Like most countries, the UK celebrates Christmas on the 25th of December. A day when family and friends come together, attend special church services, give and receive presents, and sit down to enjoy a festive meal together. Yet, like every other country, the UK has a whole host of Christmas traditions that are unique to Britain. So, as towns across the UK begin their Christmas countdown and transform into magical winter wonderlands, Musement explores eight Christmas traditions in the UK:
Pantomimes, or ‘pantos’, are comical, musical productions, popular in all theatres from late November to the end of January. Often fairy tale inspired, a pantomime includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing. The cast encourage the audience to sing along and participate in the show by shouting phrases. Calls of ‘he’s behind you’, ‘oh, yes, it is’ and ‘oh, no, it isn’t’ are bellowed by the audience throughout. Pantomimes are such a well-loved tradition in the UK, that major celebrities even perform in the bigger productions in London.
2. Mince pies
Small, sweet pies usually full of dried fruit and wintery spices called ‘mincemeat’. With recipes dating back to 13th century English cookbooks, the original mince pies contained meat. Now usually made without meat, their deliciously fruity taste is the epitome of Christmas time. An age-old folklore recommends that everyone should eat a mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas to bring good luck for the following year.
3. Stockings at the end of your bed
Whilst in most countries you may see Christmas stockings hung by the fireplace, British children generally hang them at the end of their beds, ready for Father Christmas to fill whilst they are sleeping on this magical night.
4. Christmas morning swim
For those living near the coast, a lake or a loch, a Christmas morning wild swim has become a popular tradition in Britain. Cities such as Brighton, Cornwall, Inverness and many others host an annual Christmas Day dip, where participants are encouraged to dress up in festive Santa hats and run into the water together. For those not willing to brave the cold conditions, then a family morning or afternoon walk is a much-welcomed tradition to burn off some of those Christmas calories before or after the main meal of the day.
5. Christmas crackers
You will find these novelty cardboard tubes on every British Christmas dinner table setting. Essentially a party favour, two people pull at each end until they ‘bang’ and their contents spill open. Inside you will usually find a small toy, a joke and a paper crown. They are usually pulled at the beginning of the meal to get into the spirit of things and the paper crowns are worn for the duration of the meal.
6. Christmas pudding
Many countries around the world have their own traditional Christmas desserts, but there’s nothing more British than a Christmas pudding, the origins of which date back to medieval England. Usually made six weeks (sometimes more) ahead of the big day, the dish itself is made with dried fruit, breadcrumbs, dark sugars and brandy. It is reheated on the day and dressed with warm brandy, which is set alight. Served with brandy sauce, brandy butter or cream, this boozy dessert is full of festive flavours.
7. The Queens Christmas Message
The Queen’s Christmas Message is broadcast on Christmas day via radio, tv and the internet. The tradition started in 1932 by King George V, and has since become an important part of the Christmas Day celebrations for many. The message is largely written by the Queen herself and reflects on the past year, aiming to bring unity to all before the nation embarks on a new year.
8. Boxing Day
The day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day, traditionally a day when servants received presents from their employees. Nowadays, Boxing Day is a public holiday and families usually spend it together feasting on the leftovers from the day before and watch films whilst the kids play with their new toys. Boxing Day has also become known as a day for major sporting events to take place in the UK, as fans gather to watch. And for those feeling brave enough, then dramatic price reductions attracts millions of shoppers out of their homes.