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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > Christmas 2017 > CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES EXPLAINED

CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES EXPLAINED

WHEN DID PEOPLE START CAROLLING?

The origins of the Christmas carol – such a prominent part of festive celebrations today – are unclear, though seasonal pagan ditties were sung thousands of years ago. Nativity-themed songs appeared as early as the fifth century, though they didn’t take on a familiar form in England until the 14th century, when they were heard in Franciscan monasteries. The earliest English ‘Caroles of Cristemas’, to be sung by roaming groups of ‘wassailers’ in and around taverns rather than recited door-to-door, were documented by Shropshire chaplain John Awdley in 1426.

THE FIRST NOËLS? St Francis of Assisi encouraged the singing of Christmas songs in the 13th century

350

Though 25 December was celebrated by Romans as the climax of the festival of Saturnalia, it wasn’t officially designated as Christmas Day until AD 350.

WHY DO WE EAT TURKEY AT CHRISTMAS?

Ever since medieval times, Christmas has provided a great excuse to push the gravy boat out. Swans, peacocks and boars’ heads graced aristocrats’ tables; more modest households made do with whatever seasonal fare they could find – chicken or goose, perhaps, or the odd pigeon. It’s claimed that one William Strickland brought back the first six turkeys from the New World in 1526 during the reign of Henry VIII. Before the introduction of the railways, Norfolk farmers would dip turkeys’ feet in tar and sand to make ‘wellies’ for the walk to London, which could take up to two months. Like so many traditions, roasted turkey became synonymous with Christmas when immortalised by Charles Dickens. At the end of the classic A Christmas Carol, the humbled Scrooge sends a boy to buy the biggest turkey in the shop. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that Hollywood movies popularised the dish in the UK.

FOWL PLAY By 1937, when this display of birds adorned a London market, turkeys were the nation’s festive favourite

DID YOU KNOW?

BLESSED RELIEFS

The earliest artistic depiction of the Nativity is probably a carving on an early fourth-century tomb in Milan, which shows the baby Jesus lying in a manger beside an ox and an ass. And so, thousands of school plays were launched.

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About History Revealed

When we began thinking of how best to celebrate our 50th issue, we thought it would be great to look at the turning points in history, to pick which decisions had the greatest impact on the world. But as we started to come up with a list of key moments, it soon became clear that this was a herculean task; we were going to need some help. A few phone calls and emails later, we had assembled a panel of experts including some of the most respected and popular historians, writers and broadcasters in the land. We quickly realised it’s not possible to define the single biggest decision in history – how could anyone? – but the variety of responses we had illustrated the vast richness of history. So, from Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, to Decca Records choosing to pass on the Beatles, we present 50 decisions that, for better or worse, have shaped our world. Before I let you go, I’d like to thank all of our readers most sincerely for your support since we launched – here’s to the next 50 issues!