Small touches which make Christmas special

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am

1. Christmas crackers

There are different ways to have fun with crackers. One tradition is for two people to pull an end of the cracker; whoever ends up with the larger part gets to keep the gift. Or, people gather in a circle with each hand holding one end of a cracker, giving them two chances of winning a token when the crackers are all pulled at the same time. Typically these tokens include a paper crown; a small toy or other trinket; and a motto, joke or piece of trivia on a small strip of paper.

2. Christmas trees

The tradition of having Christmas trees began in 16th-century Germany. The most popular trees are the evergreens fir and pine, with their needle-like leaves. These trees symbolise eternal life.

3. Christmas pudding

Little items are traditionally baked into the Christmas pudding for friends and members of the family to find when eating the dessert. Each charm predicts your fortune for the coming year: a coin means wealth; a ring means marriage; and a button predicts bachelorhood.

4. Plants

Red and green are traditionally the colours of Christmas, and during this season, people often decorate their homes with green plants and red flowers. This tradition has Christian origins as green represents the continuance of life through the winter, symbolising eternal life through Jesus, while red is for the blood Jesus shed at his crucifixion.

5. Holly

Holly was once used in pagan rituals but became part of the Christmas tradition over the centuries. It now stands for peace and joy.

6. Decorations

An angel or star is often placed at the top of the Christmas tree, representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity story.

7. Mistletoe

The hanging of mistletoe has been practised since the 2nd century BC, when the Druids hung it around their homes as a symbol of hope, peace and harmony.

8. Poinsettias

This lovely red Christmas plant originated in Mexico. According to legend, a poor girl wanted to take a beautiful gift to the Virgin Mary, but had nothing to offer. An angel advised her to pick some weeds to offer to Mary, and when she did this, the weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red poinsettias.

9. Candy cane

Jesus is known as the good shepherd so children are often given sugar sticks bent into the shape of a shepherd's staff. The shape is also similar to the letter J, often said to be referring to Jesus.

10. Turkey

There is a saying that turkey is popular during Christmas because it is easy to find, cheap and large enough to feed the whole family.

11. Christmas cards

Originally, Christmas cards rarely showed winter or religious themes. Flowers and fairies were often printed on the cards to remind the recipient of the approach of spring. Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were also popular.

12. Snowmen

Snowmen are considered a symbol of winter and Christmas. They often appear on Christmas cards these days. The custom dates back to the Middle Ages. According to old diaries and chronicles, whenever there was a new snowfall, people would make snowmen on the streets. The common trend is to decorate the snowman with coal for the eyes, wood sticks for the hands and a carrot for the nose.