With holiday celebrations and traditions well and truly underway, we thought we'd share some interesting insights into where some of the most popular British holiday traditions came from, and why we celebrate them. Read today's blog to find out more about Christmas cards, the turkey dinner, festive movies and more!
If you'd like to learn more about British Christmas traditions first, read last year's blog: 5 British Holiday Traditions Explained.
1. EATING TURKEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY
Eating turkey on Christmas Day is a relatively new tradition to the UK. Native to North America, turkeys were first transported to England in the 16th century but, due to their high price, did not replace wild boar, goose, peacock and even swan as the most popular meat of choice until after World War II. It is said that King Henry VIII was the first monarch to eat turkey for his Christmas meal. It was then popularized by Charles Dickens’ 'A Christmas Carol' and then again by King Edward VII, who chose to eat it for his Christmas feast.
2. WATCHING A CLASSIC CHRISTMAS MOVIE
The world’s first recorded Christmas movie is now over 120 years old! It is called ‘Santa Claus’ and was directed by George Albert Smith – a British film making pioneer. Christmas movies released after World War II were among the first to be successful – spirits at this time were not high and people needed some cheerful distraction. But on the whole, watching festive films became strongly popularized as soon as the home video did in the 1980’s.
3. LISTENING TO CHRISTMAS SONGS
The original Christmas songs are of course Christmas Carols. These have been sung in towns and villages for hundreds of years – even before the term Christmas existed! The Romans would sing songs during their December festival called Saturnalia, to cheer themselves up when it was cold and dark. Then the holidays became largely associated with Jesus, and Christians began to spread the word and celebrate – which they did via carol singing. Festive songs have long since evolved from traditional local and religious songs to the more modern tunes we have to celebrate today.
4. SENDING CHRISTMAS CARDS
Quite a recent tradition, the idea of sending Christmas cards was brought to life by Sir Henry Cole, a senior civil servant who helped set up the British Post Office. He began the tradition as a solution to getting more ordinary people to use the service, rather than just the rich. The first Christmas cards were sent in 1840, but didn’t become popular until around 1860.
5. OPENING CHRISTMAS CRACKERS
This very British Christmas tradition was introduced by Tom Smith – a candy maker from London. Tom had visited Paris is 1840 and loved the way they wrapped their candy in paper, so he did the same with his confectionery on his return to England, with the addition of a small motto or riddle. These didn’t take off, so he tried thinking of other fun things he could add to increase the ‘wow factor’. One night, whilst sitting by the fire, he thought of how impressive the sparks would be if added to his sweets and toys. He put his idea into action and created the first ‘Bangs of Expectation’ – the first name given to Christmas crackers as we know them today. His company built up a range of ‘themed’ crackers that were used for all celebrations – including weddings and royal coronations! It seems the Christmas ones were the most successful.
6. WEARING HOLIDAY SWEATERS
We couldn’t have guessed this one! Apparently, we have Scandinavian fisherman to thank for our holiday sweater tradition. They would knit heavy, warm sweaters to wear out in the cold; as would skiers – another popular Scandinavian sport. In the 1960s, geometric patterns and colors influenced by forest landscapes became the most popular design for skiwear and from the 1980s the trend went from the slops to the catwalk, starting the holiday sweater tradition as we know it today.
7. EATING CHRISTMAS PUDDING
Christmas pudding, but not quite as we know it today, originated in 14th century England as a porridge called ‘frumenty’. It was a savory dish eaten in preparation for Christmas, made from beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. By 1595 it slowly changed into a plum pudding by adding dried fruits, eggs and beer or spirits. It wasn’t until around 1650 that it became a customary holiday dessert.