How to play a hot victorian Christmas game without get burned

In the 19th century, a regular Christmas was a little different. For holiday fun, revelers in the United States, Canada and England scared their friends with ghost stories, fortune-telling, and played boisterous party games. One of these, the so-called snapdragon, was a parlour game popular from about the 16th century and is rarely part of anyone’s Christmas these days. After all, it involves pulling sweets from a puddle of flames! The game itself is simple: take a wide, flat plate, and cover it with raisins. Carry the plate into a…

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The Lord of Misrule

In some areas of England, during the late medieval and early Tudor periods, especially through the reign of King Edward VI, a custom emerged in which the lord of a manor or other great house appointed an individual to be in charge of all of the Christmas holidays. This person was titled “the Lord of Misrule”, the tradition expanded from the homes of noble families, and the Yuletide events at a manor house or at Court ran anywhere from a few days to the entire month of December. This entire…

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The day they banned Christmas

Happy and excited, millions children (and not only) across the world will tonight have one eye on the clock as the countdown to Christmas Day and their visit from Santa runs its magical course. However, it wasn’t always like that. “Bah, humbug!” has become the commonplace taunt of those wishing to distance themselves from Christmas festivities, a little bit as a direct reference to the popular Charles Dickens’ character, Scrooge. But long before him, the English Puritans under Oliver Cromwell who overthrew King Charles I in 1647 took it much…

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24# The Neapolitan nativity scene: a combination of history, art and tradition

Every year during the Christmas holidays there are two categories of people, those who prefer the nativity scene and those who prefer the Christmas tree. However, in Neapolitan culture this conflict almost does not exist. Although Christmas trees are decorated even in the beautiful Italian city, the nativity scene is the real star of the season. The reasons are endless and have historical, cultural and artistic roots. The idea of representing the nativity of Christ during the Christmas period comes from St. Francis of Assisi, who created the first nativity…

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23# The curious story of the Swedish Yule goat

In Sweden there is a town that every year celebrates the start of the Christmas season by putting up a giant straw statue of a goat. Then folks wait (and sometimes bet) on whether the goat will make it to Christmas. The reason? The town of Gävle has another, very different, tradition: every year someone tries to burn down the goat! But, above all…why a goat? For hundreds of years, folks in northern Europe had big festivals in December called Yule, traditions that became part of regular Christmas celebrations in…

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22# History of the tradition of Christmas Elves

Uncertain, lost in fantasy and popular tales, is the concept of Christmas elves. Most modern folks think of elves as Santa’s helpers, often in the form of little people who work at the North Pole busily making toys for good children all over the world. But these elves are a relative recent invention, a creation from 19th century minds full of fantasy. Actually, elves have their origins deeply staked in ancient mythology and their history, unlike St. Nicholas, is completely lacking any relation to religion, deity or the divine. Most…

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21# Caganer: the best Christmas souvenir from Spain

The so-called Caganer is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia, despite you can also found it in other areas of Spain (where they are called cagones), Portugal (cagões), some areas of Southern France (Père la Colique), and southern Italy, especially in Naples (cagone or pastore che caga) where nativity culture is a must. The name “El Caganer” means, not by chance, “the pooper”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a Catalan peasant…

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20# The true story of Silent Night

It was 1914 when soldiers on both sides of the battlefield somewhere in France were enduring a dark and frozen Christmas Eve night. World War I, or the Great War, as it is called still today, eventually took the lives of more than 10 million people. And, of course, the mostly soldiers of that Christmas Eve were contemplating much more beyond their longings for home and warmth and family. When soldiers on the German line placed candles on small Christmas trees and raised them above their trenches it touched the…

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19# Why we leave oranges in Christmas stockings?

A modern child would probably be disappointed by the goodies found in the Christmas stockings of the past. In the past, stocking stuffers were more like candies, nuts, and fresh oranges, all of which were considered to be a real treat at the time. The holiday tradition may have started during the Great Depression, or war time, when many families couldn’t afford to buy holidays presents and gifted these sweet and hard-to-come-by fruits instead. And in fact, waking up on Christmas morning and finding a fresh orange in your stocking…

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18# Animals in the story of Christmas

Animals play a prominent role a Christmas, regardless of whether or not religious beliefs are behind it. The story of Rudolph, the red nosed reinder, is probably the most popular example of an animal that has become a Christmas icon. However, there are many animals are central to the story of Christmas and, as with all things Christmas we turn back to ancient history to find out the tradition behind it. According to Viking tradition, the northern Germans and Scandinavians celebrated Yule, a pagan religious festival heralding the arrival of…

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17# The curious story of Zwarte Piet

