Christmas Traditions in England

Every year in December they celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ. That is why they call this time of year “Christmas” – they celebrate the “Mass” or church service for Christ. The first recorded observance occurred in Rome in AD360 but it wasn’t until AD440 that the Christian Church fixed the celebration date of 25 December.
Christmas is a truly magical season bringing families and friends together to share the much loved customs and traditions which have been around for centuries. Most people are on holiday in England and stay at home with their family on Christmas Day. Christmas is celebrated with a Christmas dinner for the whole family.
During the weeks before Christmas Day they send cards, watch nativity plays and go to carol services. They also decorate their homes and churches with green leaves, paper decorations and colourful electric lights.
Many of their Christmas customs began long before Jesus was born. They came from earlier festivals which had nothing to do with the Christian church. Long time ago people had mid-winter festivals when the days were shortest and the sunlight weakest. They believed that their ceremonies would give the sun back its power. The Romans held the festival of Saturnalia around 25 December. They decorated their homes with evergreens to remind them of Saturn, their harvest God to return the following spring. Some of these customs and traditions were adopted by early Christians as part of their celebrations of Jesus’ birthday.
In Victorian times some new ideas such as Father Christmas, Christmas cards and crackers were added to the celebrations. Here are a few of the things you might come across if you visit England in the run up to Christmas:

Christmas Cards
The Christmas craze begins weeks before when Christmas cards are sent off to relatives, friends, loved ones and business contacts. According to the history books this particular tradition dates back to 1840 and every year more than one billion Christmas cards are sent in Great Britain.

The Nativity Play
Another awaited event in the run up to Christmas is the Nativity play – each year hundreds of thousands of school children act out the story from the Bible about the birth of Christ. They dress up as Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the shepherds and the three Wise Men and occasionally children get to don ox and donkey costumes.

The Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree may have originated in Germany but it is very popular in England, too. Legend has it that the first Christmas Tree in England was the one Prince Albert, the spouse of Queen Victoria, placed in their royal home. There are lots of trees in public places as well, the most famous being the huge one in Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during the Second World War.

Holly and mistletoe are essential natural Christmas decorations. Mistletoe’s popularity has something to do with the custom of kissing the person with whom you stand underneath it – a tradition that dates back to ancient Roman times when enemies who met under it were said to have to give up their rivalries.

Roast Turkey
Christmas dinner in England is usually a huge stuffed and roasted bird, normally a turkey, although goose has featured in the past. The meal is served with all the trimmings, roast potatoes, chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce.

In England, the only thing that people ate on the day before the feast was Frumenty which was a kind of porridge made from corn. Over the years the recipe changed. Eggs, fruit, spice, lumps of meat and dried plums were added. The whole mixture was wrapped in a cloth and boiled. This is how plum pudding began.

Christmas Pudding
The meal is followed by Christmas Pudding which is typically doused in brandy and set alight. Christmas Pudding originates from plum pudding which was a kind of porridge with eggs, dried plums and meat added. Nowadays it’s more of a steamed fruitcake. A silver coin was traditionally hidden in the pudding – to bring good fortune to the person who found it.

Mince Pies
Another “mincemeat” based delicacy – you’ll find mince pies everywhere from around the 1st December right through the Christmas period in England.

Christmas Cake
Those who can still move after a Christmas dinner can indulge a piece of Christmas cake, a heavy fruit cake topped with marzipan and royal icing.

The Christmas Cracker
The most original English Christmas tradition, however, is the Christmas Cracker – the popular small paper tubes with little gifts inside were invented by a baker from London in the mid 19th century and have gone on to conquer the world. It is traditionally opened by two people who each pull on one end of the cracker until it… well, cracks. Merry Christmas! 

Santa Claus
The English gift giver is called Santa Claus (also named Father Christmas). He wears a long red or green robe and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve. The gifts are not usually opened until the following afternoon.

In the Middle Ages, people called mummers put on masks and acted out Christmas plays. These plays are still performed in towns and villages.

Boxing Day
The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day because boys used to go round collecting money in clay boxes. When the boxes were full they broke them open. This tradition survives in the custom of tipping the milkman, postman, dustman and other callers of good service at Christmas time.

The Queen’s Christmas Message
Another traditional feature of Christmas afternoon is the Queen’s Christmas Message to the nation, broadcast on radio and television.
Lucinda Rito, 10ºD

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