Christmas Myths and Legends

Knowledge

When you think of Christmas, do you wonder about the folklore behind the symbols of the season? Is the candy cane just a delicious treat or is there a legend lying beneath the candy-coated sweetness? What about the Christmas cards and carols? RobinAge uncovers the mysteries behind the Christmas traditions we celebrate year after year

 

SANTA CLAUS  

The Patron Saint of Children, St. Nicholas is the basis of the Santa Claus tradition. He was born in Patara, Turkey and was said to have travelled to Egypt and across the world. He was famous among the kids and would visit their homes at night leaving behind gifts for them. He did this late at night so that his visits always remained a secret.

The legend of the Christmas stocking is also linked with St. Nicholas. The story which revolves around this tradition is that once a poor man had no money to spend on the weddings of his three daughters. The girls left their stockings by the fire to dry and St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold in each of their stockings. Since then, children all over the world hang stockings by the fireplace in the hope that Santa Claus might gift them something too.

Names of Santa Claus, in different places and in different languages

- Sinter Klaas: Netherlands

- Father Christmas: England

- Santa Claus: United States and Canada

- Pere Noel: France

- Papa Noel: Brazil and Peru

- Christindl: Germany

- Babbo Natal or Belfano: Italy

 

CHRISTMAS TREE

This tradition has been practised since the times of the Egyptians, Romans and Druids. On the shortest day of December, the Egyptians would bring green palms into their homes. This was done on December 24, which was the feast of Adam and Eve. The first Christmas tree came into existence in the 16th Century.

 

CHRISTMAS CARDS

The tradition of sending Christmas cards started in the U.K. in 1840. Sir Henry Cole and John Horsley invented a card that displayed three panels. Several pictures were drawn on these panels. These included pictures of a family at a festive table and an act of Christmas charity, such as clothing the poor. At the bottom of the card was written 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year'. During that time, young British boys living away from their family while at school wrote home not only to greet their parents, but more importantly to show them how their writing was progressing. Today, Christmas cards are sent as a token of holiday affection and greetings.

 

CHRISTMAS CAKE

The Christmas cake as we know it today comes from two customs which merged together around 1870 in Victorian England.

Originally people used to eat a sort of porridge on Christmas Eve. The origins of this porridge go back to the beginnings of Christianity. Around the 16th Century it became popular to add butter to the porridge, replace the oatmeal with wheat flour and add eggs to hold it together.

In the more affluent houses with proper ovens, a cake was baked for the Christmas festivities with the finest milled wheat flour, dried fruits and spices. These represented the exotic spices of the East and the gifts of the Three Wise Men. Such ingredients were first brought to Europe and Britain particularly by the Crusaders coming back from the wars in the Holy Land in the 12th Century.

However, these were still not the Christmas cake as we know it. Twelfth night is on January 5 and for centuries it has been celebrated as the last day of the Christmas season. It was a time for having a great feast and the cake was an essential part of the festivities.

In smaller homes, the cake was a simple fruitcake with a bean in it, which was given to guests during the twelve days of Christmas. Whoever got the bean was supposed to be a kind of guardian angel for that family for the year. It was an important task which was usually given to a senior member of the family. In fact, this was observed until recently in Poland.

 

CHRISTMAS TURKEY

The boar's head and the fattened goose formed the main course of Christmas dinners in England for many centuries. The turkey only appeared on the menu around 1650 after the European colonisation of North America. It was introduced to Europe by Sebastian Cabot. It soon took over the traditional English Christmas dinner.

 

CHRISTMAS FACTS

Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first president to bring the tradition of the Christmas tree to the White House.

 

BOXING DAY

The Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is better known as Boxing Day. This is celebrated on December 26. It is based on the tradition of giving gifts to the less fortunate members of society.