This week we are celebrating Christmas time!
And here is some very detailed information about Christmas time and Christmas celebrations in the United Kingdom.
Advent - (Four Sundays Before Christmas)
Advent is not widely celebrated in England, its celebration actually originated in Germany, although in the church calendar Advent is the official start of the run up to Christmas.
Two traditions that have caught on in England are the Advent calendar and the Advent candle. The Advent Calendar originated in the 19th Century from the protestant area of Germany. Protestant Christian families made a chalk line for every day in December until Christmas Eve. Before long, commercial entrepreneurs started replacing the ephemeral chalk lines with printed calendars. The first known Advent Calendar is for the advent of 1851. Nowadays it is usually a thin rectangular card with 24 or 25 doors. The doors are numbered 1-24/25. Door number 1 is opened on the 1st of December, door 2 on the 2nd etc. Behind each door there is a Christmas scene (but the most popular ones have a chocolate behind each door) .
An Advent candle often has 25 marks on it, a bit of the candle is burned down by one mark each day. In some homes, 24 candles are kept, one for each night from December 1 through Christmas eve. One candle is lit for a while on December 1, then a new candle is added each day for the 24 day period. However, it is now more common to have four candles for the four weeks before Christmas. One candle is lit on the first Sunday, two the second week and so on. The candles were often placed on a wreath upon the dining room table. Advent candles are lit in many homes, schools and churches, in England, with a final central candle lit on Christmas Day; these are often on a hanging decoration known as an "Advent Crown." They became exceedingly popular due to a children's TV programme called Blue Peter, who every year made an advent crown from old coathangers, tinsel and candles! Well, they used to use candles, but because of health and safety insanity they now give instructions using baubles - it's not really the same, but you can make an advent crown following the instructions in this pdf file.
Christmas Eve - December 24th
In England less emphasis is placed on Christmas Eve than in other countries, much more is made of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Carol singing, midnight church services and going out to the pub are some of the activities that many families enjoy (sometimes all three activities can be combined into one fun night out!).
Night time on Christmas Eve though is a very exciting time for young children. It is the time when Santa or Father Christmas comes. They hang up their stockings and go to sleep. Santa and his elves make all the toys for Christmas in his home in Greenland. On Christmas Eve he piles all of the toys onto his sleigh and rides across the sky with his 9 reindeer (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner (or it may be Donder), Blitzen and of course ... Rudolf!). The most famous one is Rudolf the who is always the one at the front, to lead the way with his red nose. In the morning when the children wake up they open their stocking presents. Traditionally on Christmas Eve mince pies and sherry (or milk) are left out for Santa and nowadays carrots are left for his reindeer. Most children are in bed way before midnight waiting for Santa to visit.
The origins of the now traditional Christmas Celebration, distinct from earlier pagan winter holidays, date to sixth century England. By the middle ages, it was a well established important holiday, with traditional pageantry, customs, music and feasting all its own. Customs from pre Christian days were incorporated into the Celebrations, and many still remain.
However in 1647, the English parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal, all festivities were banned by the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting and revelry on what was supposed to be a holy day to be immoral. The ban was lifted only when Cromwell lost power in 1660.
In Britain, the Holy Days and Fasting Days Act of 1551 (which has not yet been repealed) states that every citizen must attend a Christian church service on Christmas Day, and must not use any kind of vehicle to get to the service There are a large number of Britons who break this law every year. The law may have been intended to encourage humility by forcing even the wealthy to attend the church on foot, or perhaps it was simply to avoid the traffic and parking crush that universal attendance would otherwise have brought about.
Later, during Queen Victoria's reign, Christmas became a time for gift giving, and a special season for children.
Nowadays, according to research by, of all things, Jarlsberg cheese, the average family gets out of bed just before 8am and is ready to start opening presents by 8.19am. Once the wrapping paper has been torn off all the presents, the family sits down to breakfast at 9.02am, but not before they have tucked into a bit of chocolate at 8.39am.
13 per cent of families always attend church on Christmas Day.
Unfortunately all the excitement and stress means that at precisely 9.58 on Christmas morning the first rows begin, and the average parent ends up losing it, and they start to tell off their children for the first time around 11.07am.
