Santa comes down it, we hang our stockings by it and we burn the Yule Log in it – so why is the fireplace at the heart of our homes when it comes to so many of our wonderful Christmas traditions? Certainly Wood takes a look at all the seemingly-crazy things we do to celebrate the Festive season around the fireplace.
Haven’t you wondered why Father Christmas chooses to come down the chimney when there’s a perfectly good door he could use?
Apparently, it dates back to Norse times, when the God Odin used to visit people’s houses to mark the start of winter. Given it was bitterly cold, doors and windows were firmly sealed and the smoke hole in the ceiling was the only ‘entrance’ that was always kept open, making it Odin’s only option.
Over time, and with the arrival of Saint Nicholas, the tradition continued as the kindly old man used to toss gold coins down the chimney, so legend has it.
If you take a look at folk tales from around the world, many of the characters associated with Christmas also used the chimney as a means of getting into places – there’s Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands and Befana, a gift-giving witch from Italy, to name but two.
Hanging Stockings by The Fire
You’d think the reason we hang stockings by the fire was simply to make it handy for Father Christmas, given his arrival via the chimney. But, it’s down to good old Saint Nick again.
The story goes that three impoverished sisters hung their stockings out to dry by the fire one Christmas Eve. Saint Nicholas was doing his thing and throwing gold coins down the chimney, which landed in the aforementioned stockings. From that day forth, people hung their stockings by the chimney and this is also why we put gold coins in stockings to this day, albeit they’re made from chocolate.
Ghost Stories Around The Fire
Whilst it was Dickens and his famous fable of Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’ that rekindled the love of ghost stories at Christmas, the tradition seems to date as far back as the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st.
Both Marlowe in his tale, The Jew of Malta, and Shakespeare in his play, A Winter’s Tale, refer to stories of spirits and spectres being told at this time of the year.
However, no-one seems to know where or when the tradition truly began.
The past-time reached its height in popularity during the Victorian times, when most families would gather around the fire in the evenings – what better way to create a spooky atmosphere than with the flickering flames fueling the imagination with the strange shadows they cast.
The burning of the Yule Log is one of our favoruite traditions here at Certainly Wood. And it is another custom for which we have our Norse cousins to thank.
The entire village would head into the woods to choose a tree to burn throughout December and into the coming new year.
The tree was felled with great ritual and the tree itself often decorated by the children before being dragged back to the village.
The end of the tree was placed in the fire and the tree kept in its entirety with a little being burnt each day throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. If any of the log remained on Twelfth Night, it was carefully wrapped up and used to kindle the fire the following Christmas.
Poetry was often recited over the burning Yule Log and red wine thrown on to it adding to the ceremony. Seems like a waste of a good tipple to us!
Flaming A Christmas Pudding
OK so we don’t light the Christmas pud by the fireplace, but we do set fire to it so that’s good enough for us. There are a host of traditions associated with the Christmas pudding and most of them date from Christian times.
You’re supposed to make your pudding on Stir-Up Sunday, which is the first Sunday before advent. It’s better to mix it from east to west to symbolize the journey of the Magi and to use thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the Apostles. The holly garnish is the crown of thorns worn by Christ and you flame your pudding to represent the passion of Christ. What’s more, you can always guarantee an ‘ahh’ out of your guests if you perform this ritual with a plomb and have the lights turned off!