What is Christmas?
Before we start with our Top 10 Christmas traditions in the UK list, what does Christmas mean in the UK? Whether or not you celebrate Christmas officially in your country, most of us place some significance on the events that happen in December. Christmas is widely accepted as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in the Christian world, but it was also attributed to the celebration of the winter solstice in the Roman Empire and coincides with the festival of light in the pagan world.
To us, and to many of those around us, Christmas means tradition. Throughout our lives we develop traditions that come to hold great significance in our lives. For many of these are traditions that help to bring family and friends together. With many of us coming from multicultural backgrounds and making friends from lots of different countries, it’s nice to adopt traditions from other places and develop them into our own Christmas celebrations. Below are our Top 10 Christmas traditions in the UK, some of which are so purely British.
10. The Queen’s Speech
The Christmas Day message, broadcast by the reigning British monarch, was first delivered by King George V in 1932, and has continued with all subsequent Kings and Queen to this very day. It started off on the radio and it was Queen Elizabeth II who launched the first TV broadcast in 1957. The content of the message usually centres around current affairs going on in the country and the world. For many of us though, it’s a great excuse to pause Christmas lunch, let the food settle, and have a good old gossip about how great the queen is looking.
Many Christmas movies today focus on the idea of falling in love at Christmas time. We’re not sure why Christmas evokes feelings of love and romance, but this is not just a recent idea. In the 1700s it became customary in the UK to hang a branch of mistletoe in your house and kiss anyone who you stop next to under the mistletoe. Some say this is because the plant is a symbol of fertility, others that it is linked to friendship and peace. Whatever the explanation, Christmas is a very magical time, and finding the magic of love at this time of year must be a good thing, right?
8. Betting on a White Christmas
Bing Crosby coined the phrase “dreaming of a white Christmas” and in the UK we love to speculate on the chances of having a white Christmas every year. Is it cold enough for snow? Are we getting a cold blast from eastern Europe? Will the timing be right? It is such a hotly contended question that even the betting companies take bets on whether it will happen. If a single snowflake falls during the 24 hours of Christmas Day, then it’s a YES!
7. Baking Mince Pies
Now, you will find lots of articles that describe what mince pies are, and lots of different brands in the shops claiming to be luxury, deep filled and full of fruit. But in our opinion, the best mince pies in the world are homemade ones. Up to a month before Christmas, you can start preparing the dried fruit, spices, and citrus peel by mixing them with brandy and simply letting the most wonderful aromatic mixture develop. Then a week before Christmas, amidst flurries of flour and kilos of butter the real magic happens, and tray after tray of deep filled, luxury, melt in the mouth, sweet little pies emerge from the oven, warm and filling the house with the smell of Christmas.
6. Christmas sack
We’ve all seen the images of presents piled under the Christmas tree, and this very American tradition is how most of us exchange gifts nowadays. But for many of us, we would have a Christmas stocking or sack, hung at the end of the bed, where Father Christmas would leave our presents when he crept into our bedroom. Annabel, our Office Manager in Birmingham, remembers getting her first sack when she was about 4 years old. It was big (to hold lots of presents), and red, with white furry trim at the top. The best bit of all, it had her name stamped across it in gold. She still has the very same sack, and even though Father Christmas doesn’t use it as much, she could never part with this piece of magical childhood Christmas traditions.
Pantomime is a musical comedy stage production, based on a popular fairy tale, normally performed around the Christmas period. It is quintessentially English family entertainment and is full of jokes and fun that can be appreciated by kids and grown ups alike. In England, panto productions often have local, minor or major celebrities in the lead roles. It is one of our favourite outings during the festive season and always involves the whole family.
4. Christmas lunch – Including Brussel Sprouts
Any Christmas celebrations usually centre around a large festive meal. This might be Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day lunch in a beautiful hotel, or the good old traditional British Christmas roast dinner at home. Some families wait till after the Queen’s speech, but many start at about one o’clock. The biggest dilemma is always the menu. Turkey or goose? Soup or seafood starter? Carrots, parsnips or red cabbage? Cream or brandy butter on the Christmas pudding? One thing a Christmas plate can never be without is Brussel Sprouts. Little cabbage-like vegetables, their presence on the Christmas menu is a hotly contended issue as some of us love them and others absolutely detest them. Fried off with some bacon and chestnuts, they are delicious.
3. Christmas lunch leftovers
Inevitably, everyone always over caters the Christmas meal, but that just means plenty of leftovers to pick at on Boxing Day. Turkey sandwiches and bubble and squeak are the most common way to use up leftovers. But why not get more creative with a turkey pie, vegetable curry or Christmas pudding truffles? If you are still eating leftovers by New Year’s Eve, you know you have really overdone it though.
2. Singing Christmas songs
From 1st December (or even earlier some years), the Christmas classics can be heard everywhere. The voices of Mariah, George, Bing, John & Yoko, Elton and many more fill Shopping centres, coffee shops, cars and offices all over the country. What is even better than listening to Christmas songs everywhere you go, is belting them out at the top of your lungs in a constant karaoke style sing along. That’s what it’s like in our TEG colleges. We do apologise to our lovely students if we don’t have the best voices!
1. Opening presents under the tree – The Joy of Giving
The most popular event in Christmas that deserves the number 1 position in our Top 10 Christmas traditions in the UK is, the presents opening under the tree. We gather round the tree in our pyjamas and the children have taken on the role of reading out the names of the carefully written labels as they hand out one gift at a time. We wait to read everyone’s reaction as the wrapping comes off.
Presents are one of the main traditions that unite all cultures that celebrate Christmas. We all enjoy that feeling of unwrapping a special item that we really wanted! But nothing brings most of us more joy on Christmas Day than seeing the faces of our family opening the gifts we have given them. Whether small stocking fillers or expensive keepsakes, giving presents that we have put proper thought into and that have true meaning to the ones we love is the best!
So that’s our top 10 Christmas traditions in the UK that are full of cheer, good will and joy. We hope that they leave you feeling happy and festive.
From our TEG family to you and yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!