Britons celebrate the festive season with a range of rituals and traditions, from decorating Christmas trees to hanging up stockings. To start Advent off, we wanted to share with you the most popular Christmas traditions in the UK.
Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples during Saturnalia, a feast in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture and the predecessor to Christmas.
Evergreen trees were thought to keep away evil spirits, illness and were put up during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, to remind them that the spring would return. Christmas trees made it to the UK in the 1830s and in 1841, Prince Albert set up a tree in Windsor Castle. In 1846, the Royal family was sketched standing around their Christmas tree, after which the practice became very fashionable.
The story of Father Christmas started with St. Nicholas, a bishop who lived in Myra in the 4th Century. He had a reputation for giving to the poor and being kind to children. Legend has it that St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the chimney of a poor man who could not afford his daughter’s dowry. The bag fell into a stocking that had been left by the fire to dry.
Legend goes that Santa’s suit is red because of a successful advertising campaign for Coca-Cola that featured Father Christmas wearing red robes with a white trim, the soft drink’s colours. However, the red and white actually derive from the colours of St. Nicholas. Over time, the bishops’ red and white robes were replaced by a fur-trimmed suit.
Goose, boar and peacock have all been popular Christmas meats over the centuries, but nowadays, Turkey reigns supreme as the traditional Christmas Day meal in the UK. Legend has it that King Henry VIII was the first English monarch to eat Turkey on Christmas Day, popularizing it among the upper classes as the bird was imported from America.
Mince pies were traditionally known as Christmas pies, and crib pies as their oblong shape was meant to resemble Jesus’ cradle. The pies were initially made of meat, usually mutton and were influenced by crusaders who came back from the Middle East with spices.
Christmas puddings are sometimes called figgy pudding. It is made from beef, mutton, currants, wines and spices, frumenty was typically eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas celebrations.
The season of Advent is traditionally celebrated by Christmas in the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. It begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year and symbolizes the ‘coming’ of Christ. By the last 1950’s, chocolate Advent calendars were popular and now, the cardboard Christmas countdowns contain a variety of treats, including beauty produces, children’s toys, gin and even cheese.
In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant and educator, and his friend John Horsley, an artist, produced the first Christmas card. The development of printing processes meant Christmas cards grew popular during the Victorian era with new, distinctive designs on sale in bookshops.
Crackers are a Victorian invention, created by a sweet maker who wanted a novel way of selling his wares after sales slumped. The story goes that Tom Smith watched a fire crackle and the thought of how the packaging could ‘crack’. The sweets were replaced by trinkets and jokes, and paper hats were introduced.
Christmas is not only the most wonderful time of the year but also the most colourful due to the massive Christmas light displays all over the UK. Take advantage of that by driving around and looking at the beautifully lit-up houses or drive through attractions with your family.
The Telegraph. (2019). Christmas traditions: Advent calendars, mince pies and the story of Santa Claus. [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/christmas/0/christmas-traditions-advent-calendars-mince-pies-story-santa/ [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019].
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