Before elves and reindeer, St. Nicholas had a much more eerie assistant, such a Black Peter and, interestingly, the physical opposite of St. Nicholas himself! Tall and gaunt with a dark beard and hair, Black Peter was associated with the punitive side of Christmas. Traditionally St. Nicholas would hand out presents to good children, while it fell to Black Peter to dole out coal, and sometimes knocks on the head, to children who misbehaved. The story of Black Peter (or Zwarte Piet in Dutch), began in Holland in the 15th…

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16# The legend of Christmas Bells

Bells, especially Church Bells, have traditionally been associated with Christmas for a long time. In some churches it is traditional that the largest bell in the church is rung four times in the hour before midnight and then at midnight all the bells are rung in celebration. In the Catholic Church, Christmas and Easter are the only times that Mass is allowed to be held at Midnight, and It’s traditional that at both midnight Masses, the church and altar bells too in many cases are rung while the Priest says…

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15# Mumming: another unusual Christmas tradition

Just as Wassailing, Mumming is an ancient pagan custom too, and basically an excuse for people to have a party at Christmas. It means literally “making diversion in disguise” and the tradition was that men and women would swap clothes, put on masks and go visiting their neighbors, singing, dancing or putting on a play with a silly plot. Not by chance, the leader or narrator of the mummers was dressed as Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, if you prefer. The custom of Mumming might go back to Roman times,…

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14# Iceland’s Yule Lads: like 13 small amazing Santas

If you arent’t lucky enough to have been born in Iceland, or not have visited the island through a Christmas season, you probably won’t have never heard of the Yule Lads. One by one they’re said to visit children in the 13 days leading to Christmas. Children leave their shoes on the window, and if they’re good they’re filled with candy and toys, while if they’re bad they get a raw potato. They’re also to leave specific treats for each lad, corresponding to his personality: there’s Stekkjarstaur, translated as Sheep…

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13# The terrifying tradition of the Mari Lwyd

Wales is often known for having a rich and interesting history, full of iconic folklore and strange traditions. However, one the weirdest part of the regional tradition involves a creepy horse figure and some rhyming battles. Yes, it’s almost time for the so-called Mari Lwyd, also know as Gray Mary in English or Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, a pre-Christian tradition believed to bring good luck. Mari Lwyd is basically a Zombie Horse that visits people’s homes during the Christmas season. Many Welsh believe that horse brings good luck in…

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12# Wassailing: a very ancient custom in past centuries

The tradition of wassailing is a very ancient custom: in centuries past, so-called wassailers went from door to door, singing (and drinking) to the health of their neighbors. This concept actually dates back to pre-Christian fertility rites, when villagers traveled through their fields and orchards in the middle of winter, singing and shouting to drive away the spirits that supposedly might inhibit the growth of future crops. As part of this celebration, they also poured wine and cider on the ground to encourage fertility in the crops. Eventually, this evolved…

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11# What’s behind the holiday tradition of hanging socks on the fireplace?

Of course, the history of Christmas stockings is based in myth and legend. Exactly where the custom came from is debatable, but cultures around the world include the stocking in their holiday traditions. In yet another version of the story of Saint Nicholas, probably the man behind Santa Claus, lies the origin of the tradition of washing the stockings on the night before Christmas and hanging them up on the window sill or near the hearth, to receive gifts from Santa himself. It is said to happen 17 centuries ago…

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10# A spider for Christmas?

Long, long ago, on one Christmas Eve, the spiders were banished from homes as they were cleaned for Christmas and their webs were broken. They just managed to survive, and had to move to the farthest corner of the attic for the time being. However, as story goes, some of the young spiders longed to see the decorated Christmas trees and Baby Jesus that traditionally came to bless the homes in the midnight. Despite the elders tried to make them understand that they were not allowed inside the rooms, the…

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9# The legend of sage plant

Christmas is one of the most popularly celebrated festivals around the world and is observed in really lot ways and, as any other holiday, it is also associated with lots of stories, symbols and legends, including the legend of sage plant, a story that has been associated with Christmas since times unknown. Known for its caring and helpful nature, sage plant is said to have protected Mother Mary and Baby Jesus from Herod, a merciless king who was on a killing spree. King Herod was outraged when he heard that…

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8# The legend of Christmas Robin

The little red-breasted, cheerful robins, often called also the Christmas robins, indicate the season of sun and spring. This rather ordinary bird holds such tremendous importance to Christmas that probably everybody know its legend. Robins are known in fact for having shared the holy stable of Bethlehem, with Jesus’ family, when the other animals chose not to respond to Mary’s constant appeals. Now these colorful birds are regarded as the traditional symbol of UK and can often be found on greeting cards and gift wrappers. They also use robin decorations…

