Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We do not know exactly when Christians first celebrate the birth of Christ; many historians believe this was in the 4th century when Christmas replaced pagan celebration of the winter solstice. [E1] [ES1] [F1] [I1]
The Ancient Romans honoured Saturn (the god of agriculture) on December 17. This festival was called saturnalia [E1] [ES1] [F1] [I1] during which Romans had parties and gave presents to their family and friends. Also Scandinavians pagan tribes had a festival called Yule [E1] [ES1] [F1] [I1] which celebrated the winter solstice. It used to last for twelve days and started on December 21 or 22. To celebrate Yule the men brought home a big log and burn it. They believe the log helped bring back the sun and the family celebrated until the log stopped burning. The tradition of Yule were fir trees, holly, mistletoe, cakes, and presents. They also believe that mistletoe had magic power.
The Church wanted the pagans to become Christians so it decided to give to these two pagan festivities a Christian meaning. Thus the Roman Catholic Church chose December 25. Some of the ancient traditions are still in use, such as giving presents to family and friends, the Yule log tradition or the mistletoe as a good luck wish. Also the fir tree is an ancient tradition, that nowadays is the Christmas tree.
Today’s traditional British Christmas comes from Victorian times [E1] [ES1] [F1] [I1] , which was a very special event. It was a time for the family to be together, there were special foods, music, carols and games around the Christmas tree.
As said before, a typical symbol of Christmas is the Christmas tree. It is a German tradition, in fact Germans had a fir tree in their houses which they decorated with biscuits and candles. Today almost every Christian family has a Christmas tree at home decorated with lights, angels and a star at the top of the tree. Another tradition in Great Britain during Christmas time are Christmas carol, which are typical song and music. People sings Christmas carols in church, in town centres and sometimes still in front of neighbors’ houses.
A traditional Christmas day
On Christmas Eve many Christians go to church at midnight and on Christmas Day families usually spend time together. Presents are part of Christmas tradition and children open them on Christmas morning around the Christmas tree. In Great Britain there is a very special launch and cracker are an old tradition linked to it. Crackers [E1] [E2] are little boxes shaped as candies; two people pull he cracker until it bangs and opens. Inside there is a small present, a paper hat and a joke.
In America families spend Christmas Day together at home. They play games and watch Christmas movies on television. In the evening they have a big Christmas dinner with special food.
On December 26 Americans return to work, but the British don’t. In great Britain December 26 is Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day. The name Boxing Day has a meaning: long ago the English masters gave their servants a Christmas box with small presents on December 26.
Father Christmas or Santa Claus is another symbol of Christmas tradition. It comes from St Nicholas [E1] [E2] [ES1] [F1] [I1] story. He was a 4th century Christian bishop of Asia Minor. He was very generous and kind. In the eighteen century the Dutch settlers of New York took tradition of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) to America. Today Father Christmas is depicted as an old man with a white bird and he wear a red suit. He drives a sleigh pulled by reindeers. He comes down the chimney with toys for children who leave biscuits and milk for Father Christmas. [E1] [E1] [ES1] [F1] [I1]
Class activity to test comprehension:
Are these sentences True or False?
1. No one know exactly when Christians started celebrating Christmas.
2. Christmas replaced pagan celebration.
3. The Roman festival Saturnalia began on December 25 and continued for seven days.
4. The pagan tribes of Scandinavia use to take a Log at their houses.
5. Holly, mistletoe and presents were the tradition of the Yule.
6. A typical symbol of nowadays Christmas is Christmas Tree.
7. The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day in America.
8. Father Christmas is a young boy who drives a fast car.
Surfing the net:
Christmas class activities