Who can imagine the festive season without Santa Claus, Christmas trees or Yule log? Turns out, we wouldn’t have any of them if we hadn’t pinched them from other countries…
The Great Man
Santa Claus is from the North Pole, right? Wrong. He’s actually from the ancient town of Patara in Turkey. The story started with a man named Nicholas from the year 280 AD. He inherited a sum of money, which he wanted to donate to others, but didn’t want anyone to know. To get around this, he would scurry across the rooftops, dropping coins down people’s chimneys in the middle of the night. When his good deed was discovered, he was made a Saint. And so the legend of Saint Nicholas began.
Back in the 12th century, a group of French nuns felt so inspired by St. Nick that they began leaving oversized socks stuffed full of goodies – like fruit and nuts – outside the houses of poor families. Receiving an apple or a tangerine might be enough to turn most kids into Veruca Salt-alikes these days. But back then they were a rare and expensive treat.
It was Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, who introduced Christmas trees to Britain after spotting them during a visit to Germany in 1841. He put one up in Windsor Castle and the idea soon caught on. That’s not all we have to thank our European neighbours for, either. Mulled wine, candy canes, Christmas markets, tinsel, advent calendars – that’s right, they’re all German.
The idea of kissing under the mistletoe actually hailed from ancient Greece rather than some office creep. The Greeks believed this unassuming plant had real power to influence love and fertility. And so they began hanging bunches of it outside the temple of the Goddess of Love, where bachelorettes would loiter underneath in hope of attracting a suitor. Kind of like an old school Take Me Out. Ever since, the white-berried plant has been synonymous with Christmas canoodling.
Silent Night is one of our best-known festive carols. But it was only by sheer chance that the world ever came to know it. On Christmas Eve 1818, in the town of Oberndorf in Austria, the organ rather catastrophically broke down during a church concert. A quick-thinking priest called Joseph Mohr joined forces with the organist to turn one of Joseph’s poems into a song that could easily be sung along to the guitar instead. And lo, the classic number was born.
Fancy yourself as a German carol singer? Have a go at singing along.
Back in the days of the Vikings, a midwinter festival was held on the shortest and darkest day of the year. As part of the celebrations, a large log would be selected from the woods and brought back to the house where it would be set alight. Called the Yule log, not only would this help warm everyone up, there’d be a feast for as long as the fire burned. Thanks to modern central heating, there’s not really much need for this anymore. We’re not saying no to a tasty chocolate log though. Mmmmmm.
P.S Here’s one we definitely shouldn’t steal…
Christmas dinner is certainly, er, unusual in Greenland. Forget turkey, goose or even ham. Here, they serve the meat of an auk bird, which has been wrapped in seal skin and buried for several months until it is suitably decomposed. It doesn’t stop there either. They also eat strips of blubber sandwiched between whale skin, and even reindeer! Not sure how well that would go down with Rudolph… Those sprouts don’t look so unappealing now do they?