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7# The long and curious tale of Poinsettia

Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs called them “cuetlaxochitl”, and they had many uses for them, including using the flowers (actually special types of leaves known as bracts rather than being flowers) to make a purple dye for clothes and cosmetics, and the milky white sap was made into a medicine to treat fevers. It is said that Montezuma, the last of the Aztec emperors, was so captivated by…

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6# Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

Kissing under sprigs of mistletoe, one of the most famous symbols of Christmas, is a well-known holiday tradition. However, this little plant’s history as a symbolic herb dates back thousands of years, and many ancient cultures prized it for its healing properties. The plant’s romantic overtones most likely started with the Celtic Druids of the 1st century A.D. Because mistletoe could blossom even during the frozen winter, they came to view it as a sacred symbol of vivacity, and they administered it to humans and animals alike in the hope…

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5# The legend of the noble evergreen trees

It is Christmas time: fresh Christmas trees are just about on every street corner, or waiting to be cut, taken home and dressed in holiday sparkle. But how did evergreen trees, whether pine, spruce or fir, become one of the symbol of Christmas? There are many legends surrounding the history of Christmas trees and what evergreen trees symbolize. The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans, for istance, used branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice,…

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4# The legend of Madelon and the Christmas rose

Christmas is the season of giving gifts showing love towards one another (well, more or less). But this does not mean that the gifts are the sole expression of your love, as gift is never costlier or more valuable than something that comes straight from the heart. The tradition of gifts during Christmas originated from the kind gestures of the three Wise Men who brought expensive presents for the Infant Jesus to welcome him into this world, or maybe from Babushka, the Russian popular character, so popular that many Russians…

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3# The story of Babushka and the three kings

For many, Christmas is a time of merry making and gift giving, of bonding with friends and family and of spending time in the warm glow of love. And, of course, gifts are the most awaited part of the beloved holiday. It is a tradition which, according to legends, has continued since the birth of Christ, when He was offered the first gifts that would later become an important aspect of the celebration of his birth. And like gifts, Christmas stories are also an integral part of the occasion. Every…

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2# The legend of Candy Cane

Along with candles, wreaths, stars, bells and mistletoes, there is another ubiquitous decorative item for Christmas, one of the favorite for children: the candy cane. In fact, it is so popular that it is one of the most visible items in any decoration, from Christmas tree, to restaurants or the shop windows. They can be hung with colorful ribbons and can be used to decorate almost anything, from an entire room to a cake or a tree. The candy cane is simple, eye-catching, and what’s more, it’s tasty. Though candy…

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1# The myths and legends behind Christmas

Christmas is usually considered a Christian festival, but it’s probably the most syncretized holiday on the calendar. The Puritans banned it in England during Cromwell’s dictatorship, from 1647 to 1660, but also in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The Puritans recognized (albeit sourly) that Christmas was about as Christian as a pentacle. This is one major reason why the Christmas season is so long, as it incorporates traditions that go back centuries before Christ. In fact, Christmas wasn’t even incorporated into Christianity until nearly four centuries after Christ’s death and,…

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Boilo: the original Coal Miner Liquor

In Pennsylvania’s Coal Region, chilly winters have long been accompanied by a powerful and potentially explosive companion, known as boilo. Typically, it’s an orange brew made of liquor, honey, citrus fruit, and spices and, sometimes, raisins or ginger ale are added to the mix. My brother recently learned many truths about boilo, but none more prominent than this: everyone loves talking about its propensity to explode. And it’s understandable: heating up a vat of alcohol over an open flame is not exactly the safest kitchen mission! Boilo is potent to…

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23# Julmust: the soft drink that outsells Coca-Cola during Christmas seasons in Sweden

Julmust is a soft drink that is typically consumed in Sweden during the Christmas season. Its name come from from Jul, the Swedish word for “Christmas,” and must, a common winemaking term for what you call the not yet fermented juice from fruit meant for wine or cider production. Julmust, which tastes like a blend of cola and root beer, was created by Swedish chemist Harry Roberts in the early 20th century as a nonalcoholic alternative to beer. Harry got the recipe from Germany where he studied chemistry and have…

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22# Black Cake: a Caribbean tradition

If you’re among people who can’t wait to plan (well in advance) Christmas every year, it’s never too early to start preparing the Caribbean holiday treat! Known as black cake or Christmas cake, to prepare this dessert the islanders soak dried fruit in rum and cherry brandy for up to a year before baking. Before baking, the fruit soaks in rum and cherry brandy until it’s so plump and intoxicated, that only good things can come from it! After British colonists introduced plum pudding, which is more like cake than…

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