The festive season approaches bringing with it the end of a year of global trauma, social change and enforced peace for many as we count down the days until Crimbo; to give it but one of many names. The view from the pond shows The Duck on the Pond gearing up for opening, albeit with little idea for how long this time, our thoughts turn to preparations for Advent and the counting of days to Xmas.

A time for families, compassion, sharing and feasting, full of social convention, obligations and tradition. One is the spending of time with loved ones and family. The initial exultation can wane after a day together and entertainment becomes paramount, how fortunate we are to have a plethora of digital delights at our fingertips. Our ancestors made their own entertainment, imagine, I know, so in that spirit if yule-tide push comes to Boxing Day shove, charades palls into inter-generational collective cultural incomprehension, how about a quick quiz to pass the time?

  1. Sir Henry Cole, assistant keeper at the Public Record Office, introduced the first Christmas cards in which year?
  2. The Scandinavian celebration of Yule falls on which day?
  3. The six day Roman festival of Saturnalia, which introduced gift giving, games and social freedoms was commenced on what   date?
  4. Advent calendars originate from which country and in what year were they commercially produced?
  5. The famous song denotes the giving of partridges, gold rings, leaping lords and milking maids but when do the 12 days of Christmas begin?
  6. Name Rudolf’s reindeer friends?
  7. Red, green & gold are traditional Christmas colours – what do they represent?
  8. One of Cromwell’s divisive actions was the suppression of Christmas celebrations, enforcing work on the 25th and religious observance until the Restoration – what period did this cover?
  9. In pantomime from which side of the stage does the villain always appear to the audience.
  10. Wassailing takes place when, with what and why?

So that’s the fun for all the family done with so before we get to the answers below, no peeking until the end now, it’s Christma-a-a-s (not now Noddy), think of the children, the poor children, do they know it’s Chri-yes, quite, how about some trivia to feed the brain, often sorely neglected at this time of indulgence and celebration.

The tree – said to be originally an oak in honour of Odin, also used by the Druids but would be bare in winter. The evergreen was used to show life went on in the harsh winter of northern Europe and, apocryphally, used as it pointed to heaven. The Germano-Nordic custom was brought to our shores by Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III. Queen Victoria followed the custom after her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, this was seen in print, by 1841 the custom became widespread.

Holly, ivy & mistletoe – Holly was valued by the Druids for protection against dark forces, prickly and evergreen. Commonly associated with male fertility and ivy being the female evergreen counterpart, oddly the bright scarlet berries that pop with colour in winter are only found on female holly plants, a male is needed to fertilise the plant, whew some use for them then, but usually in a one to many set up. Mistletoe was historically seen a symbolising male fertility through the berries, the Romans believed it offered good luck and protection, the Druids a key part of fertility ceremonies. The modern custom of hanging it high to kiss under came to prominence in the 19th century amongst the servant class.

Wreaths – a sombre influence at a festive time but used by Lutherans to show the circle of life and to hold four candles, one for each Sunday op Advent.

Stockings – St. Nicholas 4th century Turkish saint (of whom more later) was reputed to have given a poor man three bags of gold to save his daughters from prostitution  by means of a dowry, one is said to have landed in a stocking, amongst other good works of generosity.

Crackers – Tom Smith invented crackers in London in 1847. He sold bon-bons in twists of paper, the origin of sweet wrappers to boot, he added a “crackle” using a banger, after the noise of logs on a fire, to the paper, making the paper roll larger and developments of toys, riddles and hats followed.

Pantomime – All kinds of mime. Based upon the Italian commedia dell’arte, a spectacle of music, dance and myth, synthesised with the medieval Feast of Fools, with its Lord of Misrule leading games, pranks and role reversal, echoing Saturnalia in the grand houses of Britain. The combination, the evolution of core fairy tale backgrounds, rules of performance, the Principal Boy being a girl, the Dame a man, the animal played by humans, the good fairy stage right, the villain stage left, audience participation all formed a uniquely British festive entertainment.

Gifts – There is a long tradition of gifts from Saturnalia onwards, the Romans exchanged small wax effigies and comical trinkets, Juvenalia which followed celebrated children and they received toys. In the Middle Ages Christmas gifts were usually between people with legal relationships, such as tenant and landlord. From the 16th century nuns and priests celebrated St Nicholas’ day, 6th December, by issuing gifts to the needy. By the 19th century the day had moved to 24th to follow the end of Advent and the exchanging of gifts on Christmas Eve. Anglic countries moved a day further to Christmas Day itself. In houses with servants who worked Christmas Day there was a tradition of them seeing their families on 26th December with a box of goodies from their employer. One of the sources of Boxing Day.

The Names

Christmas – from Christ’s Mass. The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome on December 25, 336

Xmas – The “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, first letter of the Greek word Christós, Mas from Old English for mass.

Yule – The pagan celebration of Odin. The Yule log was a large log, think tree, set abalze and the party did not stop until it was out, which could be 12 days later. The Yule boar – eaten as the celebratory centrepiece across Europe until the 16th century, representing Sæhrímnir, the boar killed and eaten every night by the Æsir.

Noël – French term for birth day referring to Christ’s birth.

Who he?

Santa Claus – derived from St. Nicholas, the gift-giver. In 1822, Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known today by it’s first line: “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The poem depicted Santa Claus as a jolly man who flies from home to home on a sled drawn by reindeer to deliver toys. England ceased celebrating St. Nicholas, along with many saints after the Reformation and gift giving moved to Christmas Day putting us out of step with Europe, not for the last time.

Father Christmas – originated from Royalist pamphleteers during the Commonwealth, decrying the virtual barring of Christmastide, calling for the return of the good old days of Old Father Christmas, feasting and good cheer. The character was maintained by the Mummers Plays, going from venue to venue with their stock cast of characters, one of whom is killed by the sword and revived by a doctor. Primarily an Easter tale, they were performed on high days and holidays, now especially associated with Christmas.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was fermented and ready for drinking.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Pope Julius I chose 25th December.


  1. 1843 – 5 pts, within 10 years 2 pts.

December 21st – the winter solstice. In recognition of the   return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as long as 12 days.

  1. December 17th – 5 pts, within 3 days 2pts. in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. At feasts servants would be waited on by       masters, businesses    and schoolds closed and gambling was       
  2. Germany – 1851 2 pts for Germany, 3 points for the year, 2 pts   for 10 years out. After a Munich housewife created them to     deter endless questions on when it would be Christmas. Advent        officially commences on the first Sunday after St. Andrew’s Day (November 30th for the sassenachs) and celebrates each of the four   Lutherans began to note  the days from 1st December by chalking marks on doors.
  3. December 25th until Epiphany. 2 pts.
  4. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and 10 pts for all, 5 pts for 5
  5. Red – the blood of Christ, Green – eternal life, evergreen trees, Gold – the gift of the King. 1 pt each.
  6. 1643-1660 – 5 pts, 3 for correct decades, 1 pt for either start or end date.
  7. Stage left – audience right. 2 pts
  8. Twelfth Night, mulled mead, cider, wine or fruit punch, to sing to the apple trees to ensure a good harvest in the new year – we    all want some good luck for the New Year now don’t we? Come   on 2021. 2 pts date, 2 pts drink, 2pts why.