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Christmas is here and it might surprise you to learn that no two countries celebrate Christmas in the same way. In addition to that, each family has their own traditions too. This might include opening presents the night before Christmas to attending church at midnight for mass. Christmas traditions have been handed down from one generation to the next one. You might remember colored lights and hanging ornaments with your grandfather, but there are some traditions out there that are wild! Brace yourself for these weird Christmas traditions.
Well, that doesn't sound strange now, does it? The only requirement with this tradition was, that the bird had to be dead. Well on a card anyway. They had very strange cards back then. The first Christmas card was printed in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, as printing had become cheaper. This allowed many families to send cards to their loved ones over the festive period. For some reason, these cards weren't happy and cheerful as we know them today. They were rather creepy actually.
How does a naked baby flying on a bat sound for you? It's like something straight out of a mystery novel. Due to the fact that the card business was booming and all levels of society could afford it, people came up with all sorts of weird ideas for Christmas cards. If it wasn't for the homogenization of Christmas in the 1920s, we would have still had such absurd Christmas images. Thank goodness we never had to be subjected to frogs dancing with beatles. We were also spared a few other abnormal traditions.
Have you ever tried eating your Christmas tree? Well over 100 years ago it wasn't so strange. It is wildly believed that Martin Luther was the one who inspired the tradition of hanging lights on the tree, by being the first one to add strings of light to the Christmas tree. He got the idea when he was walking home one night, and saw the lights of the city shimmer through the trees. Decorating Christmas trees has its roots going back all the way to before the Christianization of Europe. People lived so different back then, so it's understandable why they did such a weird thing to their trees.
This tradition originates from the Middle ages, where morality plays depicted a paradise tree where everyone in the Garden of Eden could feast. People started hanging popcorn strings, fancy cakes, and various candies from their trees. This encapsulated "paradise" for them and created a celebratory environment. Just imagine eating a piece of cake that has been hanging on a tree for at least a month though.
One of the most iconic songs sung during Christmas is the "Christmas Song". This song has the line in it. "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." The song is cute and everything, but nobody knows what the song is referring to. Nobody can even imagine that one would be roasting chestnuts over an open fire. Roasting chestnuts was once a very common holiday tradition in America, but all the fun came to an end when they killed their beloved tree. What did they do to the trees?
The American chestnut tree once filled the landscapes of America with over 4 billion trees. However, due to the invasion of the Asian chestnut tree in the 1920s, the American chestnut tree went extinct within 40 years. Roasting American chestnuts is an all but forgotten tradition. Nowadays you still find people roasting chestnuts in other countries. There are many different species of chestnut trees and although other countries still have trees left, the American version is long gone. These next traditions are still possible but who would even dare?
Christmas is a time for opening presents and spending time with your loved ones. Before all this became a tradition, Christmas was known as one of the wildest times of the year. Dancing uncontrollably was coupled with people bashing on your door demanding food and drink. Normally, you have a Christmas lunch or dinner, and your guests are invited. A certain group of people thought nothing of invitations though, they had the audacity to just show up at your house. They also did something rather irritating.
These unwanted guests demanded to be bribed, so they would stop their nonsense. They were known as the callithumpian bands. They were gangs disguised as marching bands. They marched through the streets carrying a few instruments, but most of them had trash items they could make noise with. Their strategy was to make as much noise as they can so that people would pay them to stop. If you refused to pay them, they would cause havoc. They would proceed to raid houses, breaking windows, and physically assaulting people. There was no end to their disrespectful ways.
Traditionally Christmas is seen as a time for renewal. A way to end the year, sending all bad luck away and welcoming in the good spirits. It was therefore not uncommon to see symbols of wealth and prosperity the week between Christmas and the new year. Everywhere you went, you saw horseshoes, coins, and happy pigs. Even today some cultures believe that whoever enters your home first on New Year, will determine how your year is going to go. In Scotland, they still have this, and it's called 'First Footing.'
This is an ancient tradition, whereby people go to great lengths to arrange for the most fortunate person possible, to enter their home first in the New Year. The best kind of person to enter your home was a man with dark hair that come bearing gifts like bread, drinks, salt, and coal. Ministers and doctors weren't welcome though, since they represented either a funeral or a medical problem heading your way. This one might shock, but any kind of woman was also considered bad luck. Ouch.
Today oysters are not as widely consumed as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries. Back then the supply was high and you could find them around every corner at some market. Unfortunately due to overfishing, the item became a luxury item. It became an expensive delicacy that is only consumed at celebratory events. This would usually go with a-grade champagne, to add to the luxury element. It's strange to think it once formed part of Christmas dinner.
