Christmas and New Year - a holiday for all
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Britain doesn't have a national holiday - we have no Bastille Day, no Independence Day, no Founder's Day: instead we have Christmas.
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 days, and one which people have been getting ready for for up to two months.
Christmas decorations on sale in a large department storeAmong 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 have Sales as and when they want ..... and notably to organise them when the people are still on holiday, not after the holiday period ends. 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 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 .
While the growth of social media and email has led to a 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 be bought online (and delivered internationally) from an Internet site called Cards for Charity. The Charities produce beautiful cards, with a large choice and great prices, eg a set of 10 beautiful cards + envelopes for less than £5.
Carol singers singing in the streetThe 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 the country, 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 Service, 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.
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). Christmas 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 the country.
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