It wasn't until we sent our PR and Comms Manager across the pond to showcase this year's holiday collection that we realized some of our traditions are not shared with you guys over in the States. You might have been wondering what that round brown ball with holly on top that features on some of our items is, and what significance it has to the holidays. If so, today you're in luck! We'll be explaining the history behind some British holiday traditions that you may be inspired to add to your own holiday display. Let us know what you think of them in the comments below!
1. Christmas Pudding
Also known as a "plum pudding", the traditional Christmas pudding is a fruity dessert that is enjoyed by most British families during the holidays. However, history suggests that it began as an appetizer or a side-dish rather than a course to enjoy at the end of the meal as it is today.
In the UK, the word 'pudding' is used in the same way as 'dessert' - meaning a sweet treat to be enjoyed after the main meal. In medieval times, the pudding was known as 'figgy pudding', and it was more of a pottage (stew-like) than a solid cake-like dish. According to English Heritage, the broth included dried fruit such as raisins, spices, wine and breadcrumbs or ground almonds for thickness. It also often included meat or at least meat stock, as it accompanied other savory dishes.
During the 18th Century, the Christmas pudding rose in popularity thanks to Queen Victoria and her Christmas celebrations. The Victorians re-instated the tradition of making the family Christmas pudding on 'Stir Up Sunday' - the fifth Sunday before Christmas, which is a custom that is believed to date back to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer which features the reading "Stir up, we beseech thee, oh Lord, the wills of thy faitful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
Each member of the family would take a turn in stirring the mixture from East to West to honor the journey of the Magi. This was thought to bring the family luck the following year, and it was also customary to hide little trinkets in the mixture to bring luck upon those who discovered them.
The pudding itself includes dried fruits held together by egg and suet, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger for flavoring and brandy, treacle or molasses for moisture. It is usually aged for a month or more, and to cook, the pudding is steamed for hours. It is usually served with warm brandy which is set alight for an extravagant entrance from the kitchen, and is enjoyed accompanied by a hard sauce such as brandy butter or rum butter.
2. Christmas Cracker
According to an article published in The New York Times on Christmas Day, 1987, Christmas crackers are a "rather silly Christmas tradition"!
First thing's first, when we say 'cracker' we're not speaking of a festive take on those things you put cheese on; these crackers are the paper cylinders you see in the image below. Crackers are a fun addition to the main Christmas meal - in British households you and the loved one sitting next to or opposite you will each grab a side of the same cracker and pull it until it tears apart with a loud SNAP. One of you will be left with an empty piece of cracker, and the other will have been lucky enough to pull the end that comes off with the middle still attached, which contains a small gift, a fortune-cookie style joke, and paper party hat.
This fun tradition dates back to 1847 when Tom Smith invented the Christmas cracker, inspired by the French custom of wrapping candy in twisted paper for decorative effect. It was said to be introduced as a "social icebreaker", because two strangers agreeing to pull on a cracker together have entered into a common bond - a "conspiracy of silliness".
3. Boxing Day
Both in the UK and right next door in Canada, December 26 is known as Boxing Day, and is an official holiday. It's called Boxing Day because it began as a day of public acts of charity - it's thought to have started back in the Middle Ages when parishioners collected money for the poor in alms boxes in honour of St Stephen, whose feast day falls on December 26.
As with most British Christmas traditions, Boxing Day was popularized by the Victorians and became an official bank holiday in 1871. The Victorians brought the act of giving a little closer to home, and the tradition changed to employers in large households giving their domestic staff time off after serving them on Christmas Day to visit their families. Employers would give them Christmas boxes full of leftover food and perhaps a small gift to thank them for their service.
Today, Boxing Day is celebrated in a similar way to the day after Thanksgiving - with shopping! The holiday sales begin the day after Christmas, and attracts a record number of bargain-hunting shoppers. Many rural residents also celebrate the day by going fox-hunting.
If you don't know what a pantomime or 'panto' is, then you probably never need to know. But we'll tell you anyway! This strange tradition is a theater performance that's shown over the holidays featuring lots of songs, silly jokes and costumes all loosely based on an old fairy tale such as Cinderella. The main female character is usually played by a man, it usually stars well-known British comedians and soap opera actors and whenever a bad character enters the scene you are expected to boo them and make hissing sounds.
While we all agree that mulled wine or cider is the beverage of choice during winter, my mother's favorite alcoholic drink during the holiday season is a Snowball. This creamy cocktail is the simple mixture of Advocaat and lemonade - the closest thing to it in the States would be the ever-popular egg nog.
Have you discovered our holiday collection? Now you know all about Christmas puddings, why not treat yourself and your mini-me to a fabulous matching sweater?