The strain of cooking the big Christmas dinner sees the average Brit start to sip their first alcoholic drink at 11.48am.
27 per cent of families sit down to watch the Queen’s Speech.
Dinner is finally served at 3.24pm, with 85 per cent of people enjoying the traditional turkey with all the trimmings.
All that food and drink means the first person falls asleep at around 4.58pm, with dad being the leader in losing the "staying awake" battle. Almost half of those who do nod off end up annoying the others with their loud snoring. For those who manage to stay awake, family board games are brought out at 5.46pm.
38 per cent of families think that spending time with the family is the best thing about Christmas Day.
And lights out? 11.39pm.
The Queen's Message
One Christmas ritual not drawn from an ancient tradition is the British monarch's broadcast on Christmas day. The tradition began in 1932 when King George V read a special speech written by Rudyard Kipling. The broadcast was an enormous success . It began, "I speak now from my home and from my heart, to you all...".
Queen Elizabeth II continues the tradition to this day. Every year she broadcasts her message on Christmas Day, and it is heard by millions of people all over the world. In England most people watch or listen to it whilst digesting their Christmas Dinner!
Boxing Day - December 26th
In England Boxing Day celebrated on December 26th, is traditionally a time to give gifts to tradesmen, servants, and friends.
It originated in medieval times, when every priest was supposed to empty the alms box of his church and distribute gifts to the poor. Wealthy people indulged in huge Christmas feasts, and when they were finished, packed up the remains of feasts in boxes and gave them out to their servants. It didn't become widely celebrated though until Victorian England.
In Ireland there is an Irish custom called "feeding the wren". The custom is based on a legend of St. Stephen. Once he was forced to hide in a bush, but a chattering wren gave him away. In the past Children caged the wren to help it do penance for this misdeed. Nowadays children carry a long pole with a holly bush at the top - which is supposed to hide a captured wren.
In the UK Boxing Day is still a public holiday, some shops and supermarkets open nowadays, but banks and most offices remain closed.
The Twelve Days of Christmas - December 26th to January 6th
The sixteenth century saw England first officially celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night premiered in the first year of the seventeenth century, in a performance at the court of Elizabeth the First.
Advent is usually solemn and religious in spirit, while Saint Steven's Day marks the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas, a light hearted time given over to merry making and fun. It is a holiday of heart-warming homecoming and family gatherings, with candles glowing in the windows as a sign of welcome.
During the ancient 12-day Christmas celebration, it was considered unlucky to let the log in the fireplace stop burning. This log was called the Yule log and would be used to light the fire in New Year, to ensure that good luck carried on from year to year. The Yule Log custom was handed down from the Druids, but with the advent of gas and electric fires it is rarely observed nowadays.
Another custom in medieval times, was to hide a dried bean in a cake, the cake was then eaten on Twelfth Night (January 6), during the most boisterous party of the year. The finder of the bean became "King of the Bean" and ruled the party for the night.
Another eating myth is that for every mince pie you eat over the 12 days of Christmas you will have a month of good luck the following year!
However, according to A Celebration and History(ISBN 0-679-74038-4), by Leigh Grant, the written lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" first appeared in Mirth without Mischief in the early 1780s in England. Grant states that the tune to which these words are sung apparently dates back much further and came from France. Mirth without Mischief describes "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a type of memory game played by children at that time. A leader recited the first verse, the next child recited the second verse, and so on until someone missed a verse and had to pay some kind of penalty in the game. There was no religious significance. At anyrate the popular urban myth makes a good story... at least as good as the song itself, so here is a slice of urban myth culture for you: A very famous song about this time of year is "The Twelve Days of Christmas", which has a very interesting history. During the period 1558 to 1829 Catholics in England were prohibited from any practice of their faith by law - private or public. It was a crime to be a Catholic. Some people say that the song was written to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith during that period when to be caught with anything in 'writing' indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned, but could also get you hanged, drawn and quartered! The song's gifts are allegedly hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. "True Love" mentioned refers to God. "Me" refers to every baptized person, here are the other lyrics and their other hidden meanings. However, some people say this is an Urban Myth, but you can make your own mind up.