Monday 20 December 2010

British Christmas

Like most child-less adults, I miss that excitement of Christmas I had as a child.  I miss the construction paper ring Christmas countdown thing, I miss sitting by the tree admiring all the presents and I miss trying to fall asleep at 6:00pm on Christmas Eve so that Santa would come sooner.  (Tip for any other kids  wanting to fall asleep at 6:00 - a few glasses of wine at 4:00 usually does the trick for me)

That being said, I do still love Christmas and eventhough I've had a lot of negative things to say about certain traditional British Christmas foods, there are a few things about British Christmas that I really enjoy.

Christmas Cracker
1.   Christmas crackers - I know that you can buy these in America (I believe I used to see them at Crate and Barrel), but I personally never was privy to a Christmas cracker when I lived in America and think they are great fun.  For those unfamiliar, a Christmas cracker is a hollow cylindrical paper tube with twisted ends and various items inside it.  The ends are pulled by two different people, the cracker makes a loud noise (think cap gun) as it comes apart and you can get to the things inside it.  In most mass produced ones, you will find a paper crown (see below), a toy or trinket and a (usually very bad) joke.   
Looking for better inclusions in your Christmas Crackers?  How about these ones from Fortnum and Mason?  They'll only set you back £1000(!!) for a "superb array of silver plated gifts, comprising a tea strainer and caddy, sugar dredger, mustard pot, place card holder, napkin rings and an eggcup and spoon set".  Very posh.

Family wearing paper crowns
  2. Paper hat/crown - As mentioned, one of the things included in most (if not all) Christmas crackers is a paper crown which everyone is expected to wear throughout the meal.  The only history behind this I can dig up is that wearing the paper crown may have originated from twelfth-night celebrations where a King or Queen was appointed to look over the proceedings.   It's all a bit religious for me, and  I don't really know what that means, but as long as I have a reason to wear a paper hat on my head on Christmas, I'm a happy girl. 

3. Boxing Day - I was always very jealous of the Canadians who got to celebrate Boxing Day while I often had to return to work immediately after Christmas, but now, I too get to reap the benefits of this holiday.  God bless the Commonwealth.

According to Wikipedia: "The exact etymology of the term "boxing" is unclear and there are several competing theories, none of which is definitive. In the United Kingdom, it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth-century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their "Christmas boxes" or gifts on the day after Christmas in return for good and reliable service throughout the year.  Another possibility is that the name derives from an old English tradition: in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners' Christmases ran smoothly, their servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (and sometimes leftover food). In addition, around the 1800s, churches opened their alms boxes (boxes where people place monetary donations) and distributed the contents to the poor.

All well and good, but to me Boxing Day is the day of one of my new favourite events - The Windlesham Pram Race!  Difficult to explain, but its basically a fancy dress (costumes, not ball gowns) pub crawl with fancy dress being optional so to me, its just a pub crawl the day after Christmas (but that sounds a bit less exciting, doesnt it?).  After spending Christmas Day with the in-laws, I'm always looking forward to it!

Did you know...?

.... The British often say “Happy Christmas” instead of Merry Christmas.  This is supposedly because back in the day religious figures suggested that “merry” was a reference to drinking alcohol.

....The Christmas Tree was brought to England by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert from his native Germany. The famous Illustrated News etching in 1848, featuring the Royal Family gathered around a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle, popularized the tree throughout Victorian England. *

....Christmas cards developed in England when young boys practiced their writing skills by creating Christmas greetings for their parents, but it is Sir Henry Cole who is credited with creating the first real Christmas card. The first director of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends. *

* Thanks to this site for these facts


  1. Did you know you can make your own crackers? Every year I mean to do it, and every year I forget until it's ... well until it's like the 21st and I have no time.

  2. I have been doing crackers for as long as I can remember, a great family tradition!! My favorite memory is my dad sitting at the head of the table with his paper crown on playing with a minature bowlind set that came in the cracker! Merry Christmas!