The best Christmas traditions in France and England

I am a big christmas fan, I love seeing the lights, smelling the mulled wine in the air as I wander throughts the streests, I like to see how excited kids get in the period, I like the fact that theire is always something cooking in the oven when I get home in preparation for the big day,I love decorating my flat and my guilty plaisure is binge watching christmas movies in my sofa with a nice cup of thea in hands.

Where does Mulled wine come from?

During the middle ages the tradition continued but merchants who travelled to Asie and who sold cinnamon and cloves began to sell them to the cooks of various aristocratic families who loved it. In the 16th century, Gustave the 1st, king of Sweden started drinking mulled wine. The recipie was slightly modified to accomodated his love for white wine from the Rhine valley (which he got thanks to the Hanseatic League of merchants from “Germany” who were selling wine and cereal in Scandinavia in exchange for dried cod and pine wood).

People started to talk about this new custom in every port of the Hanseatic league and the custom was adopted throughout Europe with slight differences in the recipe!

Christmas Carols

In December in England, Christmas Carols are sung. These are festive or religiously inspired carols. They are sung in the street, or in churches. There are even concerts dedicated to Christmas Carols! In London the tradition is to go and see them in Covent Garden, Leicester Square or Trafalgar Square. You are even invited to sing with the choir! The carolers invite you by saying “Sing along and be merry!”✨ For an unforgettable evening Pascaline advises you to go to the Royal Albert Hall, the place is magnificent and the atmosphere really magical…

King Henry VIII who was very educated, wrote himself a christmas carol which became quite popular during his reign called Green Grow’th the Holly before being abandoned after his death… As a reminder Henry VIII was king at the same time as François 1er in France.

Every year in December there is a new Christmas album in the shops with the same songs as the previous year but performed by different artists. This is a tradition that even the greatest musicians like to follow, Mariah Carey’s version for example is world famous. So it’s up to you to do the show and reinterpret “all I want for Christmas is youuuu”!!

Le Christmas pudding

Have you ever tried making your own Christmas pudding? If you’re thinking why not, go for it! It needs to be made 4 or 5 weeks before Christmas so now is the time! It’s a cake traditionally served on Christmas Day throughout the UK, Ireland and Northern France (and yes the various wars have left some customs)…

? But what’s in it: raisins, nutmeg, almonds and candied fruit. (You can flambé it with Rum and serve it with a so british “brandy sauce” or custard.

The christmas tree

But where does the custom of the Christmas tree come from? The use of the Christmas tree during the “end of year celebrations” goes back to antiquity. The pagans decorated their houses with fir branches and sometimes with the tree itself. As a reminder, Christmas is celebrated at the same time as the pagan winter solstice festivals! This was very useful for converting people to Christianity during the various barbarian and Viking invasions.

In France, the custom of the Christmas tree is very old, it is thought to have started in Alsace and to have come to us from Germanic and Scandinavian countries. The fir tree is one of the only evergreen trees, it represents the triumph of life over death in winter and this is why it was widely adopted and then spread by the church since its symbolism is strong. From the 16th century in Alsace, the fir tree is known as the Christmas tree.

St Nikolaas day celebrations

Once upon a time in Lorraine, three little children went to glean in the field. One evening, having strayed too far from home, they ended up losing their way. Suddenly they saw a thatched cottage. The children knocked three times on the door. There lived an evil butcher, the ogre Cayate. “Come in, little children! There’s room for you, of course. No sooner had they entered than the butcher killed them. He cut them into small pieces and threw them into his saltbox as a pig!

7 years later, the good St. Nicholas came to pass by this field and knocked at the butcher’s door. “Butcher, do you want to put me up?
So soon after entering he asked for supper. “Would you like a piece of ham?
“I don’t want any, it’s not good”.
“Would you like some veal?”
“I don’t want any, it’s not good. I want to have some salted meat, that has been in the salt room for 7 years!
The butcher exclaims: “Please, good St Nicolas, please”. Butcher, repent if you want to be forgiven! He approached the salt cellar, put three fingers on it and said “Little children who are sleeping there, I am the great St Nicholas” and immediately the three children came back to life!
The first one said, “I slept well”. The second one said, “And so did I.” The third one replied, “I thought I was a child. The third replied, “I thought I was in heaven”.

