General information and resources for students and adult learners.


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Poinsettia -traditional Christmas flowers.

The poinsettia is named after Joel R. Poinsett, who served as the USA’s first ambassador to Mexico, from 1825 to 1829.  During that time he came to admire a beautiful indigenous plant with large scarlet leaves encircling small, greenish-yellow blossoms, which the Mexicans had adopted as their Christmas flower.  He liked it so much that he sent specimens back to the USA, where they soon flourished.

A Mexican legend tells how the poinsettia became a Christmas flower.  A poor peasant girl was anxious to bring a gift in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Christmas Eve service.  She had nothing of value, though, so she went empty-handed.  On her way to church she met an angel, who told her to pick some weeds.  She did so and with a heavy heart and a feeling of shame, place them on the altar.  Miraculously, they were transformed into the bright scarlet flowers.  

Ever since, poinsettias have been popular decorations for churches ad homes during the Christmas festival.


Christmas gifts

The exchanging of Christmas presents can be traced back to an ancient Roman custom of gift-giving which was practised at Saturnalia, which also fell at this time of the year.

When this tradition was Christianised, it is said to relate to the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the three Magi had carried with them from the East when they traveled to pay homage to the newborn Jesus Christ. 



Noel, the French word for Christmas, is derived from the Latin dies natalis, meaning “birthday”.  It became established in the English language through the popular carol, ”The First Noel”

The word Noel has been subject to fanciful etymology-interpretations that go beyond the Latin root have been ascribed to it.  

For instance, Noel was said to derived from nouvelles, the French word for the (good) news because this is what the birth of Jesus Christ brought to the world.  Others recognised in Noel, a corrupted rendering of the joyful claim that, with the saviour ‘s coming, everything ‘now well’.


Nativity Scene

The crib representing the manger in which the baby Jesus Christ was laid after his birth in a stable in Bethlehem, has become a favorite Christmas decoration.  For centuries it has been used to bring the Christmas story to life.

Francis of Assisi who was renowned for his love of animals, instituted the custom of the nativity scene.  After receiving permission from the Pope, he erected the first one during the Christmas of 1224 in a cave outside the Italian town of Greccio.  It was not the modern type of crib nor was it a crafted model but a live scene.  A friend John Velita, supplied Francis with a manger, straw and animals.  It was an eye-catching way to celebrate the memory of the child who was born in Bethlehem.  When people gathered to view the spectacle, Francis of Assisi stood in front of the manger and recited the Gospel relating to the scene; then he delivered a sermon.

Francis of Assisi’s idea certainly caught the public’s imagination.  Today nativity scene with the figures of Joseph, Mary, and the three wise men along with an ox and an ass become popular throughout the Christian world.


First Christmas Card

The custom of sending Christmas cards is now so well established that it is surprising to discover that is is only about one hundred years old. Christmas cards became accepted, in the 1870s. Other early forerunners were the Christmas greetings children brought home from school, done in the best handwriting on decorated paper, to present to proud parents. traders would also leave specially decorated visiting cards at Christmas.
1843 - the first Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole.

Sir Henry Cole, an Englishman was credited with the idea of the first Christmas card. Cole was the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was a businessman with a keen interest in art.

In December 1843 he found he had little time to write individual Christmas greetings to his friends, so he decided to produce a printed card. The artist John Calcott Horsley drew a design which Cole approved and so the first Christmas card was born. It had a picture of a family enjoying the festivities, with two side panel showing acts of charity. One thousand of the cards were printed and sold for a shilling each.

The ideas was not an overnight success. But advances in the color printing process and the introduction of the halfpenny post for cards in the 1870s meant that Christmas cards started to gain widespread popularity in England. By 1880 the Post office was having to broadcast its annual advice " Post Early for Christmas" familiar to those who live in Great Britain.



The evergreen holly symbolizes eternal life.  This shrub most noticeable features have long been associated with Jesus Christ.  The bright red berries represent the drops of blood He shed on the cross; their color also represented the burning love for God present in the hearts of the faithful.  The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns the Roman soldiers placed on Jesus Christ's head. 



The spelling of Christmas as ‘Xmas’ comes from an ancient Greek practice.

In the Greek language, the letter ‘X’ was the initial letter of Xristos, meaning Christ.  Early scribes were busy people and parchment was costly.  They often shortened words to save time and money and that is how they came to use just the letter X.

'Xmas'  was retained even when these practical considerations no longer applied. 


Christmas wreath

The wreath traditionally displayed on the front door of a home during the weeks of Advent and the Christmas season once fulfilled a multiple role.

It was intertwined with red ribbon to express the festive spirit, while the evergreen leaves were symbolic of the everlasting life which Jesus Christ’s birth promised to the faithful.  The circular shaped was a reminder of the crown of thorns placed on His head by the Roman soldiers when they ridiculed Him as the ‘King of the Jews’.

The wreath also had a practical purpose, in a world full of fear and superstition, evergreen boughs were believed to protect a home from evil spirits, which were thought to be plentiful during this dark time of the year.  During the Middle Ages the red berries of holly were believed to keep witches out of the home; this is why holly became the traditional and lucky evergreen for wreath-making. 


What is Advent?

Advent is four weeks before Christmas.  it starts on St. Andrew's day or the Sunday nearest to it-known as Advent Sunday- and it ends on Christmas Eve.

The name Advent, from the Latin adventus, means the 'coming' or advent of Jesus Christ.  This is most obviously the occasion of His birth, which is remembered and celebrated on Christmas Day.  

Advent was once a solemn time, a period of penitence.  it has now totally change in character.  Young children in particular look forward to the 'coming' of Christmas.  They are given colorful Advent calendars which they use to eagerly count the days until Christmas Day.  Advent has become a happy and exciting adventure.

Fixing wreath to the outside of the front door is a well-known custom during Advent and is an expression of joyful anticipation.


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