Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, Gerald Haigh looks at the stories behind some seasonal traditions.
The Christingle is the Christ-light. It had simple beginnings, long ago.
One day in 1747, John de Watteville, a church leader in Marienborn in Germany, gave each of the children in his church a candle with a red ribbon round it.
He asked each child to take the candle home, light it and put it in the window as a sign of the light that Jesus brings to the world. Around each candle was a red ribbon, a reminder that Jesus died on the Cross, sharing in the suffering of the whole world.
Today, many children and adults across the world keep this tradition, and John de Watteville's simple candle has become the Christingle now carried in an orange.
The orange is our beautiful world.
The red tape stands for the death of Jesus on the cross.
The pieces of dried fruit stand for the good things that come from our earth.
The candle stands for Jesus, the light of the world.
THINGS TO DO
Other religions and cultures have festivals where light is important. Here are some examples. Find out about them and try and find some others.
* Diwali is a Hindu festival. Can you find some stories told at Diwali? Diwali is also a Sikh festival, but celebrated with different stories. Can you find a Sikh and a Hindu story?
* Hanukkah is a Jewish festival of light. Can you find out what it celebrates? See if you can find a picture of a Hanukkah candlestick.
To prepare food for others and then share it with them is a sign of friendship and love that is known all around the world. Christmas dinner is a time to be grateful for the love of family and friends, and to be thankful for our food and our homes.
At Christmas people try hard to be together, even if they are apart for the rest of the year. They also try to eat something special. A hundred years ago the main dish would be roast goose. Now it is usually roast turkey.
In Christian communities, people often say grace - a prayer of thanks - before eating. There are examples on the following page.
THINGS TO DO
Other religions and cultures have special times of the year when food is important. Here are some examples. Find out more about them and see if you can also find some others.
* Jewish people celebrate Pesach with a Passover meal. What does this commemorate?
* In the United States of America, the fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day. What historical event does it celebrate?
* Every Sikh temple has a kitchen and a place where people from all parts of the community can get food. Which Sikh guru started this and why?
As we eat our special dinner We are thankful for the food we eat.
We cherish happy memories of other Christmases gone by.
We remember absent friends - people we love, but who cannot be with us.
We remember people around the world who do not have enough to eat.
Thank you for the food we eat, Thank you for the world so sweet, Thank you for the birds that sing, Thank you God for everything.
Come Lord Jesus be our guest, let this food to us be blessed. Amen.
For food in a world where many walk in hunger; For faith in a world where many walk in fear; For friends in a world where many walk alone; We give you thanks, O Lord. Amen.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE STORY
Albert, the German prince who married Queen Victoria in 1840, started the fashion for Christmas trees in Britain by taking one to a Royal family Christmas at Windsor Castle. But the story of the Christmas tree started long before this.
The day before Christmas, December 24, is the religious feast day of Adam and Eve, and a play from medieval times used a fir tree hung with apples (called a paradise tree) to show the Garden of Eden. The German people even used to put up paradise trees in their homes to celebrate the event. They would also have a Christmas pyramid, made out of wooden triangles, holding little figures from the Christmas story, a star and candles. Over time the two celebrations became one and the Christmas tree was born.
Victorian trees were decorated with sweets, paperchains and candles. Now we use electric lights to make the trees brighter.
Christmas trees do not have to be only in our homes. Every year the people of Oslo, the capital of Norway, give a big Christmas tree to the people of London, in gratitude for Britain's help during the Second World War and as a token of the friendship between the two countries. The tree is put up in Trafalgar Square, in London, for all to see.
In most British homes we find our presents in our stockings on Christmas morning, but in many other European countries presents are put under the tree on Christmas Eve.
THINGS TO DO
Can you find these things out?
* What sort of fir tree do we usually use for a Christmas tree?
* How can you prevent the tree from dropping all its needles on the carpet?
* Why did people stop using candles to make Christmas trees look bright?
Christmas, perhaps more than any other Western world festival, is marked by traditions and customs, both secular and religious. Some are ancient, some are surprisingly recent. This project examines three popular elements of Christmas.
Christmas dinner * There are many other graces - prayers before and after food. Ask children to find examples on the Internet.
* Look at the picture and discuss the "absent friends" in the photographs on the sideboard. Exactly who they are is an open question for the class to talk about.
* The Passover meal, the Seder, commemorates the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt - the story is told in the Bible in the Book of Exodus. During the meal the door is left open to welcome in the prophet Elijah. It is a symbol of the way that Jewish people have been enslaved and persecuted through their history. It's also taken as a broader hope for an end to slavery and intolerance across the world.
* Thanksgiving commemorates the occasion in 1621 in North America when the Mayflower colonists, the Pilgrim Fathers, gathered a harvest that would last them through the winter. It probably happened in October or November and Thanksgiving in the USA is now the fourth Thursday in November. This year it is November 23.
* The tradition of hospitality in Sikh temples is an expression of the belief of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, who believed passionately that all people, rich or poor, should be made to feel welcome in a place of worship. There are accounts of Guru Nanak deliberately seeking out the company of poor people instead of accepting invitations from the rich and powerful.
Christmas tree The Christmas tree is usually the spruce - a fast-growing conifer. It is better for the environment if your tree is harvested from a sustainable or renewable source.
When trees dry out in the house they lose their needles, which are difficult to clear up. To avoid this:
* Pick a fresh green tree. Run your hands through the branches, and bump the bottom of the trunk on the ground. It shouldn't shed more than a few needles.
* Keep the tree in a cool place. Cut about an inch from the bottom of the trunk and put the tree in water. Keep the water topped up.
* When the tree is brought indoors, cut another inch off the trunk and again keep the tree base standing in water.
* Try to make sure your tree is recycled when Christmas is over, and not just dumped as rubbish in a landfill site.
Christingle Christingle is obviously a Christian tradition, but it also symbolises care for children, and light coming into dark lives. This means that, with a little thought, it can be made appropriate and meaningful in any cultural setting.
Because the ceremony involves lighted candles, it's essential to observe some basic safety rules.
There should be lots of adult supervision. Christingles should be lit by adults and children shouldn't walk with them when they are lit.
The Christingle tradition is kept alive by The Children's Society, which works with unhappy children across Britain - those who have run away from home, or who have problems at school.
The society uses the Christingle service in churches and schools to raise money for its work.
To find out more, visit: www.the-childrens-society.org.uk.