- a thematic guide to Britain
and New Year - a holiday for all
in Britain - when everyone takes a break
Britain doesn't have a
- we have no Bastille Day, no
Independence Day, no Founder's Day: instead we have
Christmas in Britain, and most particularly in England, is
the biggest party season of the year. Christmas Day itself, the start
of the great holiday period, is the one day in the year on which the
head of state - the Queen - speaks to the nation. Christmas Day is the
high point of a festive period that lasts at least two days, but
depending on the calendar, can become a holiday period of up to nine
and one which people have been getting ready for for up to two months.
holiday in England can be up to four days off
in a row.
Not only is Christmas Day, December 25th, a public holiday, but so is
after Christmas, December 26th, known as Boxing Day. In
addition, according to a now-established tradition, if one or both of
these holidays fall on a Saturday or Sunday, Britons enjoy one or two
extra days of public holidays on the Monday and possibly on the Tuesday
that follow. In 2020, December 25th being a Friday, most activity in
Britain except shopping will close down from some time on Thursday
December 24th to Tuesday 28th inclusive.
Some firms let their employees off as from the evening of December
23rd, and until the morning of January 2nd. As for public transport,
services are considerably reduced during the two days of 25 and 26
Christmas - New Year Sales
Among the major activities of modern Christmas in Britain, the Winter
sales are particularly important. In Britain, people do not need to
wait until January, the winter sales begin in England on 26th or 27th
December, if not before, because stores
are free to
as and when they want ..... and notably to organise them when the
people are still on holiday, not after the holiday period ends.
decorations on sale in a large department store
Throughout the Christmas and New year period, stores are always full -
to the point that gift-vouchers have become a popular form of Christmas
present, allowing the recipient to buy the gift they really
want, and make the most of the bargains that are to be had in the
Christmas - New Year sales period.
Even if many traditions keep changing, the English Christmas is still
defined in terms of great traditions that date back to the nineteenth
century or before. These include Christmas cards , Christmas
carols , decorations and the Christmas tree, gifts and
Christmas dinner – which is often really Christmas lunch.
traditional English Christmas-day menu
optional, and depending on the cook's preference.
Roast turkey, filled with a sage and
onion stuffing, and served with bread sauce, gravy, roast potatoes,
brussel sprouts and possibly a second vegetable.
, served with
brandy-butter or custard
The meal is accompanied by red wine, cider or beer,
according to taste.
is a snack taken around 5 pm by those who
already eaten too much at lunch time. Tea is served with the
traditional Christmas cake (a fruit cake covered in icing), or with
(small pies filled with
Even if shopping is now a more important part of
Christmas for most people than remembering the nativity of Christ, the
origins of Christmas as a Christian festival are not
forgotten. In many public and private schools, especially at primary
level, the "nativity play", a theatrical staging of the birth of
Christ, remains an important event in the calendar; and according to a
recent ORB survey, over a third of the UK population attends a
Christmas Mass or a carol service during the Christmas period - far
more than the 3% or 4% of the population that are regular church-goers .
The tradition dates back to the early 19th century, and developed with
the growth of the national postal service. From September onwards,
cards come on sale in newsagents and department stores; they
usually available in packs of 10, and are increasingly sold on behalf
of charities such as the Red Cross, Greenpeace, Oxfam or associations
for the protection of wildlife and the environment.
While the growth of social media and email has led
decline in the number of cards purchased, the British remain world
leaders for sending cards (31 cards sent per person per year in 2011,
according to the Greetings Cards Manufacturers Association), and
Christmas is the greatest opportunity for sending cards. Many people
send and receive fifty or even a hundred cards each Christmas, and
these cards are used as part of the Christmas decorations.
All major charities now sell Christmas cards, and these can
bought online (and delivered internationally) from an Internet site
The Charities produce beautiful cards, with a large choice and great
prices, eg a set of 10 beautiful cards + envelopes for less than
singers singing in the street
The British love singing, and singing is part of English life, whether
at school, with friends, or in church. As in the US, many well-known
singers began their musical life as part
of a school or church choir; and even at a time when few Brits go to
church, 68% of the population say they are Christian (according to the
2011 census) and Christmas carols are familiar to almost everyone,
Christian or not. A tradition that continues, especially in
is that of Carol-singing, when groups of young or not so young stand in
the street, or go from door to door, singing carols and collecting for
a charity .
There are also carol-singers in many major
shopping streets and malls in the days before Christmas. Away from the
street, almost all churches organize some form of Carol
which attracts many more than just regular worshipers. The Service of
Nine Lessons and Carols from the chapel
of King's College, Cambridge University, is one of the great musical
events of the year for BBC television.
The tradition of the Christmas trees is an ancient tradition that goes
back a long way in time. It probably originated in pagan
rites to celebrate the survival of nature in winter. The modern
tradition began in Germany, from where it spread throughout the
Christian world, and in particular in Protestant countries, in the 18th
and especially the 19th century. The tradition reached England in the
19th century, promoted by Prince Albert, the German husband Queen
Victoria; it then spread quickly to the point at
which decorated Christmas trees have now become the
classic symbol of Christmas - even more so than Nativity
scenes. For most Britons, Christmas would not be Christmas without the
presence in the house of a tree (real or artificial). Every city, every
village, every neighborhood, every pub, every department store, and
many small shops, too, has its beautifully decorated tree. In London,
the huge Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square is given each year to the
city by Norway, in a tradition that began in 1947.
According to tradition, Christmas in England is a family event. Many
people get up early, because during the night Father
Christmas (also known as Santa Claus) has left gifts for children. In
Britain, Father Christmas comes into the house through the chimney and
leaves his little gifts in big socks ("Christmas stockings")
which children hang up on Christmas Eve, beside the fire, at the end of
the bed or around the tree.
For those who
respect the traditional ritual of Christmas Day, after breakfast comes
a morning service at church, after which it's back home to eat
Christmas dinner or Christmas lunch,
which is eaten around 1 p.m. The two essential elements of Christmas
lunch are stuffed turkey and Christmas pudding (see above).
gifts are unwrapped either in the morning or after lunch. Formerly,
in the 19th century, they were not opened until the following day,
December 26, called
Boxing Day - the day when the boxes were opened.
Today, while many of the essential traditions are
still very much alive and well (Christmas stockings, turkey, pudding,
gifts), Christmas church services attract fewer people, and new
traditions have grown up, like watching a movie with
family, going to friends, or going for a drive or a walk in the park or
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