Christmas is the season of tradition and, whether we mean to or not, we all follow at least one festive custom every year, and we’re not sure why.
Have you ever wondered why we eat turkey on Christmas day, why we bring a tree into our living room, or why we pull crackers at the table?
There are hundreds of festive traditions that people follow every year, so we’ve explained some of the most common traditions for the season.
- Tradition 1 -
BRING THE CHRISTMAS TREE INSIDE...
There is nothing better to get you in the festive spirit than putting up your Christmas tree and decorating it with baubles from years gone by, but where does the tradition come from?
Christmas trees came to Britain in 1830, having both Pagan and Christian origins. For Pagans, decorating homes with branches during the winter solstice was a way to think of the spring to come and, Christians used it as a symbol of everlasting God.
Nowadays, the Christmas tree is a seasonal staple, but many now opt for fake alternatives to adorn their homes, rather than the traditional evergreen fir tree.
- Tradition 2 -
EATING A DELICIOUS CHRISTMAS TURKEY
It’s a Christmas staple, with over 55 million Brits tucking into roast turkey on Christmas day every year, but why are we so fond of this particular poultry dish?
Henry VIII was the first monarch to enjoy turkey for his Christmas dinner. It was originally considered an expensive luxury item, which peasants and working families couldn’t afford. It wasn’t until the last century that it became adopted by the majority of households, as the centrepiece of the festive feast.
Find your pub and book to enjoy turkey with all the trimmings at your local Chef & Brewer.
- Tradition 3 -
PULLING THE CHRISTMAS CRACKER
A typical Christmas table is set with festive crackers loaded with bad jokes, useless trinkets and paper hats, but why do we have them?
The Christmas cracker was first made in the 19th century by London sweet maker, Tom Smith. After travelling to France, Smith decided to replicate the French ‘bon bon’ sweets wrapped in almond paper, and sell them in England. But with poor sales, Smith needed something to make them stand out, so he added the iconic snapping sound to the crackers we know today.
Originally filled with sweets and riddles, nowadays crackers can be filled with anything from tape measures and giant paperclips, to fortune telling fish!
- Tradition 4 -
CELEBRATING BOXING DAY
Boxing Day is just as much a part of the Christmas calendar as Christmas Day, but historians are divided as to how it got its name.
Some trace it back to the Victorian era, when churches displayed a donation box. Others suggest that it originates from a time when employees would carry a box to be tipped by their employer.
Nowadays, Boxing Day is known as a day of leisure with families getting together, tucking into those leftovers and even hitting the bank holiday sales.
- Tradition 5 -
GIVING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
Christmas is known as the season of giving, but have you ever wondered where the tradition of gift-giving came from?
In Christianity, the custom of exchanging gifts is largely derived from the gifts Jesus is said to have received from the three wise men: Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh.
All over the world, people exchange gifts throughout the month of December, mostly on Christmas Day, but some cultures exchange gifts as early as 5 December.
- Tradition 6 -
EATING MINCE PIES
Mince pies are another culinary favourite, enjoyed by many throughout the festive season.
Much like Christmas pudding, mince pies originally had a savoury filling, with meat and Middle Eastern spices that can be traced back to the 13th century.
In Stuart and Georgian times, they were also associated with status, and indicated that a household had great wealth, particularly when the pies were shaped into elaborate designs to impress guests.
Nowadays, a mince pie is a sweet pastry, filled with a mixture of dried fruit, apple, suet, candied fruit and spices, and steeped in rum and brandy.
- Tradition 7 -
KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE
Kissing under the mistletoe is a time-old festive tradition, but why do we have to pucker up under this particular plant?
Mistletoe has long been considered to increase life and fertility, but the tradition to kiss beneath it stems from the Norse legend of the death of Balder, son of the goddess of Frigga, who was killed by a poisonous mistletoe arrow.
Frigga was so saddened by his death that she cried tears of white berries, which brought him back to life. Indebted to the mistletoe for saving her son’s life, Frigga blessed the plant and pledged to kiss all who passed beneath it from that day onwards.
- Tradition 8 -
HANGING THE CHRISTMAS WREATHS
Christmas wreaths hung on doorways are a welcoming sight during the festive period, but many do not know where the tradition originates from.
The Christmas wreath, or Advent wreath as it is also known, was introduced by Lutherans in Germany in the 16th century. The wreath was creating using evergreens with four red candles and a white candle in the centre symbolising Christ, which was lit on Christmas day.
Unlike the Christmas wreath, the Advent wreath is now commonly placed as a centrepiece on the table whereas the Christmas wreath is hung on the door.
Both are created using evergreens, and the circular shape has often been linked to eternal life. They are also filled with hollies and berries, bringing the promise of spring to the doorstep of many homes.
The traditional Christmas wreath is still popular with many Brits, but some homes opt for more contemporary alternatives, featuring silver decorations, bows, baubles and stars.
- Tradition 9 -
ORANGES IN STOCKINGS
We all love to unwrap a stocking filler treat, but finding an orange in the bottom used to be the essential item. This curious tradition came from St Nicholas, a bishop who devoted his life to giving back to others.
One night, hundreds of years ago, St Nicholas passed through a village and heard a man despairing that he could not provide dowries for his three daughters. St Nicholas knew that he would not accept charity, so he secretly threw three bags of gold into the house. These bags of gold happened to land in the girl’s stockings, which were hanging by the fire to dry.
Since then, the tradition to put oranges in Christmas stockings reflects the kindness showed by St Nicholas and the gold he gave to the three daughters.