The Scots never miss the chance to party, or so you might think, but they were last Europeans to resist the temptations of the festive season. There was no reference to Christmas in the New Testament and so the Scots did not regarded it as a Christian festivity. Traditionally the Scots (or Celts) celebrated New Year and viewed the idea of Christmas as an attempt by the English as pure commercialism and a poor attempt to emulate Hogmanay.
Critics of the Victorian Christmas suggested it was a time for “do gooders” to exercise charity to the less privileged. Charles Dickens author of “Christmas Carol“ was a firm believer charity should be extended throughout the year and not restricted to one day. Ironically the success of Scrooge, encouraged Christians to combine capitalism with the doctrine and practice of Christianity. Christmas Day and Boxing Day were concertinaed into the feast days for family fun and celebrations. These were celebrated at home and abroad.
Christmas was celebrated by expatriates wishing to link with their friends and families back in the motherland. Many Scottish exiles ate plum puddings and turkey dinners long before their relatives recognised Christmas Day in Scotland. Back in the Highlands at the beginning of the 20th century Christmas was just another day with faint echoes of bonfire ceremonies, more related to pagan sun worship than celebrating the birth of Christ.
Twelfth night had more significance to the Scots ironically because of its pre-Christian association with the end of Samhain, or the Celtic Festival of the Dead. During the time from Halloween to the Twelfth Night, Celts celebrated walking with those who came before and those who were still to come. Dickens’ captures this with his Ghost of Christmas past and Ghost of Christmas yet to come.
After Prince Albert and Queen Victoria took the European winter traditional of decorating fir trees with flags of the Empire and candles it became very popular. Along with the invention of electricity came electric Christmas lights which furthered the general celebration of Christmas in England and America.
Santa Clause made his first appearance in 1860. There were many models for Santa or St Nicholas but the most popular was a humanitarian bishop in Asia Minor in the fourth century who became the symbol of gift giving in many European countries. Kids from poor families could anticipate finding in their stockings an orange, a new penny a piece of shortbread and a toffee.
Christmas dinner for the average family consisted of chicken broth followed by potatoes roasted at the garden or street bonfire. Families sang carols and clapped their hands to keep warm.
Pre-Christian Druids gathered mistletoe as a medicine from sacred oaks. These were cut down with golden sickles and considered helpful with fertility and that is why, to this day we kiss under a sprig of mistletoe at Christmas and New Year.
Nativity scenes painted mainly the 15th & 16th centuries inspired Christmas cards with written inscriptions and these became popular from the 18th century on-wards.
The term, Xmas was not a convenient abbreviation for Christmas card designers but instead relates instead to the translation of "CH" from Greek. Holy scriptures were originally written in Greek, before beig translated into Latin then English. In Greek, words beginning with "CH" and written as an "X", are pronounced with a silent "h", but when spoken in English this becomes a harsh sounding "K" e.g. K-mas or the mass of Christ.