Christmas Traditions, Habits and Oddities in Britain (Kirsten Dhar)

Like every country, so Britain too has its own variation on the Christmas celebrations. In fact, the origin of these winter festivities seems to date back to the Middle Ages and Druid rituals. Houses were decorated with green leaves (signifying eternal life), ivy and mistletoe.  And here, already, we have the first peculiarity of British Christmas traditions – the kiss under the mistletoe.  The old Druids believed that if two enemies were to shake hands under a mistletoe, then they would lay down their weapons and peace would prevail (although this probably goes back to Roman occupation in Britain ….in Ancient Rome, the mistletoe was a symbol of peace).  And of course, Druids attributed great healing power to this plant as well.  Therefore, on balance, should we be kissing under the mistletoe makes for a healthy love life and much less bickering and arguing in a relationship? ….well, perhaps do put it to the test this year.


Then came the Christmas tree.  And responsible for this are ….well, the Germans.  In 1840, Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert introduced the first Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. And since 1947, Norway has been sending a Christmas tree to London every year in commemoration of the two countries’ collaboration during the Second World War.  If you get a chance, pass by Trafalgar Square – this massive, magnificent tree is worth a look.


Unlike many European countries, Britain celebrates on The 25th when the family gets together, presents are opened and a big Christmas dinner is served.  Although, a word of warning here ….”dinner” does not mean at dinner time;  it is more like a late lunch that goes on well into the afternoon.  Probably because Christmas Eve, the 24th, is often a bit of a party and drinking fest ….and the ensuing hang-over may not allow for Christmas lunch to be served on time….


Food in general is probably much the same as everywhere else, with goose and ham, turkey and roast potatoes – but then comes the inevitable Christmas Pudding for after.  A stodgy affair, heavy enough to knock you out if thrown at you, and served with brandy butter ….presumably to make it easier to swollen.  But do give it a try …it is the ultimate tranquilliser after an already hefty Christmas meal.  Mince pies are another favourite sweet, although – not just reserved for the day –  they are usually served at every possible opportunity in the run up to Christmas.


Now, we should not forget to mention the “piece de resistance ” – the Christmas crackers.  I do not think anybody really knows what this is all about!  Let’s just say that this utterly curious act of pulling on colourful paper tubes until they burst (and so cause great amusement and laughter whilst wearing the paper crown that explodes out from this contraption???!!!) was imported from ….., bingo! …..France.  The Germans gave us a tree, the Americans the Christmas turkey, and the French….. Fascinating!


Then, finally, comes Boxing Day on the 26th.  I have not been able to ascertain where the naming of this day comes from but, traditionally, it is Saint Stephen’s Day when churches used to distribute gifts to the needy from their charity collections. It was also the day when the domestic staff in wealthy households used to receive  presents from their employers.


And then, 12 days from Christmas, all decorations, tree and Christmas cards must be removed and tidied away (as one would not want to attract bad luck) until the next time around.


1 Comment
  1. Profile photo of Kirsten-Everatlas Author
    Kirsten-Everatlas 2 years ago

    ….to go with the article on the differences between an Aussie and a British Christmas.

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