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What Is The Christmas Story?                                                                                    9

             What is the Christmas

           story? The history behind

           our festive traditions and

                      Santa Claus

           How many of us stop to think how it
               all began? Discover where our
           Christmas traditions come from and
           how we celebrate Christmas Day on
                    the 25th of December

          They're the essential bits of Christmas.
          Squeezing a fir tree into your living room.
          Eating an odd-looking bird.  Welcoming an
          intruder who breaks in by coming down the
          chimney. Gazing at your fifth mince pie of the
          day and finally wondering what on Earth might
          be in it.
                                                          with top-of-the range gifts such as jewellery,  Oliver Cromwell in 1647 as "lewd behaviour"
                 How many of us stop to think how it all
                                                          ivory carvings, perfume and miniature dolls. By  and that particular law has never been repealed.
          began? Dennis Ellam did... and today he
                                                          1900 he was selling 13 million a year.                 Mincemeat at first meant what it said.
          explains where our festive traditions come
                                                                 But we can't blame Tom for the corny    There were bits of shredded meat among the
                                                          jokes and paper hats. They came later.         dried fruits and spices.
                                                                                                                 The first recipes were probably brought
          Father Christmas
                                                          Mistletoe                                      back from the Middle East by the Crusaders.
                                                                                                                 But it was the Victorians who realised
          Red robes, white beard, waist-slapping jollity
                                                          Kissing under the mistletoe really took off a  the concoction might taste better with the meaty
          and booming ho-ho-hos. He's been around for
                                                          couple of centuries ago, but the plant's racy  bits left out.
          ever, hasn't he?
                                                          reputation dates back much further than that.
                 Well, actually only since 1935, when
                                                                 In 300BC, the ancient Druids cut sprigs  Christmas pudding
          Haddon Sundblo, a Madison  Avenue
                                                          of the climber from the trunks of oak trees with
          advertising man, created Santa Claus for a
          Coca-Cola campaign.                             a golden knife.  They believed it had sexual   A close relative of the mince pie. And just as
                                                          powers and, boiled with the blood of a pair of  challenging to the waistline.
                 In previous lives he was thinner and
                                                          sacrificial white bulls, that there wasn't a finer     It first appeared on the table in the 14th
          paler, a character based on a 4th Century Asian
                                                          aphrodisiac.                                   Century when it was more like a porridge made
          bishop called Nicholas, who became the patron
                                                                 Its reputation lived on. By the 18th    of beef and mutton, with currants, prunes,
          saint of children in most of Europe.
                                                          Century mistletoe balls, trimmed with ribbons,  raisins and spices stirred in, plus a liberal
                 It was in Holland, where they called him
                                                          hung in the best hallways, where demure young  lashing of wine, thickened with breadcrumbs
          Sinterklaas, that he earned his reputation for
                                                          ladies could stand waiting underneath, lips    and egg.
          giving stuff away. A small pair of wooden shoes
                                                          puckered.                                              In the 1700s, minus the meat, it became
          would be left by the fireplace and he would fill
          them with sweets. No question of trying to fit in      The magic wears off, though. After each  a fruity end to the Christmas meal. And in the
                                                          kiss, the gentleman should pull off a berry until  1830s Eliza  Acton - the Delia of her day -
          a fashionable bodkin, let alone a Nintendo Wii.
                                                          there are none left, after which the rest of it  included a Christmas pudding recipe in her
                 Different countries still have their own
                                                          should be ceremonially burned, otherwise it's 12  cookbook.
          variations on the theme, but that fat bloke in a
                                                          months of bad luck and celibacy.                       For a humble pud, it's shrouded in
          red suit has pushed them all to the cultural
                                                                                                         superstition. You're supposed to stir it in an east
                                                          Turkey                                         to west direction, representing the journey of
                 What about Rudolph the red-nosed
                                                                                                         the Three Wise Men.
          reindeer? Debt-ridden shopworker Robert Mays
          invented him in 1947 as the hero of a bestselling  Goose was the popular choice for Christmas          A silver coin hidden inside brings good
          book that made him a fortune. The song, written  dinners for generations. Middle-class families  luck to whoever finds it. Unless, of course, he
          by an adman and a professional composer, came   with lots of relatives might go for a boar's head,  swallows it.
          two years later.  Who says Christmas isn't      while the seriously rich showed off with a swan.
          magical?                                               The turkey didn't arrive until the 1600s,                      (Continued on Page 11)
                                                          when merchants brought it back from America
          Christmas crackers                              and marketed it as an exciting new festive taste
                                                          - if you stuffed it with sage and onions and laced
                                                          it with cranberries, that is.  And ignored its
          The mastermind behind the Christmas cracker
                                                          natural dryness.
          was a London sweetshop owner called  Tom
                                                                 It really took off with the  Victorians
          Smith. In 1847, after spotting French bonbons
                                                          after Charles Dickens had Scrooge ordering a
          wrapped in paper with a twist at each end, he
                                                          turkey in A Christmas Carol.
          started selling similar sweets with a "love
                                                                 Nowadays a turkey isn't just for
          motto" inside.
                                                          Christmas. It's for sandwiches well past Twelfth
                 They were so popular as a Christmas
                                                          Night. Followed by curries if you're not careful.
          novelty that  Tom made them bigger and
          included a trinket. But the real flash of
                                                          Mince pies
          inspiration came when he poked the fire and a
          log exploded with a sharp CRACK! That gave
          him the idea for a package that went off with a  Strictly speaking, it's illegal to eat them on
          bang.                                           December 25, so watch out.
                 He launched his "Bangs of Expectation"          Feasting at Christmas was banned by
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