Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Christmas Tree

In a previous post, I wrote about Santa Claus being a symbol of Christmas all over the world. Another such symbol is the Christmas tree, but it's not something that has existed for a long time. In fact, it is quite recent, compared to the two thousand years or so of Christianity.
A Christmas tree is usually a fir, a spruce or, in general, an evergreen tree  with a characteristic conical shape, which is decorated with lights, baubles and other objects, and which can be kept inside or outside the home.
The Disney Christmas Tree

The origin of the Christmas tree can be found in pre-Christian central Europe, when people used to take branches of evergreen plants, including mistletoe and holly inside their homes around the winter solstice to keep bad spirits away. As with many other customs, the arrival of Christianity meant that many of these pagan customs merged and mingled with those of the new religion.
Mistletoe_Berries_Uk holly

During the Middle Ages, people used to enact a religious play on Christmas Eve. In this play, a fir with apples and wafers on its branches symbolised the paradise tree from which Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Even after these plays ceased to be enacted, people continued associating the paradise tree and Christmas.

It was in 18th century Protestant Germany where Christmas trees became popular, and from there they spread to other countries in Europe, taken by the nobility. One of the first descriptions of a Christmas tree in literature is in Goethe's "Werther" (1774). It was Queen Victoria, in the 19th century, who introduced the Christmas tree in Britain, as her mother and husband were both German and brought the tradition with them into the country.
Queen Victoria's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle
Image adapted for Godey's lady's Book
in Wikipedia
In America, German immigrants had brought the tradition of the Christmas tree, but it didn't really catch up until the image of Queen Victoria's tree was published in a popular magazine of the 1850s called Godey's Lady's Book. (See picture above). By the 1860s the Christmas trees could be found in thousands of homes and cities in America.

Some Catholic people didn't like this tradition, as it was seen as a pagan custom, and they preferred to set up a Nativity scene, but after Pope Paul VI decided to put up a Christmas Tree in the Vatican, even the most reluctant Catholics gave up and now they have both in their homes.
Christmas tree and Nativity scene at the Vatican
Today, thanks to globalization, Christmas trees can be seen all over the world, and even people who are not Christian like to put one up in their homes. However, in some cities in America, they are trying to change its name to "Holiday tree", so as to deprive it of its religious connotations.

Now we can learn a few words related to the Christmas tree in the following presentation:

In this video you can hear a short history of the Christmas tree and then do the comprehension exercises.

 Fancy doing some quizzes? Revise the vocabulary of Christmas in this game, or try this Christmas Trivia.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Family words and idioms

A family is a group of people related to each other by blood or marriage. There are several types of family:
  • The nuclear family consists of only the parents and their children.
  • The extended family is formed by parents, children, uncles and aunts, grandparents, etc.
  • In a one-parent or single-parent family there is only one parent living with the chidren, either because they are divorced or because they have decided to raise their children single-handedly.
Young Family Having Fun In Parkextended-familysingle parent
Nuclear familyExtended familysingle-parent family

Let's see the most common family words in English in the following presentation:

Other words related to the family:
  • A relative is someone who belongs to your family. Relatives can either be close or distant: She inherited the money from a distant relative she had never met. 
  • Relation is another way to say "relative", especially in spoken English. A blood relation is someone who is related to you by birth, not by marriage. 
  • Your next of kin is your closest relative: My brother is listed as my next of kin on all my emergency forms.
  • Kinsman is an old-fashioned word to say "relative", but also, by extension, a person of the same nationality or ethnic group: She may marry her late husband's brother or some other kinsman of his.
  • Ancestors or forefathers (notice that you cannot say foreparents) are the people from whom you are descended.
  • Descendants are the relatives of a person or group of people who are born many years after them: He claims to be a direct descendant of Napoleon.
  • Folks (usually plural) is an informal word meaning your family, especially your parents: I'll go home this Christmas to see my folks.
There are many idioms related to the family. Let's see a few of them in the following presentation:

You can see more family idioms in the BBC World Service page.
That's all folks!

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