Gledelig Jul! That’s Norwegian for Merry Christmas, and it seems an apt way to start a festive post, since the blog is dedicated to the memory of my Grandmother, who ran away from her home in Norway way back in 1915, and arrived in England with nothing but a trunk full of books. And no, I don’t speak the language – I gleaned the greeting from the pages of Ladybird’s Christmas Customs, which shows you how to say A Merry Christmas in nine different languages.
The book, just £1.20 when I bought it for my elder daughter in 1988, is an invaluable aid to the festive season, for it tells you almost everything you need to know about Christmas. Take the tree, for example. These days Prince Albert is usually credited with introducing the custom, but apparently in the 16th century religious reformer Martin Luther took a fir tree indoors and decorated it with candles to show his children how beautiful the stars were as he walked through the forest.
There is, of course, a brief account of the Christmas story, and details about Santa Claus, but in addition this slender volume is packed with information on all kinds of traditions. Read this and you can find out about cribs, crackers, candles and cards, as well as discovering myths and legends about the Glastonbury Thorn and the poinsettia, the history of the Yule log, and traditional Christmas food.
In the section on decorations you can even find instructions for making your own kissing bunch from a framework of hoops covered with greenery (shades of Blue Peter here I think), and there are also details about traditions associated with Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, New Year and Twelfth Night.
Pages are decorated with brightly coloured borders of ribbon and holly, as well as loads of cheerful , modern illustrations, and a few older pictures to how things were in the past – bringing home the Yule log, stirring the Christmas pudding, and so on. It doesn’t go into anything in great depth, but it’s as much part of Christmas as the traditions it describes.