Due to the fact that oysters were cheap and readily available in the 19th and 20th centuries, many people could afford them. People became very creative when adding this delicacy to their festive menu. Ever heard of oyster soufflé? This was a huge favorite and made its appearance everywhere at Christmas time. It was usually served with olives, boiled ham, and anchovies? What a strange combination.
If you were lucky enough to be a lord or a lady back in the 19th and 20th centuries, you would find yourself living on a grand estate, like we saw on Downton Abbey. Just imagine the lavish Christmas parties you would have been subjected to. Imagine for a moment that you were there, enjoying a Christmas feast while being served by your servants. Sounds amazing doesn't it, only it was 10 times better. Maybe not the ox heart though.
Yes, you might think that these sophisticated aristocratic families might have had excellent taste in food. Think again. On the menu were oxheart in jelly, roast quail with grapes, pigs' hearts cooked in brine, and roasted pig's head. What were they thinking? You would certainly not find today's royals eating such absurd cuisine. Today the aristocratic families enjoy a more standard Christmas dinner, like turkey and a good old Christmas pudding.
If you wanted a turkey for your Christmas dinner in the 1930's you had to be prepared to pay up. Turkeys were so high in demand that they cost up to one week's worth of wages back then. That's pretty hard to believe since it's relatively easy to get your hands on one today.
Back then you couldn't just go to the shops and buy yourself a frozen turkey. No, you had to make your way to a turkey market, where turkeys would be auctioned off according to their size. If you didn't have money for a turkey, you had a choice between chicken or peafowl. The tradition was to wait up until the very last minute before buying your turkey, it apparently made it taste better.
Why is it that so many old Christmas traditions have a creepy connotation to them? That's in stark contrast to the happy, cheery image of Christmas we know today. Much like the supposed marching bands, carol singers went around the neighborhood singing songs, in order to get food and money from their audience.
Why on earth would you dress in a creepy costume in order to go sing for your neighbor. Well, back in 1910 this trend wasn't so uncommon. It is based on the pagan tradition of 'mumming' where groups of people go to a house, sing for them and scare them into sacrificing their food and drink. Luckily in 1910, it wasn't done for this reason, but rather for charity as pictured above.
Holly, ivy, and even rosemary were some of the most popular decorations used to decorate houses. It originates from Pagan times when people decorated their houses with Holly in order to dispel any evil spirits. However, the tradition of kids hunting down holly was popularized due to the Edwardian era, because holly represented the thorns on the crown Jesus wore. The kids were instructed to go to markets and find the sacred holly, so that good luck and fortune could come their family's way.
In complete contrast, the rich kids were not so fortunate. They had to spend their Christmas at parties held in fancy hotels. They were expected to conduct themselves properly and there was no indication of any 'fun' activities for them. The most exciting thing at these parties was the section where everyone admires the big Christmas tree, which was beautifully decorated. Not even the lavish toys interested the kids, as they were terribly bored with it all.
This sounds pretty dangerous, but we can imagine that it was quite a pretty affair. Back then, before the wonders of electricity, people used candles to light up their Christmas tree. Glass or metal lanterns were used to protect the candles, but we still wouldn't trust kids around them. Imagine your tree burning down and taking all the presents with it!
Thank goodness a novelty lightening company introduced electric Christmas tree lights in 1906. People were thrilled, all of a sudden their Christmas tree would light up in bright colors. The fire hazard created by the candles didn't vanish from the face of the earth though, because these lights got very hot. Hot enough to also start a fire.
Christmas cards of this kind were very popular in both the US and UK. It featured a Santa bringing votes for woman candidates for Christmas. This is because at the time women holding political office wasn't very common. It was hugely popular because it coincided with the fight for woman's rights. Many Charities sold these cards.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw a lot of warfare. War is often characterized by heartbreak and sadness. Soldiers found a way to cheer things up though by putting trees in their trenches. This ensured that they never felt disconnected from their loved ones back home. It's pretty cool that they tried to make the best out of a bad situation.
When you went to war you knew that you would be subject to rations, and the general kindness of your fellow soldiers. Despite the fact that they mostly ate corned beef, soldiers would club together to buy some meat at local markets. They would also share the food they got sent from home. Now that's real Christmas kindness!
Many parcels were sent to the men at the front, which included letters, food, and most commonly razors. It was important to let them know that they were appreciated. Chocolate, plum pudding, books, and games were also a firm favorite among soldiers. They kept it as normal as possible and celebrated with their gifts around their custom Christmas tree.
Not just any pillowcase, but a movie star pillowcase! In 1912 the movie industry saw a boom in the states. That's why we have Hollywood today. As soon as they saw a boom was about to happen, savvy entrepreneurs started printing famous actors and actresses on pillowcases to cash in. It worked, it was a very popular gift.
