Many of us happily put up a Christmas tree every December, cook turkey, pull crackers and sing about partridges in pear trees without stopping to think about the backgrounds of these traditions.

 

Emma Milne-White from Hungerford Bookshop with Mark Forsyth.jpg

 

And if we do have an inkling about the origin of these traditions, it’s probably incorrect or half-baked.

With Hungerford transforming itself before our eyes for Christmas, the scene was set last week for a talk by author Mark Forsyth on how everything we believe about Christmas is actually wrong.

Speaking with local interviewer Brian Quinn, the event was held at a very festive-looking Hungerford Bookshop to coincide with the launch of Forsyth’s new book A Christmas Cornucopia: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Yuletide Traditions.

With a wry smile and hours of research, Forsyth also points out that the cynics among us who believe aspects of Christmas are the inventions of marketing gurus are wrong too.  He asserts that, contrary to popular opinion, the red and white version of Santa we recognise now, was not invented by Coca Cola, and likewise, it was not Tom Smith who came up with the idea of the Christmas cracker in 1847.

With fantastic facts bandied about like presents from Santa (did you know that there is a special setting on your belt entitled the “YuleHole” for post-Christmas lunch discomfort?), Forsyth addressed seemingly absurd traditions such as putting a “dead tree” in our living rooms. “Try doing that in June and seeing how long you can stay out of the asylum”, he joked.

His research indicates that the custom comes from Medieval times when plays on Adam and Eve where acted out with a tree as a prop for the Tree of Knowledge.  Decorations represent apples and logically, Christmas trees should come with a serpent rather than tinsel, he argues, leading to a hilarious anecdote about a woman in Swindon who did indeed find a snake in her tree.

Our misconceptions extend to the gender of Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, and even – unthinkably – the date of Christmas. The festival was celebrated in March until 243 AD when the theory of a madman called “The Computerist” (and not one who worked in retail) saw it relocated to 25th December.

Full of hilarious insights and amazing facts, Forsyth’s talk proved that his book is a must-read for anyone who loves Christmas.

 

 

First published in Newbury Weekly News 24.11.16

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