Brussels sprouts are members of the cabbage family of vegetables, along with kale and collard greens. The tiny vegetables typically measure between 2.5 and 6 cm in diameter.
The ancient Romans grew Brussels sprouts, and they were also widely grown in Belgium from the 13th century, giving them their name. They were soon being grown all over Europe.
French settlers introduced sprouts to America in the early 1800s, and today almost all are grown in California. They are also grown widely in Germany and the Netherlands.
The UK produces about 82,000 tons of Brussels sprouts every year, most of them are eaten in the UK. It’s enough to cover the entire City of London.
According to most surveys, about 50 percent of us don’t like sprouts. Many people have a specific gene which makes them taste bitter and unpleasant.
Sprouts are very nutritious and healthy. They contain fibre, as well as the daily recommended doses of vitamins C and K, and they are low in calories and sodium.
Brussels sprouts are also said to be good for lowering cholesterol and preventing colon cancer. They contain sinigrin, a compound containing glucose, which can fight cancer.
In Christmas 2010, American fast food chain Burger King introduced a sprout surprise burger in some areas of the UK. The short lived and unpopular burger had sprouts and cheese in it.
Although most people boil Brussels sprouts, they can also be steamed, roasted, stir fried and grilled. Before they are cooked they should be washed well and any yellow leaves removed, as well as the stems.
Brussels sprouts should never be overcooked. Overcooking can make them turn mushy and causes them to give off an unpleasant sulfurous smell.
Brussels sprouts have traditionally been popular at Christmas as they are an Autumn and Winter vegetable. Many people regard them as the main vegetable on Christmas Day and a key part of a Christmas dinner.
Christmas has been celebrated for over 2,000 years to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. However, long before Jesus was born, the middle of winter has traditionally been a time for celebration.
In the United States, Christmas has been a recognized holiday since 1870. An estimated 2.1 billion people around the world celebrate the holiday in some way.
Christmas is a huge holiday in the UK, Europe and the US, and it is also celebrated around the world in countries such as Brazil, China, India and Nigeria.
Christmas puddings originated in old England, when hunters carried the filling mixture on long journeys. In the 1700s the rich cake was only eaten on special occasions. Over time it became a Christmas food.
The first Christmas card was printed in London in 1843, although medieval wood prints with seasonal themes were produced in the Middle Ages. Nearly 2 billion cards are sent in the UK each year.
Father Christmas is based on St. Nicholas, a 4th century Turkish monk who gave gifts to the poor. In the mid 19th century, a magazine published pictures of him wearing a red and white robe, and with a white beard.
Christmas was banned in mid-17th century England, by Oliver Cromwell. It was also banned in Boston by early colonists, with anyone celebrating being fined 5 shillings.
Norway has given Britain the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square every year since 1947 as a gift for the help received from Britain during World War 2. The tree can be 20 metres tall.
In old England, a pig’s head with mustard was the traditional Christmas meal. The custom of putting coins in Christmas pudding originally represented the Wise Men’s 3 gifts.
The idea of Christmas stockings comes from the story of St. Nicholas filling old socks with gold for three poor sisters. One of the largest stockings was made in London in 2007 – it was 32 metres long!
What next? Discover more Christmas facts by visiting our Christmas resources page.
A snowflake is a collection of ice crystals which falls through the earth’s atmosphere. They are formed when water droplets freeze around particles of dust or pollen, forming ice crystals. As they fall towards the Earth’s surface, the ice crystals combine with other ice crystals, forming snowflakes.
Humidity, air currents and temperature can all affect the formation of snowflakes. The strength and weight of the flakes can also be affected by particles of dirt.
The first detailed description of snowflakes was in about 1250. The earliest snowflake diagrams were published in 1555, and in 1665 – they were examined under a microscope.
Snowflakes are six-sided (they have six arms) and they are symmetrical.
Although it is possible for 2 different snowflakes to be alike, it is very unlikely.
Wilson Bentley, a farmer, spent much of his life studying snowflakes. He collected 5,000 of them, wrote over 60 books and articles and was known as the Snowflake Man.
Bentley was also the first person to photograph a single snow crystal, using a microscope. An exhibition on his work can be seen in his home town of Jericho, Vermont.
One of the largest snowflakes ever seen was at Fort Keogh, Montana, in 1887. The huge flake measured 38 cm in diameter and about 16 cm thick.
Scientists examine snowflakes by waiting for them to land on a glass surface treated with chemicals. The melting snowflake then leaves behind a plastic copy.
Snowflakes are not actually white, although the many water crystal faces make them appear white. A single flake can contain literally millions of crystals.
Nobody knows for sure why snowflakes stick to the ground and to other surfaces. It may be because of a special liquid, static electricity or interlocking arms on the flakes.
Snowflakes are often used as seasonal images or decorations around Christmas time. They are also often used to show cold temperatures, on appliances and weather maps.
Trees were first decorated to celebrate Christmas in 15th century Europe, although nobody really knows why. It may be that the evergreen tree symbolized eternal life.
