Christmas Around the World – Great Britain

In Great Britain, Christmas is celebrated very similar to Ireland, with families usually getting together to watch each other open their presents. Most gather around a Christmas Tree in their house, which will have already been decorated as a family occasion.

Children believe that Santa leaves presents in stockings or pillow-cases, which are normally hung up by the fire on Christmas Eve. They’ll have written their letters to Santa asking for presents weeks beforehand, but sometimes instead of putting them in the post, the letters are tossed into the fireplace.

People leave out food and drink for Santa – who they call Father Christmas – to eat and drink when he visits them and help him on his trip around the world.

There are some customs that only take place, or were started, in the UK, such as Wassailing, an old Anglo-Saxon custom that involves drinking a special Christmas drink which doesn’t take place much today. Wassailing comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael’, which means ‘good health’. Originally, the wassail was a drink made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar.

Christmas Trees were also originally popularised in the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was German, and thought that it would be good to bring a German tradition to England to share their way of celebrating Christmas.

In the UK, the main Christmas Meal is usually eaten at lunchtime or early afternoon on Christmas Day. It’s normally made up of roast turkey, roast vegetables and vegetables like carrots and peas, stuffing and sometimes bacon and sausages. It’s often served with cranberry sauce and bread sauce.

Traditionally, and before turkey was available, roast beef or goose was the main Christmas meal. Dessert is often Christmas Pudding, while mince pies and chocolate are eaten too.

Over the Christmas period, people in Scotland celebrate New Year’s Eve, which is called Hogmanay, more than Christmas. The word Hogmanay comes from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve. All across the UK, other cities and towns have fireworks displays to celebrate the New Year.

Also in Scotland, the first person to set foot in a house in a New Year is thought to have a big effect on the fortunes of the people that live there. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as ‘first footing’. In England it is sometimes said that a stranger coming through the door carrying a lump of coal will bring good luck.