Christmas is a religious holiday celebrated by Christians all over the world, but it is also a time for friends and family to get together, exchange gifts, and enjoy festive food and drinks. Interestingly, you might find that Christmas is celebrated a bit differently in Great Britain.
England has its own Christmas traditions and customs, from the classic Christmas dinner to the festive carols that are sung throughout December. You might have seen some of these in popular holiday movies.
Whether you want to dive deeper into British culture or are looking for fun ideas to diversify your Christmas party this year, this article is for you. Below, we explore some of the unique ways in which British people celebrate Christmas. Keep reading!
History of Celebrating Christmas
Christmas Eve has its roots in the religious holiday of Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and goes back to the 5th century. Christians around the world commemorate this event on December 25th each year. However, Christmas Eve is typically celebrated on December 24th and is considered to be the eve of Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve is a time for celebration and preparation for Christmas Day. In England, people often attend church services or spend time with family and friends. There is usually a large feast or meal, and children often wait up until midnight to open their presents from Santa Claus, or rather, his British equivalent – Father Christmas.
Christmas is said to have originated in Cornwall, a coastal county in southwest England, and has been celebrated in the UK for centuries. As such, there are many interesting traditions and customs that have developed over the years.
Father Christmas, also known as Saint Nicholas, is one of the most popular symbols of the season. His figure has been part of English culture since at least the 16th century, and he is often seen in public events and winter festivals. He wears a long red robe and carries a bag full of presents to give children on Christmas morning.
When Father Christmas merged with Santa Claus, his figure was adopted by many cultures throughout the world. In England, Father Christmas is often seen as a jolly old man who brings happiness and joy to children during the holiday season. He is often depicted in stories and songs as being kind, generous, and loving – a personification of Christmas.
Christmas caroling dates back to the Middle Ages when groups of people would go from house to house singing songs about Jesus’s birth. This custom is still practiced today in many English homes and churches around the country, with people gathering to sing festive songs both inside and outside churches.
You might hear carols being sung on the streets or even see choirs performing in public places such as shopping centers. Some of the most popular British Christmas carols include:
- Joy to the World,
- We Three Kings of Orient Are,
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas,
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,
- Silent Night,
- The First Noel,
- The Holly and the Ivy.
Many churches have regular carol services throughout December leading up to the main celebrations on Christmas Day.
Royal Christmas Message
Every year, the British monarch gives a Christmas message on television and radio. This message is typically broadcast on Christmas Day, and it has been done so since 1932. It’s a tradition started by King George V as a radio broadcast, which was later moved to television by Queen Elizabeth II. This year, King Charles III will address the public for the first time.
Typically, the monarch gives an address that reflects on the past year and looks ahead to the future, as well as offering thoughts and advice to the nation. This speech by the monarch is seen as a chance for people to come together and celebrate the Christmas season.
This tradition is unique to England, and it offers an insight into British culture.
Traditional Christmas Dinner
The traditional English Christmas dinner is one of the most beloved aspects of celebrating Christmas in England, and it may even be considered a cultural ritual. It is quite hearty and usually consists of roast turkey, potatoes, vegetables, and stuffing. Other dishes may also be served – such as Yorkshire pudding, mince pies, and brandy butter.
Christmas is also the time for drinking traditional holiday drinks like mulled wine, eggnog, and hot toddies. Drinking a toast to loved ones is also an important part of the festivities!
This meal often serves as an opportunity for friends and family to come together and exchange gifts. It is also a time for children to indulge in all kinds of festive food and drinks, such as Christmas pudding and hot chocolate.
Now, we believe some of these dishes deserve more attention, so here is a quick breakdown of those you’ll definitely spot on the table:
One of the oldest British Christmas traditions is eating mince pies. These delicious pastries have been around since the Middle Ages and feature a filling of minced meat, dried fruits, and spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice.
They are traditionally served with a dollop of custard or cream.
Christmas pudding is a spiced, steamed, or boiled pudding that’s been a part of Christmas in England for hundreds of years. It resembles a dark, sticky, and dense sponge, more like a fruitcake, and is usually made of mixed dried fruit, candied fruit peel, apple, and citrus zests, though every family definitely has their own traditional recipe.
The pudding is usually served on the same day it is cooked, although it can also be stored for later use. It is usually served with brandy butter or cream.
The big finale of any Christmas dinner in England should always be the traditional English Christmas cake! This rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and icing is a traditional British dessert that’s made with dried fruits, spices, and alcohol.
It has a dark brown appearance due to the large amount of fruit used in the recipe. The cake is usually drenched in brandy or rum and left to mature for several months before serving, and it is then decorated with festive decorations such as holly leaves and berries.
Mulled Wine and Cider
Mulled wine and mulled cider are winter warmers that will add some festive cheer to any Christmas gathering. Both drinks are made with red wine or cider, cinnamon, spices, and citrus fruits.
Eggnog is another traditional English Christmas drink. It is made with cream, eggs, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. It can be served warm or cold and is often garnished with ground nutmeg or a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
All in all, the Christmas meal is often seen as a way to bring people together during the holiday season, and it has become an integral part of English culture. And, if you want to learn more about English cuisine, make sure to check our specifically dedicated post.
Christmas decorations are an important part of the festive season in England. Many homes are decorated with Christmas lights, tinsel, and baubles. Homes may also feature a Christmas tree, which is usually adorned with ornaments and gifts for family members.
Christmas stockings are also hung up – these are usually filled with small gifts and sweets. And, not to forget about Christmas crackers – one of the most fun and unique aspects of Christmas in England.
These paper tubes contain small gifts such as toys, jokes, puzzles, or confetti. When pulled apart by two people, they make a loud “crack,” and the gifts are then shared between them.
The streets of England are often lit up during the holidays as well, making them a magical sight. You can visit a popular Christmas market or participate in other festive attractions, such as ice rinks or carol singing.
A public holiday in England that falls on the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day. It’s a day for family and friends to get together, exchange gifts, and enjoy festive food and drinks.
It is also the time when people go out to do some post-Christmas shopping, take advantage of the sales that are on offer, or hit a double feature at the cinema. It is also a time to relax and enjoy the festive spirit with some well-deserved rest!
The Bottom Line
Christmas is a special time for people in England, and there are many traditions and customs that make it unique. So, if you are looking for a unique way to celebrate Christmas in England, why not do it the traditional British way?
From mince pies and mulled wine to eggnog and Christmas cake, there is a heartwarming Christmas tradition for everyone! And don’t forget about all the festive decorations that make this season so special. Langster wishes you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!