How about learning some interesting facts about Christmas?

Here is a Christmas quiz. If you don’t know the answer to these questions about Christmas traditions in English-speaking countries, the texts below will help you.

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  1. What do the English and American people call 25th December?
  2. What do the English and American people call 24th December?
  3. When is Boxing Day?
  4. When was Christmas first celebrated?
  5. What is the word Christmas derived from?
  6. When does Advent begin?
  7. What does the word Advent mean?
  8. What is an Advent crown?
  9. What country was the birthplace of the custom of making an Advent crown?
  10. What is an Advent calendar?
  11. What country did the Advent calendar originally come from?
  12. What play tells the tale of Christ’s birth?
  13. Where was the baby Jesus born?
  14. Who were his parents?
  15. Who gave baby Jesus many gifts?
  16. What do you call people who go round singing at people’s doors at Christmas?
  17. What songs do people sing on Christmas Day?
  18. What are the most famous carols?
  19. Who was the first to bring a fir tree indoors at Christmas?
  20. When and where were the first glass Christmas tree baubles made?
  21. Whose idea was to decorate the Christmas tree with tiny electric bulbs?
  22. What is the mistletoe a symbol of?
  23. What can you do under the mistletoe?
  24. Who was mistletoe a special plant for?
  25. What is holly a symbol of?
  26. Which flower is called the “flower of the blessed night”?
  27. Who was poinsettia named after?
  28. When was poinsettia adopted as the Christmas flower in the U.S.A.?
  29. Who invented the first Christmas cracker?
  30. What is the other name for Father Christmas?
  31. What does Santa Claus ride in?
  32. Who originally created Father Christmas?
  33. How does Santa Claus get into people’s houses?
  34. Where does Santa Claus put the presents in?
  35. Which bird do you see on many Christmas cards?
  36. What is the traditional Christmas dinner in Great Britain?
  37. What are mince pies like?
  38. Who was the first to make such dessert as Christmas pudding?
  39. What is traditionally placed into the Christmas pudding?
  40. When does Yuletide end?
  41. What do people burn in the fireplace on Christmas Eve?
  42. How is the last day of Yuletide called?
  43. What do people eat on the Twelfth Night?
  44. What does the person who finds the coin in his piece of cake become?
  45. How is the traditional Christmas performance for children called?
  46. Who is on the British TV at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day?
  47. When and who was the Christmas card designed by?

Would You Like to Know More About Christmas?

Christmas tree with presents and fireplace with stockings --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Christmas is the most important public and religious holiday of the year in Great Britain, the USA, Germany, Italy and many other countries. It is a happy holiday. It is becoming more and more a folk holiday. It has always been observed as a family affair. Families come together to share their happiness, attend church, and exchange gifts.

Christmas is an amalgam of the traditions from a half-dozen cultures, accumulated over centuries. Many people look on Christmas as the time to celebrate the birth of Christ, but really the celebrations go to the earliest of times. There were lots of midwinter festivals long before people started to celebrate Christmas.  Many of the Christmas customs began long before Jesus was born.

christmas-garland2

In Scandinavia and Norway people celebrated the winter soltice. They lit Yule logs as a symbol of perpetual fire and warmth.

yule-log

The Roman festival at that time was the Saturnalia. The people of ancient Rome worshipped the sun and they honoured Saturn as the god of all growing things. His special festival was held in mid winter. The Romans decorated their homes with evergreen branches to remind Saturn to send crops and plants for food the following spring. It was the custom to give evergreen branches as presents. The Saturnalia was the time of joy and fun.

The Jewish people had a festival called Hanuca in late December. This was a festival of lights and involved the lighting of candles: one on the first day, two on the second, and so on. This festival is still celebrated by Jewish people today.

hanukkah

The word Christmas is derived from the Old English Christes Maesse or Christ Mass. The mass is an ancient Christian church service at which people give praise and glory to God. In the 4th century Vatican declared that Jesus’s official birthday should be on December 25th. It coincided with a jolly pagan festivity.  So it proved to be a popular choice.  Christmas was first celebrated in the year 354.

