So, here we are. A week of total election chaos – including huge Spyglass coverage of said chaos – is finally at an end. And, quite frankly, I feel it’s time to get back in the cheery festive spirit… So don the Christmas jumpers (why stop at just one!?), turn on the Christmas lights, and hop aboard your reindeer as we delve into some fun facts and tasteful traditions of Christmas!
The 12 Days of Christmas
Many people remain unaware of the true meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas, often confusing it with Advent. They actually begin on Christmas Day and end on the 5th of January, and have been celebrated since the Middle Ages! Twelfth Night in particular was traditionally a big day of celebration, reflected in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name, originally released in around 1600.
Advent actually consists of the 4 Sundays and weeks preceding Christmas Day, although it has been commercialised with ‘advent calendars’ to run from the 1st of December to the 24th. Chocolate advent calendars – very popular nowadays – only really became so in the 1980s, even though they were first made in the 1950s. Advent – which means “coming” in Latin – celebrates the time leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, and appears to have started roughly during the 6th century.
We’ve all been there as children. Waking up on Christmas morning – excited enough already – but just hoping that, when we open the window, we see an idyllic white landscape before us. But how often does this tend to happen? Let’s first consider the UK. Amazingly, the former definition of a ‘White Christmas’ was apparently “one snowflake to be observed falling in the 24 hours of December 25th at the Met Office building in London”! This was because, pre-2006, a Met Office employee was set the task of recording whether it had been a White Christmas or not, before computers took over in 2006. Apparently, a White Christmas occurs somewhere in the UK every 6 years on average, but clearly this definition of “one snowflake falling” is some way behind what we imagine to be a White Christmas – with lots of snow lying! Definitions actually vary quite considerably from country to country – with the US, for example, requiring at least 1 inch of lying snow at 7:00am local time. The Southern Hemisphere is quite interesting because, despite Christmas falling during their summer, the mountainous regions such as Tierra Del Fuego and New Zealand’s Southern Alps do actually receive some snow as well.
Interestingly, carols were originally neither specific to Christmas-time, nor actually associated with Christian celebration. They were originally pagan songs (nothing like the carols we know nowadays!) and were sung in all 4 seasons to mark the Spring and Autumn equinoxes and the Summer and Winter solstices. Think of people dancing round Stonehenge at the solstice – that is the sort of festival these ‘carols’ were originally associated with! But, with time, it is really only the Winter singing of these carols that has survived. In the early 2nd century, Christians took over this Winter pagan celebration and, in place of the original pagan carols, gave people the very first Christmas carols to sing instead. However, it took a while for these carols to gain popularity and prominence – not least because they were originally written in Latin, which no-one could actually understand! This almost led to the celebration of Christmas fading away until, in 1223, St Francis of Assini started his Nativity Plays – which, importantly, featured the vast majority of songs in the language of the audience. It is these new carols, born majorly in the early 15th century, that we now know and recognise today.
So there we are. A brief run-down of some popular Christmas traditions, as well as considering the likelihood of a White Christmas. And maybe this year, snow will actually fall for us… 😉