And so St Nicholas becomes the protector of the children. To punish the butcher, St Nicholas tied him to his donkey. He then became the bogeyman, a violent being who punishes disobedient children!.

Sugar sticks

But where do sugar sticks come from? The first sugar sticks date back to the 17th century when the Benedictine nuns of the priory of Moret-sur-Loing (Ile-de-France) created a sweet made from a barley decoction. At the time, barley sugar was used to soothe the monks’ sore throats! At the same time the bishop of Koln Cathedral wanted the children to remain silent during Christmas mass. They had a hard time because they were so excited about Christmas! So the bishop asked a candy maker to make them sweets that looked like shepherds’ sticks, to remind the children of the adoration of the Magi and shepherds ? The tradition would have been very popular and would have spread all over Europe… Nobody is sure of it but it’s a nice story… It’s the Americans in the 20’s who industrialised the production of barley sugar which allowed to lower its cost and to distribute it to the children for St Nicolas. The department stores started to decorate their windows with candy sticks and that’s how we started to see them in the Christmas trees.

Christmas tree ornaments

The tradition of decorating Christmas trees with baubles come from? Originally, winter solstice celebrations were held around a fir or spruce tree. The tree was decorated with fruits, dried flowers and wheat. For a better “transition” the church decided to keep the same tree to celebrate Christmas, and in the 16th century it was garnished with red apples to symbolise the tree of paradise. From the 17th century onwards, it began to be decorated with apples and paper roses?

It was in 1858 that Christmas baubles made their appearance. That year, because of the great drought, there were no apples and it was necessary to suggest them, hence the creation of glass baubles! A new custom was born!

Christmas or Advent wreaths

Advent wreaths originated in the Roman Empire! Like the other traditions we have been talking about this week, during the winter solstice celebrations they wove “wheels”, wreaths of flowers that symbolised the sun, renewal, time and therefore life. When Pope Liberus in 354 officially designated the 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, he decided to reuse this pagan custom and give it the name of Christmas wreath. Today there are two types of wreaths, the Advent wreath with four candles that are lit each Sunday of Advent. From the 16th century onwards, the Scandinavian custom of wreaths made of branches and coloured ribbons was taken up again in Germany, still thanks to the famous merchants of the Hanseatic League, and then in the rest of Europe.

Christmas cards

❄ But where do greeting cards come from? ☃️On the English side of the Channel it is thought that the first greeting card was given to King St James I in 1611, that year he received a card (very large, the size of a manuscript) with a rose painted in the centre and around it 4 poems wishing him “a merry Christmas and a happy New year”.

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole decided to have cards decorated by one of his artist friends and to sell them to the forerunner of the post office where he worked, for 1 shilling, or about 10centimes.Greeting cards were born! And you, do you still take time to write them?

Let’s skate

❄ Originally skates were made of polished ox bone (over 10,000 years ago) and then in the Middle Ages they started to be made of wood. The Dutch became experts in the field thanks to the canals which froze all winter in the 16th and 17th centuries (as can be seen in the paintings). In France it was Queen Marie-Antoinette who made skating fashionable, she had grown up in Austria where everyone skated in winter. A few years later a book was published, “The true skater or the art of skating with grace”. In England, the first skating club was created in the 1840’s and 2 years later the first artificial ice rink was created by Henry Kirk.

It was an immediate success and his idea was taken up in New York! When in 1850 Bushnell invented steel skates, it allowed everyone to take up skating, which officially became a sport. In London, ice skating rinks are set up every year at the foot of the most beautiful monuments, at the Tower of London, the Natural History Museum and Sommerset House. What about you? Do you like ice skating?

A christmas Carol

❄✨Charles Dickens is known for Oliver Twist and ‘A Christmas Carol’. Does it ring a bell? It is the story of an old man, Mr Scrooge who has become disillusioned with life, grizzled and bitter. On Christmas Eve he is visited by three ghosts.

The ghost of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come if Mr Scrooge continues to live as he does…alone, desperately alone and acting as if he is heartless. He decides to change everything and spends Christmas with his family and his employee.

For the full version of the tale go to the Charles Dickens House website!

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