With Christmas mere days away I thought I’d do some research into the history of some of our most treasured Christmas traditions. Now, these are generic traditions, not ones my crazy family have constructed over the years, or ones that are generally only associated with an Australian Christmas, like the seafood lunch.
This custom was developed in Germany as far back as possibly the 15th – 16th century. It was first adopted initially by the upper classes in England during the reign of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who was German, after they released an image of their family around a Christmas Tree. Traditionally the tree would be decorated with edible items such as apples and nuts, as well as candles. As you can imagine, this was a huge fire hazard and a lot of families kept the candles lit long enough to grab a photo and then blew them out. Presents were also hung from the tree, contributing to the fire hazard as they had a tendency to fall off into candles. As presents grew bigger they were placed under the tree. The Christmas bauble was created by a glassblower in Germany and eventually Christmas decorations as we know them today were created and seen as a more cost effective alternative as they could be re-used year after year.
The pudding has its origins in Medieval England, however it was not as sweet as it is today. Originating as a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’, it was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. It was not served as a dessert, but rather an accompaniment to the many meats that would have been on offer with the main meal. By the 1700s is had made its transition as a dessert and is often served a flame to the table. Another pudding tradition that some people still uphold is the inclusion of a silver coin, the belief being that the person who receives it will have good fortune for the following year. We did this in our family until the year someone accidentally ate the coin.
Carols can be traced as far back as fourth century Rome, first making an appearance in England in 1426, however it wouldn’t be until the 1800s that the carols we know and love came into existence. The songs we know specifically as carols were originally communal songs sung during celebrations like harvest tide as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in Church and specifically around Christmas time. Now the term ‘carols’ is used to encompass all Christmas-themed songs.
Christmas Crackers (or Bon-Bons)
Dating back to the 1840s, a Londoner by the name of Tom Smith invented crackers in 1847 as a development of his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper (the origins of the traditional sweet-wrapper). As sales of bon-bons slumped, Smith began to come up with new promotional ideas. His first tactic was to insert “love messages” into the wrappers of the sweets and eventually he added the “crackle” element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on a fire. As time passed, the size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism, and the sweet itself was eventually dropped, to be replaced by a trinket; fans, jewellery and other substantial items. The modern crackers which we are familiar with today—the gifts, paper hats and varied designs—were all introduced by Tom Smith’s son, Walter Smith, to differentiate his product from the rival cracker manufacturers which had suddenly sprung up. As the demand for crackers increased, Tom Smith’s company merged with Caley Crackers in 1953 taking over their headquarters and factory in Norwich, East Anglia.
I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful festive season and a safe and Happy New Year – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.