November bursts upon us in a blaze of bonfires and blast of fireworks. In the clearing crackle and smoke, the remaining weeks lay before us like a path, a trail to take you up to Christmas Day. Like Hansel and Gretal leaving bread crumbs in their wake to guide them back home, we sprinkle things ahead of us, traditions and tokens mapped out along the road to Christmas, like candles, they are the markers lighting the way. At Dorset Adventure Park, we wonder when does Christmas start for you? If you work in retail, Christmas is thought of months prior and glitteringly revealed as soon as Halloween has passed. Like the drawing back of a heavy velvet curtain of some Victorian pantomime of old, shops will suddenly reveal a sparkling array of enticing goods and little magical worlds played out in window displays. Perhaps you follow the Advent of church, perhaps Christamas rigorously begins on the day itself and politely excuses itself by twelfth night. However you mark it, there is a whorling array of festive traditions that build up to, celebrate and mark the Christmas time.
Surrounded by the beautiful Pubeck woodlands, overlooked by the magical Corfe Castle and with the lakes glittering with frost, at this waterpark, it is not hard to get into the Christmas Spirit. However, the vast, varied, weird and wonderful traditions are another great way to find your Christmas cheer and hold it close as the chill sets in and December approaches.
The tradition of sending out commercial cards to wish an array of family, neighbours and friends a ‘Very Merry Christmas’ began in the English Winter of 1843. The illustration depicts three generations of one family sitting around a table, tucking into a Christmas feast and somewhat controversially at the time, drinking wine together. Nowadays we wouldn’t bat an eyelid at an ‘eat, drink and be merry’ approach to Christmas. Apparently, despite the tutting, enough people didn’t mind either in the 1800’s as over 2,000 copies of the card were printed and sold and a new tradition was born.
With the last two years spent in various lockdowns and isolations, the Christmas card of 1843 seems more relevant than ever as perhaps, the true spirit of Christmas is found in the coming together of loved ones- and wine.
The original Christmas card of 1843
St Nicholas and The Krampus
Celebrated in Northwestern Europe, St Nicholas Day is seen as an integral part of Christmas. Traditionally, children who had been good and well behaved throughout the year would receive little tokens of fruit, sweets, small gifts and chocolate placed inside shoes that were left by the door. However, for the children who had been naughty instead of nice, they were left a rather ominous branch or twigs from The Krampus. This devil-like figure was a tall horned creature, somewhere between a goat and a man. The Krampus would threaten to beat the naughty children with the sticks and even in some legends, steal them away on a big stick. Some communities still celebrate both the light and the dark side of this early Christmas tradition, by holding Krampuslauf parades, where people march in elaborate Krampus costumes and some even hitting the legs of the crowd with sticks. The Krampus legend is observed across Alpine regions, Austria and parts of Central Europe. Krampus was believed to be the son of ‘Hel’, the Norse God of the Underworld.
My brother-in-law has grown up with and continues the tradition of a little Krampus figure on his Christmas Tree. As Christmas Day approaches, the Krampus is stealthily moved up the tree, closer and closer to the very top. Presumably, this was a token reminder to children to behave themselves as Christmas Day approached!
Magical Mythology & The Yule Log
In Scandinavian and Germanic folklore Yuletide would be celebrated from the 21st of December, through to January. Believed to be a celebration of Winter Solstice, traditionally the father and sons of the household would venture out into the woodland for an adventure and bring home an enormous log, which would then be set on fire. The fire would be kept alive for twelve days and cook a feast, which would continue until the fire from the single Yule log died out. This ancient pagan festival finds itself upon many Christmas tables today in the form of a chocolate yule log dessert!
Ancient Celts would carry in boughs of holly to string up by doorways for protection and to ward off evil spirits.As they stayed evergreen all year round, especially in barren winters, they were seen as holding magical properties. Thus, the tradition of holly-wreaths pinned to front doors began! As for mistletoe, the Druids felt it was so sacred that it was cut with golden sickles. One of it’s magical properties was supposed to be fertility. Perhaps that is where our tradition of kissing under the mistletoe stems from…
Norse mythology may find itself at the root of many of our Christmas traditions, even in the humble offering of leaving a mince pie, carrot and glass of sherry out for Father Chrstmas on Christmas Eve. The tradition as we know it today, is closely related to the sweetened version of offerings that began in America in the 1930’s during the Great Depression Era. This little morsel left for Saint Nicholas and his Reindeer, was a sign and reminder of showing gratitude in a time of struggle. Once again, this tradition feels just as relevant this Christmas
Father Christmas carrying in a Yule Log
The Festive Swim
Have you ever gone for an icy swim on Christmas, New Year’s or Boxing day? The festive tradition of splashing into a chilly sea or diving into a frosty lake is said to have started as an annual event in Hyde Park, Christmas 1864. This nippy dip began to be toasted with a ceremonial cup for the swiftest swimmer, donated by children’s author and playwright, J.M Barry. ‘The Peter Pan Cup’ is still awarded today to the winning members of The Serpentine Club. The rest of us can still enjoy the bracing rush of cold water and whoops and cheers of loved ones, as you plunge into the water for festive fun. Be it swimming in the lakes, rivers or the sea, it is a great way to get outside during Christmas and commemorate the year.
Swanage water park
The Christmas Movie
I do not know when this tradition started -you could argue it began at the dawn of man, sat around their cave fires, regaling each other with tales of wooly mammoths – what I do know is that almost everyone has a favourite Christmas Movie. A wonderful, cosy, cuddly, cheerful way to get in the mood for Christmas with the chance to to rest, relax and be entertained. From the black and white classics like ‘Casablanca’ and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, to the ensemble assault to the senses that is ‘Love Actually’, there is a Christmas film for everyone. For those who are fans of the Dorset Adventure Park, I think I know the Christmas Movie for you. If you have merrily plunged through our Mud Trail, emerged as triumphant from the mud challenge as any vanquishing conqueror, or even if you were just in it for a good fun mud run, ‘Home Alone’ is the Christmas Movie for you. Just like little Kevin in his adorable woolen mittens, you are canny and resourceful and up for a challenge. Dodgy robbers attempting to burgle your family’s massive mansion, an escaped tarantula and isolation are not a problem for you. Afterall, you’ve completed a water assault course on one of our lakes and had a great time doing it! If you’ve worked your way through one of our water or mud trail obstacle courses ‘Home Alone’ is definitely the Christmas movie for you.
If Home Alone is yours or a loved ones favourite Christmas movie, then their favourite Christmas present could be a gift voucher for Dorset Adventure Park! A great activity and experience for the adorable and the adventurous ones in your life. An annual trip to the aqua park could be the new family tradition for you.
Words by Olivia Lowry.