Advent (which means “coming”) begins on 1 December. In church this is the time when people fast and pray. It is a time of great anticipation, when Christians look forward to celebrating Christ’s birthday. This is the time for decorating, baking, and exchanging cards. It is also a time for seasonal music and nativity plays. The making of an Advent crown is a custom adopted from Germany. This is a wreath of evergreens hung from the ceiling and decorated with four candles. One candle is lit on the first Advent Sunday, two on the next and so forth until all four burn for Christmas Eve.

advent-crown2

Boxing Day is on the 26th of December. Everybody gives and receives Christmas cards and presents. People do not go to work on this day. They visit friends or go to the theatre. Traditionally people put their Christmas presents into boxes. That is why the day on which they give and receive these boxes is called Boxing Day. A Christmas box is wrapped in bright coloured paper with ribbons.

boxing-day2

The Nativity Play tells the tale of Christ’s birth. Children usually perform this play themselves. They perform it at school before Christmas.

The Nativity scene is a popular feature of Christmas in homes and churches all over the world.

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Yuletide begins in the middle of December and ends on the 6th of January. All the children like this wonderful time because it is the time of much fun. A Yule log is a piece of wood, which people burn in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The lighting of the Yule log was an important part of the rites of Christmas in olden days. In medieval England, the log that burned in the hearth during the Twelve Days of Christmas was called the Yule log. Yule is an old word for the winter festival, dating back to Viking times.

Yuletide

The Twelfth Night is on the eve of the 6th of January. This is the twelfth day after Christmas day. It is the last day of Yuletide. People eat the Twelfth cake on the Twelfth night. This is a big cake with a coin baked inside. The person who finds the coin in his piece of cake becomes the king of the Twelfth night.

The Queen’s speech is on the British TV at 3 p. m. on Christmas Day.

queens-speech

Another type of decoration used at that time is the Advent calendar. This also came originally from Germany. An Advent calendar is a picture with twenty-four numbered doors, one for every day of Advent.  The doors are opened day by day. Behind each door there is a small present or sweet. The last door is opened on Christmas Eve.

advent-calendar2

The Christmas story comes from the Bible. It tells us an interesting story of shepherds watching their sheep when an angel appeared to them. He told them that a Savior was born in Bethlehem.  The shepherds went there to see Jesus. The baby Jesus was born in a stable.  His mother was the Virgin Mary and his father was Joseph. The Bible tells us how the Wise Men (the Magi) followed a star until it led them to Jesus. The Wise Men gave Jesus a lot of gifts.

nativity2

A carol is a Christmas song. The word “carol” comes from the same Greek word as chorus. People often sing carols on Christmas Eve in the streets or at home. Waits are a group of singers who sing carols.  Some of the most famous carols are “The First Noel”, “Joy to the World”, “Silent Night”.

caroling

The idea of bringing a fir tree indoors at Christmas is said to have come from Martin Luther, the German religious reformer who lived in the sixteenth century.  One day as he was walking through a forest he looked up at the sky, which was full of stars.  The beautiful sight touched him. He took home a small fir-tree and decorated it with lighted candles to show his children how beautiful the stars were.

Christmas-Tree

Glass Christmas tree baubles had their roots in Bohemia about 200 years ago. A group of glass blowers in a playful mood began blowing bubbles for fun, discarding their results in a corner. Their wives then took the glass to the Christmas market the next day and sold them as novelty ornaments.

christmas-baubles2

Candles were used to light the tree at first, and there were many bad accidents from fire. In 1895 an American telephone worker, Ralph Morris, thought how good the tiney light bulbs would look on this tree! His inspiration led to the many shapes and colors of electric Christmas tree lights manufactured today.

candles

Tom Smith, a London sweet shop owner, invented the first cracker in the 1840s. Fancy French bon-bons wrapped in colorful paper and Chinese fortune cookies with mottoes gave London confectioner the idea of making crackers. An exploding twig in his fireplace inspired him to include a cracking device in the packaging.

new-years-crackers

 

Mistletoe was a special plant for the druids, the learned class of the Celts, who lived in Britain before the days of Christianity. If it is to flourish, it needs the support of a tree, such as the oak.  The oak was a sacred tree for the druids. They believed that the evergreen mistletoe kept the spirit of the tree alive during the winter months. Mistletoe became the symbol of peace and friendship.

