Christmas in the UK

December is the time of the year when suddenly traditions become very important to many of us. Each country, each region, and even each family has their own special way of celebrating Christmas. In this series, MH authors tell us all about their favourite holiday traditions.

By Sarah Robinson / 19.12.2017

Christmas traditions in the UK have changed over the years, as in many countries, but my favourite part about Christmas in Britain is how the old traditions combine with the new, even if things change.

If you ask any Brit they will probably tell you Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier every year. While this may be true, it’s mainly a way for us to be able to indulge in our favourite yearlong pastime: complaining. The same maddening Christmas playlist is played on repeat in supermarkets and shops for two months, and Harrods, one of London’s most famous department stores, opens its Christmas grotto at the start of November. Christmas trees can be put up anytime from late November, but there’s something cheering about seen twinkling lights through a window when the nights are drawing in.

The classic story for families to turn to, either in a book or on television, is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1842), but young people especially are just as likely to put on something modern such as Love Actually (2003). Broadcasting companies will invariably run multiple showings of the silent cartoon film The Snowman which is an incredibly popular film to snuggle down to. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out! Have a watch of it here.

Another enduring event during the Christmas season is go to a theatre and see a panto (short for pantomime), which has been around since the 19th century. A panto is a retelling of a traditional or modern fairy tale, like Snow White or Peter Pan, but with a few twists. Male actors appear in drag and play the ‘older woman’ roles like the mother or step mother (often called the Dame), while young women in tight breeches will play the young male heroes. There’ll be lots of slapstick comedy and sexual innuendos. My favourite part are the two people who dress up in an animal costume, typically cow or horse, and stumble around in the background (and sometimes foreground). Audience participation is a must, whether by shouting out traditional panto phrases or by being dragged on stage. It’s meant to be corny, satirical, and weird, and it’s a lot of fun.

Some things, however, remain unchanged. The Queen has been making a special speech on Christmas day, televised on the BBC, since 1957, and people still hang ivy and holly in their homes, as they did in Pre-Christian times for the winter solstice. There will be a roast turkey, Christmas crackers (no, not the edible kind!), and come Christmas morning there’ll always be that little, secret hope for snow.


Sarah Robinson (United Kingdom)

Studies: French and German Language and Literature

Languages: French, German, English

Europe is… complex and invaluable.

Author: Anja

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