Christmas in Wales: Facts About Welsh Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Welsh Christmas traditions and celebrations.

  • Singing is a popular part of Christmas in Wales. Traditionally, carols were sung in churches, and also around the Christmas tree in homes, often accompanied by music played on a harp.

  • In Wales, as in other parts of the UK, the day after Christmas is celebrated as Boxing Day. The name may have come from 17th century tradesmen and postmen being given a Christmas box.
  • The traditional Welsh Christmas church service is usually between 3am and 6am on Christmas morning. Some rural churches are still lit with hundreds of decorative candles.
  • Many larger Welsh towns have a Christmas market to celebrate the festive season in. These are modelled after the famous German markets, and sell food and drink, toys and decorations.
  • Some Welsh families eat a goose on Christmas Day, instead of a turkey. Also popular is making taffy, a traditional and delicious soft chewy toffee, made from butter and sugar.
  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales is a book by the famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It is about a nostalgic and old-fashioned look at Christmas, as seen through the eyes of a small child.
  • During the late 19th century, drinking from the wassail bowl was a popular Welsh New Year tradition. An ornate bowl was filled with fruit, spices, sugar and warm beer.
  • The Mari Lwyd ritual is still practiced today in some rural parts of Wales. A group of male singers dance through the streets, carrying a large wooden and paper horse.
  • Christmas in Wales includes many seasonal delicacies and treats. Mince pies and Christmas pudding are popular, and some families hide coins and silver charms in the pudding, to bring good luck.
  • Wales is home to several historic narrow gauge steam locomotives. At Christmas, the trains are decorated with lights and wreaths, and children can ride with Father Christmas and receive a small present.

What next? Discover more facts about Wales.

Christmas in Poland: Facts About Polish Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about how Christmas is traditionally celebrated in Poland.

  • During Advent (the period leading up to 25 December) many Polish households bake piernik (gingerbread). Pierniki are made into the shapes of hearts, St Nicholas figures and animals.

  • The figure of St. Nicholas doesn’t really have a role to play on Christmas Eve in traditional Polish celebrations. Instead, he is celebrated on December 6, his saint day, when he delivers presents to deserving children.
  • Polish Christmas trees are traditionally decorated with garlands, fruit, wrapped chocolate, candles, painted eggshells, and other homemade ornaments. At the top of the tree a star is placed.
  • Candles, or sparklers in some homes, are positioned on the Christmas tree and lit on Christmas Eve. Some families leave there tree up until February 2.
  • During Advent oplatek (wafers containing a holy picture) are shared with neighbours and family.
  • Wigilia is the name given to the Christmas Eve meal eaten in Polish homes. Traditional food is served and the meal can often last for more than two hours.
  • Carp is often one of the main dishes, and nearly all families serve barszcz (beetroot soup).
  • Traditionally the meal can’t begin until the first star can be seen in the sky, and sometimes money is placed under the tablecloth for each guest to discover. Sometimes an empty chair is left at the table for the Baby Jesus or a needy traveler.
  • Some families serve 12 dishes at the Wigilia meal, one for each of the 12 Apostles.
  • Many families end their Christmas Eve celebrations by attending Pasterka (Midnight Mass). at their church.
  • In Poland, Christmas Carols are often sung after Christmas Day until February 2.
  • Poland is famed for its hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments and decorations. Most of these are produced in the south of the country.
  • Durign the Advent period, pupils in Polish schools take part in Nativity plays called Jaselka.
  • Apparently, watching the movie Home Alone has become a modern Christmas tradition in many Polish homes.
  • Merry Christmas in Polish is Wesołych Świąt.
  • Christmas presents are customarily exchanged after the meal on Christmas Eve.
  • Polish families spend Christmas Day (the First Holiday) visiting friends and family.

What next? Discover more about Poland.

Christmas in France: Facts About French Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Christmas in France.

  • In some parts of the North and Northeast of France, Christmas is celebrated on December 6th. This is the feast-day of Saint-Nicholas, and le Pere Noel (Father Christmas) brings the children sweets and small presents.

