1) The words joulu (Finnish), Jul (Swedish) and Yule (Old English) all have the same Germanic root: it was an ancient winter festival. ”Yule” is still used in English, eg. in Yule log (a kind of cake eaten at Christmas).
2) In modern German the word for Christmas is Weihnachten (Holy Night) In Latin languages the word for Christmas comes from the word for birth (eg. Navidad).
2) The first Christmas took place in a hot country in the Middle East, probably not in winter either. So why do we have all this imagery of snowmen, reindeers, fir trees and so on? Not to mention penguins.
3) There are twelve days of Christmas if you count from the 25th December – 5th January. Epiphany used to be celebrated on the evening of the fifth rather than on the 6th; hence its other name, Twelfth Night.
4) The traditional dish on Christmas Day in Britain used to be goose. Turkey arrived from America in the 1900s, and more or less completely took over.
5) The 26th has a much better name in Finnish (tapaninpäivä) than in English (Boxing Day). However, some churchy people refer to Boxing Day by the more religious St. Stephen’s Day.
6) In my childhood, Santa Claus was widely believed to live at the North Pole. Nowadays British, and even American children think he lives in Lapland. The marketing of the idea of Santa Claus living in Lapland has been incredibly successful. Even I’m starting to believe it.
7) For many Brits, Christmas involves carols, mulled wine (=glögi), Midnight Mass, lots of food, presents, a Christmas tree and seeing family / relatives. Sound familiar?
8) There are differences, too: presents in a Christmas stocking, the Father Christmas that nobody ever sees, the James Bond film in the afternoon, Christmas crackers (paukkukarkit) and the lack of sauna. There is also a strong emphasis on a merry Christmas rather than a peaceful one.
9) Why is the Finnish Santa Claus called Christmas Goat?
10) Next time your child asks you to buy them a Playstation or similar, and you desperately try to think of an excuse for not buying one, remember that expensive presents are Biblical: think of the Three Wise Men.
11) The tiernapojat tradition is alive and kicking in Finland, but the British equivalent (”Mummers”) has more or less died out. On the other hand, there are still Mummers in the USA.
12) Drinking alcohol at Christmas is perfectly socially acceptable in the UK, but drink-driving has become taboo.