Back then the people didn't know their luxuries we know today. Today it's common to see a Christmas stocking hanging over a fireplace with your name on it. Back then children used their own socks to create a stocking. Some children were smart, and looked for the biggest sock possible, to ensure the maximum amount of gifts could fit.
Kids from poor families usually got a penny toy for Christmas. Although these gifts cost barely a penny each, they were hugely popular between 1890 and 1920. They were manufactured in Germany and sold by street traders in the UK. Well, at least the children got a gift on Christmas.
This one seems odd, isn't Santa supposed to be a happy, smiling person? Well, the Santa of the early 1900s looked quite different. The tradition was to wear a paper-mache mask and a beard. If Santa looked like this today, all the children would run away. Thank goodness he looks more friendly and welcoming now.
Today we don't associate playing games with Christmas. The closest we would get is probably a game of monopoly or secret Santa. If we look at how they did it in the Victorian era, we would be surprised. They were very big on playing games. These games were often rowdy and dangerous.
The game Snapdragon was perhaps one of the most dangerous games at the time. A family would stand around a shallow bowl of raisins drenched in a flammable liquid. The liquid was then set alight. The challenge was for each person to take a raisin and put out the flame by putting it in their mouth or eating it. Ouch.
Wassailing has its origins in the Middle ages and it's derived from the Anglo-Saxon phrase meaning 'be well.' It was the tradition of people going out during the 12 nights of Christmas and singing songs like 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' in exchange for food and drink. It looked strange though, much different to normal carol groups.
Oh yes, it used to be a tradition to celebrate the donkeys around Christmas time. This tradition originated in France. The donkey would be led on a procession through the town to the local church. The donkey would then "attend" a church service by standing next to the altar. As with much of these traditions, it was followed by a wild party where Christmas was properly celebrated.
This might sound strange to you because Christmas is supposed to be a happy, cheery time where families meet around food and drink. However in the song "It's the most wonderful time of the year" the singer sings "there'll be scary ghost stories." Christmas back then was one of the coldest and darkest times of the year and it wasn't uncommon to spend it telling ghost stories.
By the Victorian era, the custom of telling ghost stories was booming. Authors made their fortunes by solely telling Christmas ghost stories. The famous writer Charles Dickens wrote the much-loved story "four ghosts and a grouchy miser," during this time. Today many of these stories have been adapted for TV.
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Even though we associate Christmas with magical elements like slays and reindeer nowadays, back in the 19th century to was heavily reliant on Science. There's no reason for this, but the fact that authors wrote wonderful Christmas stories, as science became a fascination of all, lead to a conflation of the two.
As magazines began writing about Christmas holiday experiments, the demand for science kits grew exponentially. Every child wanted to do his own experiment. Today, however, we don't associate Christmas so closely with science anymore. The kids of today prefer more 'fun' gifts.
This age-old debate was one that everyone felt very passionate about back then. The earlies artificial trees were made from something other than plastic. That's how we know them today, but during the Victorian era, birds would be responsible for the artificial trees. Trees made from goose feathers were very popular.
The use of a live Christmas tree was popularized in Germany. However, soon deforestation didn't allow everyone to have a lovely green beast in their living rooms. In the 1920s German immigrants made feather trees popular by embracing them, but soon this trend would stop when forests returned to normal and everyone could have a real tree again.
Krampus was Santa's little helper and all the children were scared of him. That's strange because today children are leaving cookies out for Santa's helpers. Back then there weren't elves or reindeer, there was only Krampus who was tasked with coming with Santa to punish all the naughty children. Today Krampus is still apart of Christmas culture in Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Hungary.
Yes, we know today Christmas is all about getting cozy on the couch with a cup of cocoa in your pajamas. Back then people used to do it differently though. They would save up for the entire year so that they could afford a fancy Christmas outfit. There was great excitement about who would wear what. How lovely.
The song "Twelve Days of Christmas" is confusing to most of us in the modern age. In America, Christmas is a holiday that starts right after Thanksgiving and stretches all the way to Boxing day on the 26th of December. That doesn't really make sense, because that's way more than 12 days.
The 12 days of Christmas are the days between Christmas and January 6th, when Epiphany is celebrated. This is the day Baby Jesus was presented to the three wise men. January 5th is the twelfth night and has a range of its own traditions, including hiding a bean in a cake and crowing the person who gets the piece of cake with the bean. The twelfth night is very popular, being the reason for costume parties and magical plays such as William Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night.'
As you can see, before the Christmas traditions we know today, there were many wild and wicked Christmas traditions. Who knows, if the Americans never popularized and commercialized the traditions we know today, maybe we would have been throwing each other with flaming raisins. We don't know about you, but we aren't so keen to be burnt by a raisin. If you like this story please let us know what you thought. We can't wait to see you again soon.