It may only be November, but there’s no escaping the juggernaut that is Christmas. However you and your family choose to celebrate, either in lavish style or without the fanfare, our traditions make the whole season what it is.
We love a good Christmas tradition, so we thought we’d take a deep-dive into the most popular ones and find out how they came to be.
The old classics
Christmas Trees were introduced to England in the second half of the Nineteenth Century by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. He had the tree, the symbol of life and rebirth, bought over from his native Germany following the custom they had there. in 1948, the London News published an image of the Royal Christmas Tree and a tradition was born.
Believe it or not, decorations have been around since the Romans: they were mentioned in descriptions of the Roman feast, Saturnalia. Meanwhile, Celts would decorate a tree during the Winter Solstice to symbolise life, and Scandinavians would do the same for the Yule Festival.
Hanging stockings, whether it’s at the end of the bed or by the fireplace, is a tradition based on a folklore tale of Saint Nicholas. The story goes that a nobleman had been widowed, leaving him and his three daughters penniless. Without a dowry, as was custom in those days, he worried about his daughters’ finding husbands and being cared for. Hearing about this, Saint Nicholas visited the family’s home and filled the girls’ stockings, which they’d hung by the fire to dry, with gold coins to ensure they could marry.
Turkeys aren’t originally native to England and were bought over from America during the sixteenth century. They became popular as a Christmas staple when Henry VIII was depicted eating one for his Christmas dinner.
The tradition of hanging Mistletoe goes back to the times of ancient druids. Mistletoe is believed to have mystical qualities and hanging it would bring good luck to the house and ward off any evil spirits. Meanwhile, kissing under the Mistletoe is believed to bring fertility and luck to a couple.
Crackers were invented in the 1840’s by famed London pastry chef, Tom Smith, who wrapped bonbons inside paper packages with a simple poem, making the perfect love token. These sold like the proverbial hot cakes. Buoyed by the success, he redesigned the packages based on the logs on his fire, twisting them into the shape we now associate as a Christmas Cracker.
The Romans bought mulled wine over to us in the second century, however it wasn’t until the 1890’s when mulled wine became so closely associated with Christmas.
In one of the oldest traditions, the day after Christmas was given as a day off for servants, who were also given boxes of unwanted gifts from their masters – hence the name, Boxing Day.
The first Christmas card was sent by Sir Henry Cole who tested out the newly invented Penny Post by sending a greeting letter to friends. The trend caught on, and we’ve been sending them ever since.
The Modern Rituals
Is it even Christmas if you haven’t seen (and discussed at length) the John Lewis Christmas Ad? And what about Kevin the Carrot, the Coca-Cola Trucks and Quality Street Magic Moments? Love them or hate them, Christmas Ads have become an essential part of modern Christmas. What’s your current favourite?
Singing Carols to celebrate the birth of Christ dates back to the fourth and fifth centuries, but it was St. Francis of Assisi who first incorporated them into church services. “Good King Wenceslas” was written because Queen Victoria wanted happier and more upbeat Carols to sing. While Carols remain an essential part of the festivities, modern pop music has taken over with everyone from Queen to Slade and Mariah Carey to Shakin’ Stevens getting involved in the Christmas tune roll-out.
Trivia alert: the first-ever Christmas movie is a UK based two-minute short film, 1898’s Santa Claus. This also featured the first on-screen depiction of Father Christmas. 1940’s and 50’s classics such as White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life begun the trend of Christmas based films, while the 1980’s saw a boom in off-kilter classics such as Gremlins and Die Hard. More recent classics include Home Alone, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Arthur Christmas and Noelle, with A-Listers lining up to be immortalised as Christmas Movie Stars.
The first Christmas Market was held in Dresden, Germany in 1434 and was named “Striezelmarkt.” There are now Christmas Markets in cities across Europe and in recent years, these have become a tourist destination with coach and cruise tours aimed specifically at the Christmas Markets. In the UK, Birmingham Christmas Market is the largest one outside of Germany.
Who doesn’t love a Christmas Panto? The pantomime is considered a Christmas classic – oh yes, it is – and with good reason; loud music, big laughs and audience participation are all on show and this is suitable for EVERYONE! Pantomimes are a revival of Roman comedy plays known as Lysistrata. You can find a panto in almost every theatre in the country come December with both professional and amateur theatre companies getting in on the act.
We’d love to know what you and your family get up to. Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what your Festive Season looks like.