  • On Christmas Eve (December 24th), French children traditionally placed their shoes by the fire and awoke on Christmas Day to find them stuffed with small gifts, and the branches of the family’s Christmas tree full of fruits and nuts and small gifts.
  • Most French children open their Christmas presents on Christmas Day, but many French adults don’t. They wait until New Year’s Eve.
  • In the past, many French people attended Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and many still do in the present day. After the service, they would have a feast at home or in a local restaurant. This meal is called le réveillon, and it is made up of a starter of snails, oysters, seafood or smoked salmon, a main course of roast goose or turkey, and served with lots of wine.
  • Even in households who don’t attend church,  the main Christmas meal is usually eaten on Christmas Eve. Great care is taken to make the table look festive, and special ornaments are often used as decorations.
  • In French custom, Saint-Nicolas is assisted by Father Spanker or the Whipping Father (Père Fouettard). Dressed in black, Father Spanker decides which children have been good and deserve their Christmas presents, and which have been bad and deserve a spanking.
  • Many French families give money to public servants such as binmen and postmen as a way of saying thank-you for the work they have done during the year.
  • French Christmas markets are very popular and usually take place in late November and during the month of December. Two of the most famous are the Strasbourg Christmas Market (which has been running since the 16th century) and the Lille Christmas Market
  • Christmas crackers aren’t pulled at French Christmas meals.
  • Many French people visit a circus during the Christmas period.
  • The Christmas tree is the main form of Christmas decoration in most houses. Traditionally, they were decorated with apples, ribbons and paper flowers. Although the custom of decorating trees in France at Christmas time can be dated to the 1300s, the tradition really took off in the late 1830s.
  • The French often hang mistletoe above the doors in their homes to bring good fortune for the coming year.
  • A Yule log is a traditional Christmas dessert in France, usually made from chocolate sponge cake with chestnuts.
  • Some French families exchange their gifts on January 6th, the Feast of Kings, or the Feast of Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. Traditionally, a pastry (the gallette des rois – cake of kings) is eaten on this day, with a charm hidden inside. The person who finds the charm is named King or Queen and must wear a paper crown and must provide the cake for the next party.
  • A nativity scene is a common Christmas decoration in French houses. Characters include the Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and other more unusual figures (or santons), such as bakers, fruit and vegetable sellers, local noblemen, a blind man, a woman selling fish, a scissors grinder and a roast chestnut seller. The scenes are often displayed until February 2.
  • Mainly in the south of France, traditionally families burnt a wine-soaked log on their fire from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This was meant to bring good luck. Nowadays, most people eat a chocolate Yule log instead.
  • Merry Christmas in French is Joyeux Noël. Father Christmas is le Père Noël and Christmas tree is le sapin de Noël.
  • In Lyon a Festival of Lights takes place in early December. The buildings of the city are lit up and the streets are decorated with Christmas lights.

What next? Learn more about France.

What is Myrrh? Facts and Information

Here are some facts about myrrh.

  • Myrrh is a spice which was commonly used in ancient times.
  • Most people know it as one of the three gifts given to Jesus at his birth, by the 3 wise men. (The other gifts were gold and frankincense).

  • It is made from sweet smelling sap which is obtained from several species of tree. The trees are found in parts of Africa and the Middle East, including Yemen and Ethiopia.
  • Throughout history, at times, it has been more valuable than gold. Its value comes from its use in traditional medicine and its supposed healing and medicinal qualities.
  • It is still used today all over the world. It is widely used in toothpaste and mouthwashes, as an antiseptic, and in ointments used to treat minor cuts and scratches.
  • Myrrh has also been used for many centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. Apparently, it can help to treat arthritis, improve the flow of blood, and can cure diseases of the liver and heart.
  • It is often added to wine and other drinks, to give added flavour. According to Biblical accounts, it was added to the glass of wine given to Jesus before his crucifixion.
  • The Ancient Egyptians used myrrh when they embalmed dead bodies. They also used it to treat many diseases and conditions, and Egyptian women added it to their makeup.
  • During the 1st century AD, Arabia produced about 448 tons of myrrh each year, as well as frankincense. Both spices were transported from the Arabian Peninsula as far as India and China.
  • The resin from myrrh has been used in perfumes and incense for over 2,000 years. Unlike other resins, it expands when heated and has a bitter and earthy smell.
  • When rubbed on the throat, myrrh is said to help to relieve a sore throat. It can also help to cure chest congestion and coughs, and can be effective in treating asthma and breathing problems.

What is Frankincense? Facts and Information

In the Bible, Frankincense is one of three gifts given to the baby Jesus by the three wise men. But what is Frankincense and what is it used for?

