Top Ten UK Christmas Traditions


Christmas is a favourite celebration worldwide, with many countries celebrating with their own unique flavour. However, while we have a range of traditions that we all routinely participate in each year, from selecting a Christmas tree to bring into the house and decorate, to setting up mistletoe in the doorways, we rarely know the origins of these festive traditions.

While the celebration of Christmas is associated most commonly with the Christmas story and the birth of Jesus, many of these traditions date back further to Yule and pre-Christian beliefs. Others are more modern in creation, such as the Christmas tree that was a German tradition which came to the UK with Prince Albert.

1. Santa’s Grotto

In the weeks before Christmas, grottos all over the UK will open their doors for families to enjoy, with many offering the chance to enjoy some activities like drawing or creating a bag of reindeer food before the trip to visit Santa. Walking through to visit Santa and discuss what they want for Christmas this year as well as receive a gift is great fun for children and adults alike.

These grottos create a touch of magic for kids still young enough to believe in Santa, and can be a fantastic experience for children to enjoy. Many Grottos allow parents to take pictures of the visit themselves, while others have photographers or photography equipment to take pictures which can be sent to parents.

2. Christmas Tree

The yule log has a history dating back to pre-Christian times in the British Isles – a whole tree would be brought into the house with the end placed in the fireplace to burn down slowly over the Christmas season. The tradition of the Christmas tree itself came from Germany with Prince Albert, who, along with his wife Queen Victoria, made the concept of a decorated evergreen tree in the home popular in Britain.

With centuries of history now, to most people in the UK the smell of evergreen branches inside the house is a sure sign that Christmas is on the way!

3. Stockings

The tradition of stockings being placed by the fire or on the ends of beds goes back to the traditional tale of St Nicholas, who would come down the chimney to give gifts to children. While stockings are generally filled with little gifts such as small toys or books from Father Christmas, many children in the UK will find oranges and nuts or coal in their stockings this Christmas – coal is supposedly the gift that Father Christmas will give to naughty children. Oranges and nuts, on the other hand, were a rarity and difficult to find when the tradition first started, and would be a rare taste of something grown outside the UK.

4. Whisky for Father Christmas

Leaving out a glass of whisky and some biscuits for Father Christmas is a very popular Christmas tradition, although many now opt for the non-alcoholic version by offering a glass of milk instead. 

Many families will have specific traditions, such as leaving out mince pies for Father Christmas and a carrot for his reindeer.

5. Wassail

Wassailing is a tradition celebrated on twelfth night that has been followed for centuries. The tradition is rooted in the pagan tradition of singing to orchards in order to placate the spirits and bring about a healthy harvest in the next harvest season.

Often the wassailing group would travel from house to house and drink warm spiced cider on the way there. Many of the wassailing traditions are local, such as the Mari Lwyd, a Welsh tradition that involves revellers going from house to house knocking on the doors, with a hobby horse made up of a horse’s skull on a pole, decorated with ribbons and bells.

6. Mistletoe

Have you ever seen mistletoe hung up in doorways? The modern tradition of kissing under the mistletoe actually has roots going back thousands of years. Many ancient cultures prized mistletoe for its romantic symbolism; the Celts, Ancient Greeks and Romans were known to use the herb as a cure-all for various conditions. The Druids believed that mistletoe could restore fertility, as the mistletoe plant could blossom even in winter.

The association of mistletoe with romance continued throughout the middle ages and the plant is now firmly established as part of the British Christmas tradition.

7. Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding, often referred to as a ‘figgy pudding’ is a Christmas staple that is often doused in whisky and then set alight before serving. Much like mince pies, this dish was once savoury, made up of a porridge of spices, raisins beef and mutton. Over the centuries it slowly evolved into the pudding that we know and love today – despite being banned briefly under puritan laws.

While the tradition used to be a sixpence placed in the Christmas pudding, any silver coin left in the pudding was said to bring good luck to whoever found it.

8. Pantomime

Pantomime is a truly British phenomenon, where a play is not only preformed but includes interactions with the audience. This can be great fun for all the family to go and enjoy together in the run up to Christmas. It is generally thought that key parts of the Pantomime were taken from Elizabethan and Stuart ‘masques’ – plays filled with song and dance.

The key plot of the pantomime often mimics well known fairy tales, such as Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella, as the familiarity of the stories makes them easier for young children to follow.

9. Christmas Crackers

Christmas crackers are a part of any beautiful Christmas table. Made from cardboard and brightly coloured paper, the traditional contents of each cracker are a joke, a paper crown and a small gift. The name ‘cracker’ comes from the cracking sound produced by the banger in the twisted ends of the cracker, which goes off when pulled apart.

The tradition originally comes from the Victorian era, and evolved from brightly wrapped bonbons that contained a love poem and would crackle when opened.

10. Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner is a tradition enjoyed across Britain and is a key part of the Christmas celebration. From roast turkey to bread pudding and pigs in blankets, the components of a traditional Christmas lunch are iconic. Fasting and feasting to celebrate a holiday or event is a part of our traditions that is also true of multiple cultures and religions.

Often each dish of the Christmas table has a deep significance for your family, and the recipes are re-used each Christmas.

If you are interested in learning more about Christmas events at One Warwick Park Hotel, then please contact us here. Our staff will be delighted to discuss your Christmas preparations.

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One Warwick Park Hotel is perfectly located in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, Kent between the historic Pantiles District and the High Street. Being close to the border of West Kent and East Sussex, you can gain easy access to the A21 and the M25. Tunbridge Wells mainline train station is only a short walk or quick taxi ride away and links to London are frequent.
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