The Druids celebrated the start of winter by gathering mistletoe and burning it as a sacrifice to their gods. Sprigs of the plant were hung in homes to ensure a year’s good fortune and familial harmony. The Druids named the parasitic plant “all heal” and prescribed it as an antidote for poison. Gathering mistletoe was an occasion for great ceremony, and only sprigs that grew on sacred oak trees were collected – by the highest-ranking priest, and with a gold knife. The custom of embracing and kissing under a sprig of mistletoe originated among the Druids.

mistletoe-at-home

Holly, one of the most popular evergreens, is a symbol of good luck, just like the horseshoe. Ivy is a soft and clinging plant was once thought to be a symbol of woman. Holly was supposed to be a symbol of man. Entwining holy and ivy in Christmas decoration were supposed to ensure peace in the home between husband and wife in the year ahead.

holly-ivy

The adoption of the poinsettia as the Christmas flower is relatively recent. The Mexicans called the poinsettia the “flower of the blessed night. This plant resembles the Star of Bethlehem. The first United States ambassador to Mexico, Dr.Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the plant into the U.S. in 1928, where it was renamed in his honour.

poinsettias

Santa Claus is one of the most popular gift bringers. His name is an Americanism. In Europe he was known for centuries as St.Nicholas. Two aspects of St.Nicholas’s life led to his becoming Santa Claus: his generosity was legend, and he was particularly fond of children. Thanks to a nineteenth-century American cartoonist Thomas Nast Santa Claus looks the way we think he should: a jolly plump little man with rosy cheeks and white beard. It was the Americans who gave Santa Claus a sleigh and a team of reindeer. They named reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer joined the team only in 1939. Rudolph became an annual television star and a familiar Christmas image in the USA and in many European countries.

Santa-Claus-Flying-Reindeer

William Egley, an English artist in 1842, designed the first Christmas card.

Robins have been a popular image on Christmas cards since Victorian times. Many years ago postmen had bright red coats. They looked like robins. At Christmas they brought many Christmas cards. And people began to think about a robin as a Christmas bird. You can see it on many Christmas cards.

robin-on-holly

Turkey is a South-American bird and was taken to Europe after the Spanish coquest of Mexico. Today turkey is the most popular Christmas dish.

turkey

Mince pies are small round pies. They contain mixed dried fruits.

mincpies

Christmas pudding is the highlight of the Christmas dinner. Traditionally a coin is placed into the pudding. It brings good luck to a person who finds it. The traditional time for making a Christmas pudding is “Stir-up Sunday” at the beginning of Advent. The Celts were the first to make this dessert.

christmas-pudding

A pantomime is a traditional performance for children at Christmas. All the children have much fun when they watch fairy tales with princes, beautiful princesses and fiaries (“Cinderella”, “Pus in Boots”, “Dick Wittington” and many others).

pantomime

There’s a theatre in London where pantomimes are performed.

It is called Player’s Theatre.

Every pantomime has a transformation scene. During this scene miracles happen. For example, Cinderella changes into a beautiful princess. Children like these scenes very much.

There are the following characters in every pantomime: the principal boy and the principal girl (who is always married to the principal boy at the end) and the dame (who is a comic figure, usually the mother of the principal boy or girl; a man often plays this role). There is also a good fairy and a bad fairy in a pantomime.

Broker’s Men are the two clowns who usually take part in a pantomime. Children like to watch their funny tricks.

pantomime3