The Christmas tree as we know it today became popular in 18th century Germany, and spread to other European countries. Britain’s Queen Victoria had a tree in her home every year. (Click here to learn more about Christmas in Victorian times)
One of the most famous Christmas trees is in Rockefeller Plaza in New York, where a tree has been put up every year since 1933. It is usually a Norwegian Spruce, and can be up to 30 metres tall.
Other famous Christmas trees include the National Christmas tree in Washington, DC and the tree in Trafalgar Square, London. The tree in the Vatican in Rome features a life size nativity scene.
President Pierce was the first US President to have a Christmas tree in the White House, in 1856. Apparently, President Roosevelt would not have a tree because of environmental concerns.In Europe, an estimated 50 to 60 million Christmas trees are sold each year. In the United States, about 35 million are sold and there are about 20,000 Christmas tree farms.
Christmas trees are grown in all 50 of the United States, including Florida and Hawaii. At any one time, there are about 350 million trees being grown in the US.
It usually takes between 6 and 10 years to grow a full sized Christmas tree.
A tree in your home will need up to a litre of water each day.
Artificial trees were invented in Germany during the 19th century. In the 1930s an American company used the same bristles for both its trees and its toilet brushes.
Candles have been used to decorate trees since the 17th century. Thomas Edison’s assistant invented Christmas tree lights in 1882 and they were first mass produced in 1890.
In 2011, a LEGO Christmas tree was displayed at St Pancras Station, London. The 10 metre high tree was designed by Duncan Titchmarsh and contained more than 400,000 LEGO bricks and weighed more than 3 tonnes.
The celebration of Christmas was very important to the Victorians. Here are some facts about the different traditions and activities associated with Christmas in Victorian times.
At the beginning of the Victorian era Christmas was hardly celebrated at all in Britain. However, by the end of the period, it was considered to be the biggest and most important annual celebration in the Victorian calendar.
The Victorians started (or at least made popular) many of the Christmas activities we do today.
Many people think that Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) was responsible for shaping how Christmas was celebrated by British Victorian families. He was born in Germany. In Germany evergreen trees were traditionally brought into the home at Christmas time and decorated (with candles, sweets and fruit). In 1848 the royal family were pictured celebrating Christmas around such a decorated tree, and the fashion for Christmas trees spread very quickly from this point on.
In 1843 Henry Cole asked an artist to make a card for him to send out at Christmas. It featured a family sitting around a dinner table and a Christmas message. The idea seemed to catch on and soon many wealthy Victorian families were sending out their own cards.
Victorian children were encouraged to make their own cards and there is even evidence that Queen Victoria had her own children do this.
The first printed Christmas cards were very expensive to manufacture, but the price went down dramatically during the Victorian period. This was due to improvements in colour printing technology and the new halfpenny postage rate.
In 1880 over 11 million Christmas cards were printed!
Victorian Christmas Crackers
In 1848 a British sweet maker, Tom Smith, came up with a the idea for the Christmas cracker. When he visited Paris Tom noticed that sugared almonds were sold in twists of paper (bon bons). He used this as inspiration for his Christmas crackers – sweets wrapped in a paper package that snapped apart when you pulled the ends.
During the Victorian period, Tom Smith’s idea was adapted and improved. The sweets were often replaced with Christmas paper hats and small gifts were added.
The Christmas crackers of the later Victorian era were quite similar to the crackers placed on today’s Christmas dinner tables.
Victorian Christmas Presents and Gifts
At the beginning of the Victorian period families often gave and received presents to celebrate the New Year. But, as the importance of Christmas as a family celebration grew, the gift-giving was moved to Christmas.
The first Victorian Christmas presents were fairly small – gifts such as fruits, nuts, sweets and handmade items were hung from the branches of the Christmas tree.
The size and expense of the gifts steadily increased. Victorians started to buy gifts from shops and they were often too big to hang from the tree. By the end of the Victorian era, many families had taken to leaving Christmas gifts under the tree.
Facts about Victorian Christmas Dinner
The Victorians are also responsible for popularising many of the traditional British Christmas foods.
The first Victorian mince pies were made of meat (a recipe that dates from Tudor times), but the mince pies made later in the nineteenth century didn’t contain meat and were pretty much like the ones we enjoy today.
Although some Victorian families celebrated Christmas with roast goose or beef, it was in Victorian times that roast turkey became the main part of the Christmas dinner. By the end of the Victorian period, most families would roast a turkey for Christmas.
Other Facts About Christmas in Victorian Times
The family was really important to the Victorians. They saw Christmas as a time to focus on family relationships, and most of the Victorian Christmas traditions (such as gift giving, eating a Christmas dinner, decorating the Christmas tree) were shared by all of the family members.
Charles Dickens is also credited with spreading many of the Christmas traditions in Victorian times. His famous book, A Christmas Carol, was very popular and it influenced how Victorian families approached the celebration of Christmas.
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