Christmas statistics and traditions
Christmas 2008 saw the UK consuming approximately 10 million turkeys, 25 million Christmas puddings, 250 million pints of beer and 35 million bottles of wine.
7 million children leave mince pies and a drink for Santa on Christmas Eve.
The UK spends £20bn on Christmas with £1.6bn going on food and drink.
Mince pies date back to medieval times and possibly long before. They are descended from a huge pie baked on Christmas Eve containing chopped beef, suet, nuts, spices and fruit of which whole dried plums were an important constituent. The pie was originally baked open but as time wore on a crust was added, on top of which a pastry effigy of the infant Jesus was laid to represent him lying in his cradle.
Why decorate fir trees?
This can be traced back to Roman times but was thought to be first introduced into this country in 1841 by Prince Albert. The custom of hanging fruit and baubles is both pagan and Christian. The decorations were originally used to symbolise the fruits of the earth and the fiery sun. Today seen in the form of tinsel and baubles.
Why a "kiss under the Mistletoe"?
Mistletoe has a magical reputation of conferring fertility. The berries grow in pairs on the stem and their milky, translucent appearance suggests male sexuality! A kissing bough would be suspended from a hook at the beginning of the Christmas season and young men were permitted to kiss any girl they managed to draw under the bough. These unsuitable associations led to many churches banning it and this still exists today in numerous parishes.
Why crackers and paper hats?
The earliest crackers were introduced in the 1850's in order to copy the Parisian fashion of gift-wrapping bon bons. They contained novelties and mottos but did not crack - the chemically treated paper that cracks was a later addition. Paper hats were introduced at a similar time but the tradition of wearing a hat to look foolish dates back to the Christmas plays of the middle ages.
Christmas Around The World
Henry VIII was the first English king to enjoy turkey, although Edward VII made eating turkey fashionable at Christmas. Indeed turkey was a luxury right up until the 1950's when refrigerators became commonplace. However, traditions for many countries around the globe vary enormously where the centrepiece can range from pork chops to curried goat!
Norway: The big festive feast takes place on Christmas Eve. Most people around the coastal regions eat fish - concoctions of cod and haddock and a variety called lutefisk. Inland they go for pork chops, specially prepared sausages and occasionally lamb.
Sweden: The Christmas feast consists of a smorgasbord of caviar, shellfish, cooked and raw fish and cheeses.
Ukraine: The people here prepare huge broths brimming with meat for Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day.
Czech Republic: Tradition dictates that the tree is not lit before Christmas Eve then they have a big dinner of fish soup, salads, eggs and carp. Scarily, the number of people at the table must be even or it is believed the person without a partner will die next year.
Germany: The Germans tend to have a game feast on Christmas day, usually wild boar or venison.
Jamaica: Christmas dinner usually consists of rice, gungo peas, chicken, ox tail and curried goat.
Italy: Christmas dinner in Italy can last for more than 4 hours. Most families will have 7 or more courses including antipasti, a small portion of pasta, a roast meal, followed by 2 salads and 2 sweet puddings - then cheese fruit, brandy and chocolates.
Austria: A typical Christmas dinner would consist of braised carp served with gingerbread and beer sauce.
Poland: The traditional Christmas Eve supper consists of 12 non-meat dishes, representing the months of the year and featuring fish such as pike, herring and carp. Other typical Polish dishes are fish soup, sauerkraut with wild mushrooms or peas and Polish dumplings with various fillings.