The fascinating stories behind 5 beloved Christmas traditions

By HarperLees

With the festive season now upon us, you may be stocking up on Christmas crackers, decorating the tree, and enjoying a mince pie or two.

The traditions that we enjoy year after year are some of the things that make Christmas such a special time of the year. Have you ever wondered where they originate from though? Why do we display a tree in our living room for one month of the year, and who decided to put the “snap” in a Christmas cracker?

Read on to discover the fascinating stories behind five of the most popular Christmas traditions.

1. Christmas crackers

Your Christmas dinner isn’t complete unless you’ve pulled a Christmas cracker, donned the paper hat, and groaned at the terrible joke inside.

The tradition is thought to have begun when Victorian confectioner Tom Smith brought a bonbon home to London from his travels in Paris. The sweet treat wrapped in colourful paper was an instant hit, but its popularity was somewhat short-lived. In a bid to revive the population’s interest, Smith added a love note into the wrapping as well as a sound effect.

Smith patented his first Christmas cracker in 1847, and the novelty hasn’t worn off since.

2. Christmas markets

Christmas markets are a popular destination for people across the world as the festive season approaches. The more traditional markets offer handmade gifts and decorations as well as mulled wine and Christmas treats, while the bigger events include rides and ice skating too.

The tradition of holding a Christmas market is thought to date back to 1298, when citizens were permitted to hold a Krippenmarkt during Advent. A later market, held in Saxony in 1384, is thought to be the very earliest of the open-air markets you’re familiar with today.

3. Mince pies

Mince pies are a British favourite at Christmas, but they weren’t always the sugary sweet treats you enjoy today.

In the middle ages, mince pies were typically filled with meat, fruit, and preserving liquid and were made to preserve meat without using salt. They were also traditionally rectangular in shape to represent the manger in which baby Jesus slept.

By the late Victorian era, mince pies were filled with fruit rather than meat, although they did still contain suet.

4. Christmas trees

The question of when it’s appropriate to put the tree up each year can be a divisive one, but even more mysterious is where the tradition of Christmas trees came from in the first place.

Evergreen trees have been used as decoration for traditional celebrations for thousands of years. Some believe that modern Christmas trees can be traced back to “paradise trees” (evergreen trees decorated with apples and displayed in people’s homes on 24 December) in Germany in the middle ages.

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria are credited with popularising the Christmas tree in England after an illustration of the royal family standing around a Christmas tree appeared in a newspaper in 1848. Soon after this, Christmas trees became a popular decoration for families across England during the festive season.

5. Christmas carols

Nowadays, you likely only sing carols at Christmas, but many centuries ago, carols were sung at lots of different times of the year.

The first carols are thought to have been sung between the 4th and 14th centuries to celebrate events throughout the year such as harvest and spring, as well as Christmas. They were usually sung while carollers joined hands in a circle for a dance.

Over the years, the dance fell out of favour, as did the year-round carols. But with so many festivities happening around Christmas time, these carols have remained popular right up to the present day.

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Please note

This article is for information only. Please do not act based on anything you might read in this article. All contents are based on our understanding of HMRC legislation, which is subject to change.