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Festivals: Christmas (24th-26th December)

Type: Reference material

The Christmas Story

Christmas is celebrated in different ways throughout the world. Often, the way in which people celebrate Christmas depends upon their family customs or traditions. In the UK, children in primary schools often perform nativity plays, which are reproductions or interpretations of the religious story behind Christmas - the birth of Jesus Christ. The story explains how the Virgin Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus, the son of God. Mary and her husband, Joseph, travelled from Nazareth to Joseph's home of Bethlehem on a donkey, where Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem. After Jesus was born a bright star appeared in the sky. Three wise men noticed the star and followed it towards Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Boxing Day (December 26th)

Boxing day is celebrated in English-speaking countries on the 26th December. Boxing Day is a UK bank holiday, and is viewed by many as an opportunity to sleep off the excesses of the previous day. However, 'Boxing' day obtained its meaning from the expression 'alms box'- the name for a collection box opened by the parish churches for the poor people in the neighbourhood. This tradition started over 800 years ago. 'Alms' were distributed among the poor. Servants, gardeners and other trades people also used to receive money in appreciation for work done throughout the year. This custom still continues in the present day for some people.

Father Christmas

Everyone is familiar with the jolly bearded figure clothed in bright red and white, who travels down our chimneys on Christmas Eve bringing gifts for all the family. However, Father Christmas, or 'Santa Claus' as he is often known, is based on a real man, Saint Nicholas, a Christian Bishop from Myra in the country now known as Turkey, who lived in the fourth century AD. St Nicholas was a kind, but shy man, who liked to help others by giving secret gifts of money to those in need. There are several legends surrounding St Nicholas, all of which portray him in slightly different ways.

The 12 days of Christmas

The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and end on the fifth of January, traditionally when Christmas trees are supposed to be taken down. The 12 days of Christmas are represented in a song - from the first to the twelfth day. Each day is represented by a symbol. Religious significance is attached to each symbol. For example, the second day is represented by two turtle doves, which signify the old and new testaments. 

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