Christmas is a holiday honored around the world, and each country has their own unique way of celebrating it. It’s fun to learn the different customs, and teach your kids what other kids are doing this time of year. Did you know that the customs of singing Christmas carols, hanging stockings by the chimney, and even holiday greens such as holly, ivy, and mistletoe all originated in England? I asked my dear friend Rachel Harrop, from Manchester, England to share with me her favorite parts of Christmas in England.
The Christmas Season
The Christmas season begins in the beginning of December, coinciding with Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas). Children have an Advent calendar, which usually consists of tiny windows to be opened daily, with a treasure hidden within. Every day there is a Bible verse that tells part of the Christmas story, leading up to Jesus’ birth on December 25th. Families put up a Christmas tree, and sometimes put up delicious foil-wrapped chocolate ornaments! Some families still enjoy Christmas caroling- gathering a couple of friends and walking from house to house singing Christmas carols. This tradition comes from the Middle Ages, when groups of singers (“waits“) would spread the holiday spirit by singing festive songs. In fact, the word “carol” means “song of joy.” This December, learn some new Christmas songs (here are some carols in English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French!). Have your kids get some neighborhood friends together, and go to each others’ houses to sing for siblings and parents.
Another fun tradition is for families to attend a Pantomime. These musical, theatrical shows are usually based on traditional children’s stories (such as Aladdin or Jack and the Beanstalk) but are adapted to include comedy, songs, dance, audience participation, and a lot of laughing. Although they don’t reference Christmas, these shows are extremely popular in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, and date back to the 1700′s. If you are lucky enough to travel to the UK during December or January, books some tickets to see a local Pantomime. If not, watch one on youtube here.
On Christmas Eve, children leave cookies for Father Christmas (Santa Claus) and a carrot for Rudolph, his trusty red-nosed reindeer, who have traveled all the night and around the world delivering presents to well-behaved children. Many families go to midnight mass (church) to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
On Christmas Day (December 25th) families gather together for a fun, large feast, followed by the Queen’s Christmas Message at 3pm. Here is the Queen’s 2010 Christmas Message. Typically, families enjoy turkey, potatoes, parsnips, sausage, Brussel sprouts, and roasted vegetables. Mince meat pies are a popular English treat for Christmas. A mince pie a small puff pastry filled with mincemeat: dried fruits (raisins, currants, cherries, candied peels), spices, suet and nuts.
At the meal, everyone has a “Christmas cracker” at their place setting- but it’s not a cracker that you eat! This cardboard tube is wrapped in fancy paper, and contains goodies inside: a silly paper hat, jokes, and a little trinket. When you pull on the ends, there is a loud snap- like a mini-firecracker. Families sit around the table wearing their funny hats and telling the jokes they got in their cracker.
You can buy Christmas crackers on-line or check out a World Market near you. Or even better, make your own with personalized gifts for your family. Wrap up toilet paper tubes with gifts inside, or for a more detailed , and a little more involved project of Christmas crackers see the instructions here. Here is an easy DIY video:
See all of our Christmas Around the World articles! So many amazing traditions from different cultures celebrating Christmas.