Updated: Nov 18
Only 37 days to go now until Christmas Day so I thought I'd share some interesting facts about Christmas which you may not already know. I'm going to be making a quiz later for my webpage so I'll be testing you on this!
Have you ever noticed that some people have little models like this one displayed in their homes at Christmas time?
That's because Christmas is a Christian Festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus. It's believed that he was born in a manger in Bethlehem. A manger is a trough or open box used to hold feed for cows and horses - something you would usually find in a stable on a farm.
See if you can pick out the baby Jesus and his family, the three wise men bearing gifts who were believed to have visited Jesus after his birth, a shepherd or two and see how many barnyard animals you can name.
This is called a Nativity scene and is something that has been around for a very long time. The idea was originally thought up by Saint Francis of Assisi who was born about 840 years ago!
Did you know that Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) hasn't always worn red clothes?
Hard to believe isn't it? However the typical jolly man in the red suit we’ve all come to know and love spent much of the time prior to 1870 wearing green! In fact Father Christmas was very different from the figure we know today. He didn’t climb down chimneys, he didn’t give gifts – he didn’t even live at the North Pole and use reindeer as a means of transportation.
The origins of Father Christmas in England date back to ancient pre-Christian midwinter festivals where an unnamed pagan figure, wearing a green hooded cloak and a wreath of holly, ivy or mistletoe, would come to lift people’s spirits during the bleakest time of year. Although not yet associated with Christmas, this wintry figure would shape the evolving image of Father Christmas for centuries to come.
How many reindeer are they and what are their names?
There has always been some debate as to how many reindeer pull the sleigh and what their names and positions are and where does Rudolph fit in etc. All I can tell you is what I learned for the short time when I was at the workshop at the North Pole.
There are eight reindeer plus Rudolph. Their names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. According to the rules laid out in the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), on Christmas night they're meant to be arranged as follows:
Donner and Dancer should be nearest to Santa’s sleigh. Then Dasher is supposed to be next to Prancer. Comet is in front of Donner. Dasher is meant to be in the same line as Cupid. Blitzen is between Prancer and Dancer. Rudolph is at the head but he's only meant fly when it's foggy, which is pretty much every year as there's bound to be low cloud cover somewhere in the world.
These rules have been written down for as long as anyone can remember but not one of the reindeer can figure out where they're meant to be and I doubt that Santa really knows either. It seems to me that he just does a quick antler count and then heads off. It's all a bit of dog's breakfast to be honest.
Can you work out where each reindeer should be positioned?
When you think about it, it’s a bit hard to see what the association is between the Christmas celebration and a tree decorated with all kinds of shiny bits and bobs. Christmas trees were first popularised in Germany and the tradition was brought to the UK by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. But why do we put them up and how long have we been doing it for?
Evergreen trees have been used to celebrate the winter season since before the birth of Christ. Pagans used branches of evergreen trees to decorate their homes winter, as a way of making them think of the coming spring, while Romans used holly leaves and fir trees to decorate their temples.
The first decorated Christmas tree was put up in Riga, Latvia in 1510, however Tallinn, Estonia, also claims to have come up with the idea of a decorated tree in 1441.
The use of small candles to decorate the trees started in the 17th century, which must have been quite a fire risk! In 1882 Edward H.Johnson, Thomas Edison's friend and partner, put together the very first string of electric lights meant for a Christmas tree. He hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his own Christmas tree.
Trees used to be adorned with edible decorations. In Germany, the first Christmas Trees were decorated with gingerbread, apples, wafers, and sweets.
Different trees are used in different countries: in New Zealand, the ‘Pohutakawa’ tree which has red flowers is sometimes used, while banana or mango trees are sometimes used in India.
Artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany during the 19th century
originally made from goose feathers that were dyed green and attached to wire branches, which were then wrapped around a rod that acted as the trunk.
Most modern artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC plastic, 80% of which are manufactured in China.
In order to avoid bad luck at Christmas, some people believe you should put up your Christmas tree no sooner than Christmas Eve (or sometimes the 23rd) and take it down no later than Twelfth Night (5th January).
Have you got your tree up yet?
Christmas crackers were invented in 1847 by Tom Smith, a London confectioner.
Tom Smith had seen French 'bon bon' sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper) on a visit to Paris in 1840. He came back to London and tried selling sweets like that in England but they didn't sell very well so he came up with idea of inserting love messages into the wrappers of the sweets (similar to fortune cookies).
After listening to the crackle of a log he had just put on a fire he thought it would be a fun idea if his sweets and toys opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half. The size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism, and the sweet itself was eventually replaced by a trinket, such as a fan, jewellery and other items. The new product was initially marketed as 'cosaques' (thought to be named after the 'Cossack' soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air),
The Christmas Crackers that we know today are short cardboard tubes wrapped in Christmassy paper. There is normally a Cracker next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table. When the crackers are pulled a BANG goes off and a Christmas party hat, a toy or gift and a festive joke falls out! The gifts, paper hats and varied designs were all introduced by Tom Smith's son, Walter Smith.
Crackers are also famous for their very bad jokes! Like this one about polar bears ...
What would you call a polar bear who is sunbathing?
A solar bear.
I'll leave you with that rather lame joke and sign off now. Keep counting down those days until Christmas!