Advent calendar 2019: 24 facts about Christmas through history

Count down to Christmas with our history advent calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, we will be revealing one fact about Christmas through history. Follow the festive advent calendar here or on our Instagram page: @historyextra

History Advent Calendar 2019

In the run up to 25 December, we’ll be revealing one fascinating fact a day about the festive season through history. Check back each day for a brand new fact about Christmas!

  1. The popular Christmas song ‘Jingle Bells’ was originally written to celebrate Thanksgiving | Find out more here
  2. The first, isolated record of an English-decorated ‘Christmas’ tree dates from the 15th century, when a fir tree lit with candles was set up in a London street | Find out more here 
  3. The inventors of the first Christmas crackers called their creations ‘Cosaques’, supposedly because the crack they made when pulled were reminiscent of the cracking whips of Russian Cossack horsemen | Find out more here
  4. During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, it was also a time to upend the social order. For example, masters served their slaves during a feast, adults would serve children, and slaves were allowed to gamble. And the aristocracy, who usually wore conservative clothes, dressed in brightly coloured fabrics such as red, purple and gold | Find out more here
  5. While the carol we know today as ‘Deck the Halls’ originated in the 16th-century as a favourite Welsh song called ‘Nos Galan’, it wasn’t until the 19th century that it acquired Christmas lyrics | Find out more here
  6. Early depictions of Saint Nicholas associate him with dropping gold coins down the chimney. In 16th-century Holland, this led to the tradition of children placing their shoes on the hearth on the eve of the feast of Saint Nicholas, and awaking in the morning to find them filled with gifts and sweets | Find out more here
  7. Gordon Selfridge was one of the great impresarios of Christmas windows. His apprenticeship in Marshall Field of Chicago had given him the keenest eye for glamour and presentation. It was Selfridge who coined the phrase “only X shopping days to Christmas” | Find out more here
  8. King George V delivered the first royal Christmas broadcast, penned for him by poet and writer Rudyard Kipling. It was broadcast live just after 3pm, which was considered the best time for reaching most of the countries of the empire by short-wave radio | Find out more here
  9. The first artificial Christmas trees in England were made from goose feathers that had been dyed green. These were imported from Germany, where they had become a fashionable way of conserving the country’s fir tree population | Find out more here
  10. It is a modern superstition that Christmas decorations need to be taken down on Twelfth Night (traditionally 5 or 6 January). For many centuries they were kept up until Candlemas Eve (1 February) | Find out more here
  11. The most popular food eaten at Christmas in the Tudor period was brawn, or boar’s head | Find out more here
  12. Christmas in the medieval period was a time for charity and sharing food – in 1314, for example, some tenants at North Curry in Somerset received loaves of bread, beef and bacon with mustard, chicken soup, cheese and as much beer as they could drink for the day. Gifts of food were also sometimes enforced: for the right to keep rabbits, the town of Lagrasse had to give their best bunny to the local monastery each Christmas | Find out more here
  13. London confectioner Tom Smith is credited with inventing the Christmas cracker. In 1847, he introduced England to the French bonbon, a sugar-almond wrapped in paper with a twist at both ends. To boost sales, Smith added a ‘love motto’ before enlarging the packaging, replacing the bonbon with a gift and later adding an exploding ‘crack’ | Find out more here

Our advent calendar is also available on Instagram – simply follow us at @historyextra