipping an oak tree. In anger, and to stop the sacrifice, St.
Boniface is said to have cut down the oak tree and, to his amazement,
a young fir tree sprang up from the roots of the oak tree. St.
Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith and his followers
decorated the tree with candles so that St. Boniface could preach to
the pagans at night.
is another legend, from Germany, about how the Christmas Tree came
into being, it goes:
on a cold Christmas Eve night, a forester and his family were in
their cottage gathered round the fire to keep warm. Suddenly there
was a knock on the door. When the forester opened the door, he found
a poor little boy standing on the door step, lost and alone. The
forester welcomed him into his house and the family fed and washed
him and put him to bed in the youngest sons own bed (he had to share
with his brother that night!). The next morning, Christmas Morning,
the family were woken up by a choir of angels, and the poor little
boy had turned into Jesus, the Christ Child. The Christ Child went
into the front garden of the cottage and broke a branch off a Fir
tree and gave it to the family as a present to say thank you for
looking after him. So ever since them, people have remembered that
night by bringing a Christmas Tree into their homes!
evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter
festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used
branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as
it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees
to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians
use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.
is really sure when Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees. It
probably started about began 1000 years ago in Northern Europe. Many
early Christmas Trees seem to have been hung upside down from the
ceiling using chains (hung from chandeliers/lighting hooks).
early Christmas Trees, across many part of northern europe, were
cherry or hawthorn plants (or a branch of the plant) that were put
into pots and brought inside, so they would hopefully flower at
Christmas time. If you couldn't afford a real plant, people made
pyramids of woods and they were decorated to look like a tree with
paper, apples and candles. Sometimes there were carried around from
house to house, rather than being displayed in a home.
possible that the wooden pyramid trees were meant to be like Paradise
Trees. These were used in medieval German Mystery or Miracle Plays
that were acted out in front of Churches on Christmas Eve. In early
church calendars of saints, 24th December was Adam and Eve's day. The
Paradise Tree represented the Garden of Eden. It was often paraded
around the town before the play started, as a way of advertising the
play. The plays told Bible stories to people who could not read.
first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations
is in town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the year 1510.
In the square there is a plaque which is engraved with "The
First New Years Tree in Riga in 1510", in eight languages. The
tree might have been a 'Paradise Tree' rather than a 'real' tree. Not
much is known about the tree, apart from that it was attended by men
wearing black hats, and that after a ceremony they burnt the tree.
picture from Germany in 1521 which shows a tree being paraded through
the streets with a man riding a horse behind it. The man is dressed a
bishop, possibly representing St. Nicholas.
1584, the historian Balthasar Russow wrote about a tradition, in
Riga, of a decorated fir tree in the market square where the young
men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced
there and then set the tree aflame”. There's a record of a small
tree in Breman, Germany from 1570. It is described as a tree
decorated with "apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper
flowers". It was displayed in a 'guild-house' (the meeting place
for a society of business men in the city).