Whilst we are located in the UK, a lot of our blog visitors aren't, so we wanted to make sure that we didn't forget to include the customs of our very own country. So we say farewell to the Christmas celebrations in Sweden and head across the North Sea for 1,404km to the UK.
The United Kingdom, located in northwest Europe, covers an area of 242,495 square km and has a population of more than 66 million people.
The UK is a small nation - you're never more than 70 miles from the coast.
Most visitors to London will recognise the sight of Big Ben - but did you know that it's not the clock tower, it's actually the 13-tonne bell inside the tower.
Us Brits are a nation of tea drinkers - around 60 billion cups per year! We're not limited to just tea though - we love coffee too!
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in the UK?
In the UK, they celebrate Christmas on 25th December.
The official religion in the UK is Christianity with Queen Elizabeth II being the head of the church of England.
Most people will have a Christmas Tree (perhaps more than one), both real and fake trees are popular, and the decorating of the tree tends to be a family thing where everyone adds something to it. The most typical Christmas Tree decorations are; baubles, fairy lights, glass ornaments, and a star/angel to go on top. Holly, ivy and mistletoe are sometimes used to decorate some buildings/rooms. Christmas lights are very popular and decorate homes, shops and streets in the form of string-lights and shaped-lights (stars, Santas, etc.). Candles are also popular decoration especially in churches, and so are nativity scenes.
Christmas is a family event in the UK so family and friends will get together throughout the Christmas period to celebrate. Christmas light ‘switch-ons’ happen in many towns whether organised by a city council, or just organised by locals, the most famous switch-on is in Oxford Street in London.
Nativity plays and carol services are popular, commonly performed by children in schools, choir groups at markets, and church groups in church services. Many churches will have a ‘carols by Candlelight’ service which is a carol service in which the church is purely lit by candles. Christingle services are also popular in most churches.
The lead up to Christmas is advent which can be counted down using advent wreaths or, more commonly, advent calendars with a chocolate or small gift behind each door for every day of advent.
Children believe that Santa Claus/Father Christmas will leave presents in their stockings (sock-shaped sacks) hung by the fireplace or at the ends of beds and under their Christmas Tree ready for them to open on Christmas morning. In early December, children usually write letters to Santa which are either ‘posted to the north pole’ by their parents or thrown into the fireplace so Santa can read the smoke. Children may also leave out mince pies and brandy/whisky for Santa to have on his travels, although many people may now leave out a non-alcoholic drink like milk. Carrots or oats can be left out for Santa’s reindeer.
During most Christmas celebrations when a meal is involved, people will have Christmas crackers which are cardboard packages that can be pulled from either end to make a popping noise and reveal a paper crown, a joke, and a small gift. In the north of England, ‘the Sheffield carols’ are sang in local pubs by the pub-goers throughout the Christmas period. Christmas songs are played in shops and on radios during the build up to Christmas, a few of them are religion-based but most are more upbeat pop songs about various Christmas things (Santa, snow, etc.).
Christmas markets are popular in most towns and cities where people buy and sell handmade decorations, food, and gifts, and there are sometimes simple fairground rides/games. Shops, theme parks, and other public attractions may have a ‘Santa's grotto’ where children can go and tell ‘Santa’ what they want for Christmas, perhaps getting a small gift from him.
Pantomimes are very popular, especially among families with young children, and they usually tell a comedic version of a classic fairy tale (e.g. Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella). On Boxing Day, there are massive sales so many people will wake up early in order to go shopping, some families may also exchange smaller gifts on boxing day. There’s a tradition that originated in the UK that, if two people stand under the same piece of mistletoe at the same time, then they have to kiss.
The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Day at midday or early afternoon. The main dish is traditionally roast turkey, and the sides are often roast vegetables (e.g. roast potatoes), carrots, peas, Brussel sprouts, stuffing, bacon, Yorkshire puddings, and sausages. There’s usually also gravy and cranberry sauce.
For dessert there’s Christmas Pudding, mince pies, trifle, and Christmas cake (rich fruit covered in marzipan and icing). Mulled wine is a popular drink around Christmas time as is hot chocolate. Snack-wise, there’s a variety of chocolates (perhaps in Christmas-themed shapes), candy canes, and nuts.
UK Christmas Tradition Origins
Here are some origins of our UK Christmas traditions:
- Christmas cards: Popularised by Sir Henry Cole and artist John Horsley who created the first Christmas card in 1843 in order to encourage the use of the recently created post office.
- Christmas Trees: Prince Albert brought Christmas Trees to England as a Christmas decoration when, in 1841, he put one up in Windsor Castle.
- Mince Pies: Recipe inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine that was brought back to England by the Crusaders. They were originally made with 13 different ingredients to represent Jesus and his disciples. By the Victorian era, meat was no longer an ingredient in the recipe.
- Stockings: According to the legend of St. Nicholas, he sent gold down the chimney of a poor man who needed money for dowry for his unmarried daughters, the gold then landed in stockings hung by the fireplace to dry.
- Holly and Ivy: In pre-Christian times, they were used to celebrate the winter solstice as they remained colourful in the dark winter months.
- Christmas crackers: Christmas crackers were invented by Tom Smith who was a London sweet-maker in the late 1840s. They were inspired by traditional, paper-wrapped, French bonbons. The sales took off when he found a way to make them ‘crack’ and his sons later added the paper crowns and novelty gifts.
- Turkeys: Edward VII made it popular for the middle classes to have turkey at Christmas time, but it remained a luxury for many people until the 1950s when it became much more affordable for the average person.
- Christmas pudding: In the Victorian era, Christmas pudding was especially popular – often eaten a week before advent. However, it’s thought to have its roots in the Middle Ages in a wheat-based thick soup called frumenty.
- Boxing Day: Boxing Day was traditionally a day on which servants would have the day off. They would also often be given a ‘Christmas Box’ (Christmas present) by their employer, and they’d return to their families to exchange small gifts with them.
- Fun Fact: Christmas was banned in England from the mid 1640s – 1660. This was allegedly due to Oliver Cromwell but in actuality, while he supported the laws, it was the puritan churches who pushed the idea as they believed only Sundays were to be holy days and people were too wasteful on Christmas. Luckily, when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, any laws made between 1642 - 1660 were made null and void, and Christmas was allowed to be celebrated again.
Our next Christmas destination looks at the Christmas celebrations in the USA.