  • Frankincense is the resin of Boswellia trees. The resin is aromatic and is used in the manufacture of perfumes and in incense.
  • The resin is harvested by making a slash in the tree bark, allowing the resin to bleed out and then harden. The hardened lumps of resin are called tears.

  • Frankincense has been bought and sold for over 5000 years in North Africa.
  • It is also called olibanum.

Frankincense

  • Today, most frankincense comes from Somalia, but it is also produced in Oman, Yemen and Ethiopia.
  • Frankincense is still used in many Christian churches.
  • The quality of frankincense can vary. The most sought after product is silvery and clear, with a slightly green tint. Most frankincense has a brown and yellow colour.
  • Frankincense smells like lemons and wood.
  • Frankincense has traditional been used as a natural remedy in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to treat arthritis.

Facts About Christmas Cards

Here are some facts about Christmas cards.

  • The ancient Chinese sent greetings cards to wish their friends and family good luck for the coming year. In 15th century Germany, cards celebrating the new year were also produced and sent.

  • The first commercial Christmas card was devised and sent by Henry Cole in 1843 who sold the cards for a shilling. Cole was an English inventor who also founded the V & A Museum.
  • In the 19th century, the Post Office delivered cards on Christmas Day in the UK. Postmen were often known as robins because of their bright red uniforms and robins became a  popular card Christmas card motif.
  • In America, Louis Prang, a printer, produced the first commercially available Christmas cards. By 1881, over 5 million cards were being produced every year in the US.
  • Every year in the UK alone, an estimated 1.8 billion Christmas cards are sent and received. The average UK household sends out about 50 cards each Christmas and most are written and mailed by women.
  • Designing and making personal Christmas cards is one of the most popular craft hobbies in the UK. Charity cards are also popular, raising an estimated £50 million each year.
  • There are about 800 greeting card publishers in the UK, most of which are small businesses with just a few employees. The greeting card industry employs over 100,000 people.
  • About 60 percent of all greeting card sales are Christmas cards. About 33 percent of all cards have religious themes, while snowmen, reindeer, Santa and shopping are also popular.
  • President Eisenhower sent the first official White House Christmas card in 1953. The few cards signed by President Kennedy before his assassination are some of the most valuable Christmas cards ever written.
  • One of the earliest Christmas cards sold for £22,000 in 2001. There is a large and valuable collection of cards collected by Queen Mary, in the British Museum.

What next? Find out more Christmas facts by visiting our Christmas resources page.

11 Facts About Snow

Here are some facts about snow.

  • Snow is a type of precipitation, made up of small particles of ice. It is formed from the water vapour in the air when the temperature is below freezing.
  • The city with a population of over a million that gets the most snow is Sapporo, Japan. In the UK, the Scottish Highlands is the area which gets the most snow.

  • The most snowfall in one year was about 2895 cm recorded at Mount Baker in the northeast United States from 1998 to 1999. The most snowfall in 24 hours was 193 cm in Colorado in 1921.
  • Snow falls in the form of snowflakes, all of which have different shapes. The complex shapes are caused by differences in humidity and temperature.
  • Skiing, snowmobiling and snowboarding are all popular winter sports. In Finland, the world’s largest snow castle is built each winter, occupying up to 20,000 square metres.
  • The level of visibility determines the intensity of snow, and in heavy snow visibility is under 0.5 km. Heavy snow and strong winds for 3 hours are defined as a blizzard.
  • When coal was widely used, snow often looked grey as it mixed with coal dust in the air. In parts of Canada, snow often looks pink as it mixes with red clay particles.
  • There are several different types of snow, including flakes, flurries, sleet and artificial snow.
  • The Sami people of northern Scandinavia have about 80 words for snow and ice.
  • A white Christmas in the UK is when a snowflake falls on the roof of the London weather centre on Christmas Day. There have only been 7 white Christmases in the UK in the 20th century.
  • In 2008, people in Bethel, Maine, USA, built a snowman 37 metres tall. It had 19 metre trees for arms, tyres for lips and almost 700 metres of rope for its hair.

Mistletoe: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Mistletoe.

  • Although mistletoe can grow on its own, it is also known as a partial parasite. It grows on tree trunks and branches and uses the tree’s nutrients.
  • There are actually about 1,300 species of mistletoe found around the world, including two that are native to America. About 20 of these species are endangered.

