Christmas is close so people from all around the world think about celebrating togetherness and family time. Obviously, countless traditions exist so we will focus just on the UK. Just as with every single country in the world, there are some things going on in the UK that are different than everywhere else. Sometimes differences are just strange and subtle. In other cases, they are just incredible. With all this in mind, here are some UK Christmas traditions that you most likely do not know much about.
These are basically a series of 3 tubes made out of cardboard and connected with colored foil wrapping. They are really popular as a British Christmas tradition, appearing right next to cutlery on the dinner tables. You have them somewhere between fortune cookies and turkey wishbones. Two people are needed to pull each side.
When tubes are pulled apart, a small crack or bang is hurt. This is due to a small quantity of explosives that is put inside. You win the “game” when you get the largest part of the cardboard tube. Prizes exist but they are usually really small items.
Crackers in the UK appeared thanks to the work of Tom Smith, a Victorian confectioner. The inspiration was taken from an 1840 trip to Paris as he noticed French people wrapping bon-bons in colored paper. It obviously took some time to find an appropriate explosive mix that would bring in a good sound and would not be dangerous. After this happened, crackers quickly became huge.
Ever since the thirteenth century, the mince pie has been a huge part of cuisine in Great Britain. Crusader knights were known to come home with brand new ingredients from around the world, like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. These were added to the pies with some extra minced meat, suet and dried fruits.
During puritan times, different Christmas traditions were banned, including the mince pie. Then, it came back, eventually becoming a sweet treat in the nineteenth century. Pies are also smaller and more of a bite size than the larger options in the past.
In the US, Christmas tradition relies around eggnog. In the UK, they drink mulled wine and they wassail. Wassailing was a basically an act where people went from one door to the next with an alcoholic beverage, a tradition that happened on the Twelfth Night of Christmas.
The alcoholic drink was usually wine or cider that was headed up and then mixed with different spices and fruits. Nowadays, people just have mulled wine with them. The only difference is that British people no longer wait for after the New Year.
Almost everywhere around the world, people talk about Santa Claus. In the UK, people say “Father Christmas”. Contrary to popular belief, Father Christmas and Santa Claus have different origins. Father Christmas was not actually a gift-giver. He can be traded back to the fifth or sixth century, appearing as a Saxon king that promised the winter climate will be milder.
Normans invaded and the story of Saint Nicholas was mixed with their mythology. The result was something similar to what we now see as Father Christmas, with the first ever recorded mention being in a carol dating back to the fifteenth century.
Father Christmas does not live in the North Pole. His home is in Lapland, which is interesting since people go there to meet Santa Claus.
This classic UK festive dish has its roots in the medieval era. It is basically boiled fruit cake with spices, brandy and some fire involved. In tradition, coins are put inside and serve as extra gifts. Obviously, it also means that your dentist might charge you more for not being careful when you took a bite.
There are also some pretty strict instructions related to this Christmas dish. The pudding has to be done after Trinity, on the 25th, with 13 ingredients that represent the apostles and Jesus Christ. Also, every single family member needs to stir it from the east to the west.
This is a type of musical comedy. It is really big in the UK, featuring men in drag, celebrities and many other traditions. The shows are so big that they are incredibly popular in the entire kingdom. In the year 2012 the largest production company in the country actually made over $30 million just during Christmas.
Super Bowl ads are huge in the US. Just half a minute costs over $5 million. In the UK, the huge commercials appear during Christmas celebrations. This includes all giants, like Coca Cola. For instance, John Lewis, a popular UK high-end department store chain, built a huge name for itself thanks to these commercials. One campaign costs around $8.7 million, making it a very serious tradition for the store. John Lewis is not even the biggest possible spender. Burberry made the headlines with a $12.5 million cinematic add that ran in Christmas 2016.
Boxing Day in the UK is December 26. It is not really a public holiday but it is when sales start after the Christmas season ends. Basically, it is UK’s version of Black Friday, with huge sales and bargain-hunting.
People do not agree about Boxing Day’s origins but what is clear is that there is no connection with the sport of boxing. It might be a Church practice of opening the donation boxes or aristocracy’s tradition of offering boxes of presents to servants after Christmas.
No matter what Boxing Day’s origins are, most people in the UK celebrate it, one way or another.
The Royal Christmas Broadcast
Ever since 1932, this has been a mainstay. The Christmas Broadcast started with George V, at the radio. Eventually, it led to the very first live TV one in 1957, with Queen Elizabeth II.
Ever since 1959, this broadcast was pre-recorded. Even so, it is still transmitted on Christmas Day at 3 PM, with the sole exception being 1969. The Queen made the decision.
During most years, subjects are similar, with the Queen talking about the past year and sending a togetherness message. Ever since the nineties, the popularity of the show went down. This culminated with a similar tradition started by Channel 4. At the exact same time an Alternative Message is sent at the exact same hour.