I was asked the other day if I would be putting up a Christmas tree in my house this year, being that I am on my own. I answered I wasn't sure yet, which met with the reply, oh but you must, it's tradition.
This intrigued my as I had often heard that this "Christmas" tradition had it's origins in Germany, so I did a little digging. Turns out the Christmas tree, or Yule tree for those wanting to avoid a religious connection, actually has it's origins in 15th century Livonia, present day Estonia and Latvia. It wasn't until well into the 16th century that northern German churches decorated an evergreen inside the church and hung sweets and apples from it. In present day we have replaced these apples with shiny glass baubles, whose origins was something else I had pondered.
In previous years my best friend and I would put up an advent calendar. It was a large, cloth robin with 24 pockets, and we would each buy 12 small items, with a value of £1 or under, and individually wrap them, taking it in turns to open each one leading up to Christmas, always with the cry "advent calendar present!" It's origins I discovered go back to the early part of the 19th century when German Lutherans would mark off a chalk line on the floor for each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas. Though advent can officially begin as early as 27 november or as late as the 3 December commercial advent calendars always start on the 1 December.
Well, I was on a roll now, and speaking of food . .
Christmas pudding. I love Christmas pudding. In fact, too much. Plum pudding, as it is more accurately called, has its origins in medieval England when the Roman Catholic church decreed that a pudding should be made on the 25th Sunday after Trinity, made from 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles. During the making each member of the family should take it in turns, going from east to west, to stir it in honour of the Magi whose supposed journey took them in that direction. All manner of hidden items would sometimes be included in the pudding, the most common of which was a silver coin, being kept by the person whose portion it was served in, unless he died by choking it on first of course!Personally I just get mine from Marks & Spencer.
Then I thought about the line from a Christmas hymn, love came down at Christmas. What of this tradition of kissing under mistletoe? It all started because the plant was seen to represent the male "essence" so to speak, with the white berries representing, well, you know what. According to custom the plant must not touch the ground between being cut and Candlemas, around 2 February. According to an ancient Christian custom a man and a woman who meet under the mistletoe are obliged to kiss, and should remove one berry. When all the berries are gone the privilege stops. I suppose the trick is to have one the size of a garden hedge! Bit difficult to conceal it though I guess.
Wherever these common delights of Christmas have their origins, I know that for me it is all about friends and family . . . and lots of mince pies!