Christmas wasn’t always celebrated on the 25th December and in fact it may have little to do with the actual date of the birth of Jesus which is not known. Archaeologists have traced the origins of the first Christmas to be celebrated on the 25th December, 300 years before the birth of Christ. The original event marked the consecration of the ancient world’s largest sun god statue, the 34m tall, 200 ton Colossus of Rhodes.
In Italy many children get two sets of gifts – one on the 24th of December and a larger gift on the 6th of January. On this day, Italians celebrate Epiphany Day and according to popular belief a witch called La Befana arrives in the night to fill good children’s stockings with sweets, while naughty ones get chunks of black coal.
Only 1% of the population in China celebrates Christmas where it is treated more like Saint Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s Day and people like to go out to the cinema, to a karaoke bar or to the shopping malls. Apples wrapped in cellophane printed with messages are traditionally given because the word ‘apple’ sounds like ‘Christmas Eve’ in Mandarin. Most of the Christmas decorations that we buy are made in China.
Nowadays, the Christmas feast still means roast turkey and all the trimmings for most British households, but many years ago a traditional Christmas dinner included a pig’s head served with mustard sauce. Crackers are traditionally pulled as part of Christmas celebrations in the UK, usually when sitting down to lunch. Looking like giant sweets, baker Tom Smith of London is credited with inventing crackers in 1847 when he got the idea after encasing his bon-bon sweets in a twist of paper, which is also where we get the traditional sweet wrapper from.
The tradition of Christmas trees goes all the way back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans, who marked the winter solstice with evergreen trees such as pines or firs as a reminder that spring would return. In the 16th century in Germany they decorated their trees with fruits and nuts. Tinsel originated in Nuremberg, Germany in 1610 when thin strands of real silver were put into trees to reflect candlelight, but only the wealthy could afford to decorate their trees like that because silver was very expensive. Today, tinsel is made from PVC
Did you know that there are 3 towns in the USA that are named Santa Claus; in Georgia, Arizona and in Indiana? Decorating trees with electric lights did not become popular in the United States until after World War II, but nowadays roughly 150 million sets of light are sold each year. The world’s largest Christmas present was the Statue of Liberty. The French gave it to the US in 1886. It is 46.5 meters high and weighs 225 tons!
Every year, the people of Gävle, Sweden build the world’s largest Christmas goat from straw in their main square where it stands from the first Sunday of Advent until after New Year or until the day that somebody attempts to burn the 13-metre goat down, which happens on a regular basis. The Gävle goat has been burned down 29 times since it first appeared in 1966, and damaged in other ways a further eight times.
40% of Swedish families gather around their televisions to watch Donald Duck! Every year since 1959, at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the 1958 special KalleAnkaochhansvännerönskar God Jul (Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas) hosted by Jiminy Cricket, is shown on Sweden’s main public television channel, TV1.
In Iceland, Christmas celebrations start on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, when families get together to enjoy a meal, traditionally roast lamb. Children place a shoe in their bedroom window each evening in the 13 days before Christmas and every night one of the ‘Yuletide lads’ visits, leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how well the child has behaved the day before.
Rio de Janeiro is home to the world’s largest floating Christmas tree. The tree, first erected in 1996, is constructed on a metal frame 70 metres high and has 900,000 LED lightbulbs. Papai Noel, Father Christmas, travels from Greenland to Brazil to give presents to the Brazilian children. Brazil celebrates Christmas in the middle of summer so the days are hot and sunny, and some people think that Papai Noel wears a red silk suit to keep him cool instead of his cosy red and white fur trimmed robes.
Russians celebrate Christmas on the 7th January and for most of them the main winter holiday is the New Year. Following the revolution in 1917, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday in 1929 and Christmas Trees were banned until 1935 when they turned into ‘New Year’ Trees. If people did want to celebrate Christmas, they had to do it in secret in their families. Some Russians follow a strict Nativity Fast for forty days leading up to Christmas Eve which is broken at the appearance of the first star in the sky that night. Fortune telling is an old tradition that is still practiced today for fun with rituals involving the whole family including Tarot reading and tea leaf reading.