Traditions, legends and white elephants add to Christmas
I love Christmas and every year I get caught up in buying presents, decorating the tree and seeing my family and friends. To me, there’s nothing better than the smell of a roast dinner cooking in the kitchen, the scent of Christmas candles burning in the living room and the sound of voices as everyone exchanges gifts.
But while this is a very modern portrait of a family Christmas, a lot of the traditions and festive legends we follow every year are actually hundreds or even thousands of years old.
So where do Christmas legends come from?
The white elephant gift exchange
The gift exchange game that we know as the white elephant started because groups where looking for social engagement game to be used as a conversation starter during office parties. Over time people learned the high level of fun and banter that is created during the game, so it spread to other groups. The white elephant gift exchange party is now the most used gift sharing tradition used during the Christmas season.
The most famous Christmas story is, of course, the birth of Christ. According to the bible, he was born in a stable in Bethlehem after Mary and Joseph rode on a donkey from Nazareth for a census. After his birth, Jesus was visited by shepherds and three wise men, who brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Christmas originated as the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth and on Christmas Eve, many churches hold a Christingle service, with symbolic oranges given out to children.
The story of Father Christmas
The story of St Nicholas originated in the Turkish town of Lycia during the fourth century. At the time, a bishop spread goodwill though the land wearing red bishop’s robes and giving out gifts to children. After his death on December 6th, St Nicholas Day was created and eventually merged with Christmas celebrations. Over the years, the story of a kindly old man anonymously delivering presents to children developed and he soon became something of a legend.
It was in the US that the image of Father Christmas as a jolly fat man in a red suit with a white beard was created and nowadays, this image is used all over the world – perhaps most famously in Christmas Coca-Cola adverts.
The legend of the Christmas tree begins with a poor woodcutter and his family sitting down to eat dinner one dark winter evening. When a child in tattered clothing knocked at the door, the family let him and shared their food, even though there was barely enough to go around. The boy turned out to be the Christ Child and to thank the family, he took the branch of a fir tree and planted it in their garden, promising that it would bear fruit for them to eat every Christmas from then on.
Of course, this is not the only story telling the legend of the Christmas tree, but it is one of the most popular.
The idea of decorating a Christmas tree is thought to have begun in Germany over a thousand years ago. The first Christmas tree was brought to the UK by Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert and every year, Norway donates a huge fir tree to Britain, which is decorated and put on display in Trafalgar Square.
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Everyone knows the story of Rudolph, the reindeer that was chosen to fly at the front of Santa’s sleigh and guide the other reindeer using his glowing red nose, but where did the tale first come from?
Rudolph was created by American advertising executive Robert May. Retail enterprise Montgomery Ward decided it wanted to create a book to give away to children at Christmas and asked May to write a poem to go inside it. This was when the story of Rudolph was born.
This piece was written by Sheila Saunders, a freelance writer who is fascinated by urban legends, when not busy finding the best places to shop for Business Christmas Cards.
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