  • The word mistletoe probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon words for ‘dung’ and ‘twig’. The plant was so called because the seeds were often spread through bird droppings.
  • Kissing under the mistletoe first originated in Ancient Greece and the custom was later used in marriage ceremonies. The mistletoe was believed to bring fertility.
  • Kissing under the mistletoe was also popular in 16th century England. It is commonly used as a Christmas decoration, and some customs say that it should not touch the ground between being cut down and thrown out.
  • Some people claim that mistletoe can treat cancer. The plant is also widely used in Germany and other parts of Europe to treat various conditions, including respiratory problems and circulation problems.
  • The American actress Suzanne Somers made headlines when she treated her breast cancer with medicine made from mistletoe. However, the drug is not officially recognized as being able to fight cancer.
  • The plant appears in lots of folk remedies, and in some countries it was hung over the door of the home to keep demons away.
  • When Christianity began to spread across the world, a rumour develped that suggested the cross upon which Jesus died was made from mistletoe. The plant was punished by being made a parasite and forbidden to grow in the ground.
  • Many animals eat mistletoe and get their protein from it. Birds also use it for food or nesting material and butterflies lay their eggs on the plants.

Christmas Crackers: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Christmas crackers.

  • A Christmas cracker is a cardboard tube wrapped in brightly coloured paper. It makes a bang or crack when pulled open and usually contains a toy or a joke.
  • Crackers are usually pulled by 2 people, each holding one of the ends. They are popular in the UK during the Christmas meal, as well as in Australia, Canada and South Africa.

  • Tom Smith, a London baker, invented the Christmas cracker in 1847 after visiting Paris. Smith based his novelty on traditional French sweets which were wrapped in twisted coloured paper.
  • The crackers contained a chemical which made the distinctive popping noise when pulled. Smith’s invention became known as a cracker, as it sounded like the crack of a whip.
  • Smith had sold over 13 million crackers by 1900, during fairs, coronations and other occasions, as well as at Christmas time. In the early 1930s, crackers began to contain small toys, jewellery and ornaments.
  • There were several fires at the Tom Smith cracker warehouse during the 20th century, most recently in 1963. Today, the International Greetings Group owns the Tom Smith brand name.
  • Christmas crackers were banned by the government during World War 2.
  • Many Christmas crackers contain paper hats. The wearing of celebration hats goes back as far as Roman times when people taking part in seasonal festivities wore hats.
  • One of the largest paper crackers ever made measured 63 metres long and 4 metres in diameter. It was made by parents of children at a Buckinghamshire school in 2001 and it banged when it was pulled.
  • Popular items inside crackers include rings, pens, playing cards, tape measures, key rings and slips of paper containing a joke.
  • In 2010 the Royal Mint made a unique £10,000 cracker that contained 5 22 carat gold coins.

Facts About Robins

Here are some robin facts.

  • The American robin belongs to the thrush family of birds, and is found throughout North America. The American robin is named after the European robin. They both have red breasts but they are not very closely related.

  • It weighs between 60 and 85 grams and is well known for its distinctive red breast.
  • Robins make several different sounds and each sound has a different meaning. They make a strange sound (a bit like the noise a horse makes) to indicate a nearby threat.
  • Robins are supposedly the last songbirds to sing during evening.
  • Berries and fruit make up about 60 percent of the bird’s diet, and they also eat grasshoppers and beetles. However, they also like to eat raw pastry, coconuts and fruit cake.
  • Baby robins grow to full size in just 2 weeks. The bird has an average lifespan of just over a year although robins in captivity can live for 10 years or more.
  • Robins often hop when the grass is too high to see over, and they are one of the few bird species that run and hop.
  • The robin can fly at speeds up to 56 kmh.
  • The nest of the robin is typically made from moss, leaves, grass and feathers and they are well known for making nests just about anywhere.
  • The male robin is very protective of its territory.
  • Although British robins can be seen during winter, some of them migrate to warmer areas in southern Europe. Robins from colder parts of northern Europe migrate to Britain in the winter.
  • An old British folk tale has it that the robin’s distinctive red markings are from the blood of Christ. Robins were also sacred to the Norse God of Thunder, Thor.
  • Robins became associated with Christmas during Victorian times, when postmen wore bright red uniforms. Over time, the robin featured on Christmas cards too.
  • The American robin is the state bird of several US states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Connecticut.
  • The bird appears in many Christmas songs and also inspired Batman’s companion.