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As with many traditions, there is usually a story of how a custom came about. Some sound plausible and some less so. But they almost always have a nostalgic tale behind them and never more so than at Christmas.

Hanging a stocking by the fire A long time ago there lived a man who had three daughters. His wife had died some years earlier and now his daughters were of an age to be married. However, at that time in history, the prospective husband’s family would expect to receive a dowry – gifts and money – when their son married. The man was very poor and could not afford to do this.

Each night his girls would wash and mend their clothes. To enable their stockings to dry they would hang them near the fire. A wealthy man called Nicholas, who lived in the village, had heard of the girls’ plight and one night called by the house after dark. Seeing an open window he sneaked in and put a bag of gold coins in each of the stockings. When the villagers heard of the widower’s good fortune, they too started hanging stockings by their fireplaces.

Because the stockings were by the fire this lead to the belief that Santa came down the chimney in order to deliver his gifts. Nicholas did many more secret good deeds – he really was the original benevolent St Nicholas.

Christmas Puddings Christmas Pudding’s history is not as a dessert at all, but as a savoury meat based dish. In Medieval times all surplus livestock were slaughtered in the autumn so they did not have to be fed over the winter. But the meat had to be preserved and a pottage was prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked, with dried fruits, sugar and spices added. It is more likely that the dish was called plum pottage or plum porridge, the dried version of plums being prunes.

As meat preserving techniques improved, the savoury element of the dish decreased, but of


course if suet is used a small element of meat may still be included. It was not until the 1830s however that the cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, made a definite appearance, becoming more and more associated with Christmas.

It is said the pudding should be made with thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and His Disciples and that every member of the family should take turns to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west, in honour of the Wise Men.

Christmas Crackers No Christmas dinner table would be complete without Christmas crackers, and the hats, small gifts and bad jokes are very much part of the tradition. The crackers were believed to have been invented in around 1850 in London, by a sweet maker called Tom Smith. He was often trying to think of new ways to market his sweets and sitting by his fire one night, he thought it would be a good idea if they could make a similar crackle to a burning log as the sweet wrapper was pulled in half. The idea caught on although rather too well as rival manufacturers soon sprang up. Tom Smith’s son, Walter, came up with the idea of including other items and offering different designs as a way of differentiating his product from those of his competitors.

The best tradition of all of course is to spend time with your family, and that needs no explanation.

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