This year, I was inspired to paint a robin with holly leaves and berries - a traditional motif, though in Victorian times, the robins were occasionally portrayed as dead, with delightful messages such as "Sweet messenger of calm decay".
So why is the robin an enduring feature of UK Christmas cards? Here are three possible explanations.
- It is a distinctive native bird overwintering in the UK;
- Local mythology is that a robin landed on Christ’s head and tried to remove the crown of thorns, splattering his blood on its breast.
- Victorian postmen wore red and also delivered on Christmas day, becoming affectionately known as “Robins”.
Holly has a long tradition – beginning with its association with the Roman “Saturnalia”. In the UK, the Celts used holly as a protection against evil spirits by placing it around their houses. I did find one reference claiming that the holly was also used to provide a home for fairies(!) Holly was then taken into Christian symbolism, possibly representing Christ’s crown of thorns and blood.
With my personal and business interests linking the UK and Germany, what are our Christmas connections?
Whilst we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, the German Christmas greeting is Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch, which translates as Merry Christmas and a Good Slide (into the New Year).
Christmas Markets were popular in the UK until Oliver Cromwell banned them, along with Christmas . They remained a German tradition – and have become a tourist attraction for visitors from the UK. The combination of wooden stands, gluehwein (mulled wine), gingerbread hearts and Christmas decorations is a major introduction to the festive season. German Christmas Markets are being introduced in the UK but are as yet pale imitations of the real thing. However several cities are intending to improve the offer in coming years.
We also have the German’s to thank for the tradition of the Christmas tree. It was introduced to the Royal family by George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in the early 19th century and later became popular due to its adoption by Queen Victoria.