Christmas is celebrated across the world in swathes of red, green and white. In this edition, we look at the origins of some of the icons of Christmas, or is that ‘Xmas’?

Mince Pies

These delicious sweet pastries were originally filled with meat, such as lamb, rather than dried fruit. They were originally oval in shape, representing baby Jesus’s manger.

Christmas or Xmas

In Greek, the letter that looks like an ‘X’ is called ‘chi’ – pronounced ‘kye’ – which is the first letter of the Greek for Christ, Christos. Early Christians used the first two letters of Christos, ‘chi’ and ‘rho’, and created a monogram for Jesus, which looks like an ‘X’ with a small ‘p’ on top. So ‘Xmas’ is fine – just pronounce it ‘Christmas’!


In Nuremberg, Germany, around 1610, tinsel was made from shredded silver, hammered thin. The word ‘tinsel’ comes from an old French word, estincele, which means ‘sparkle’.


Christmas crackers were first made around 1845–1850 by a London sweet maker, Tom Smith. Inspired by French bon bons (almonds wrapped in pretty paper), Smith created his own version with a motto inside. They were not a hit. At home one night, the sudden ‘crack’ from his log fire gave him an idea!


The first Christmas trees were decorated with edible treats such as wafers, gingerbread and apples (sometimes covered in gold leaf). Glassmakers in the early 1600s started to make decorations, and at the same time paper decorations also began to be created.