Christmas in the UK is nothing short of magical—a light dusting of snow covering historic
villages, lights shining on glistening cobblestone streets, and an all around festive air—what’s
not to like? But what makes Christmas in the UK so unique is many of today’s traditions draw on
ancient traditions that have been passed down for hundreds—and in some cases,
thousands—of years due to the sheer amount of history found within this part of the world.
Unlike some other places, less emphasis is placed on Christmas Eve in the UK with Christmas
Day and Boxing Day (December 26) being the main days of celebration. On Christmas Eve, it’s
not uncommon to sing carols, go to the local pub, attend a midnight church service (or do all
three in one night).
On Christmas Day, families gather around a Christmas tree and exchange gifts brought by
Father Christmas, not Santa Claus—an important distinction. Although they’re often considered
to be the same person now, Santa Claus and Father Christmas have two very different origins.
Father Christmas was originally more of a winter presence than a giver of gifts. His origins can
be traced back to the 5th or 6th century and was offered gifts in a plea for a warmer winter. The
popularity of Santa Claus on the other hand can largely be traced back to Clement Clarke
Moore’s legendary poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” penned in 1823.
After the presents have been opened, it’s time for a large feast typically of turkey and all the
fixings. For desert, it’s common to have plum or figgy pudding—a Christmas staple that can be
traced back to the Middle Ages. It’s also tradition to enjoy Christmas crackers after the meal.
No, not a vessel for cheese, Christmas crackers are in their simplest form a cardboard tube
wrapped with festive paper. You pull on the ends (much like a wishbone) to pull them open
which happens with a ‘crack’. Inside, you will find a message, a small toy or trinket, as well as a
One Christmas tradition in the UK that doesn’t date back to ancient times is the Christmas Day
address from the monarchy. This tradition began 1932 with King George V, and today is carried
on by Queen Elizabeth. Many tune in to listen to the Queen’s greeting during dinner.
December 26, better known as Boxing Day, was traditionally a day to bring gifts to employees or
domestic staff. Today it’s celebrated by bringing gifts and items to the less fortunate and by
gearing up for post-holidays sales.
And not to be forgotten, another important part of Christmas celebrations in the UK happens in
the days leading up to December 25. From small villages to big cities, Christmas markets start
popping up across the UK in early December. Manchester is home to some of the largest
markets while Hyde Park’s Christmas bonanza is an institution for locals and visitors alike. It’s
common to find stalls selling food and drink as well as gifts, but some Christmas markets even
include Ferris wheels, roller coasters, ice rinks, ice sculptures, and more. And that’s not even
mentioning the Christmas displays found in shop windows on every high street across the
country which as spectacular in their own right.
As in many parts of the world, the excitement around whether it will be a white Christmas or a
green Christmas is the topic of much conversation in the UK. Although, statistically speaking, a
white Christmas tends to be fairly unlikely. Regardless, Christmas in the UK is an experience
that should not be missed!