Bringing the Figgy Pudding: Celebrating Christmas in the UK

by Nicole Clendinning

As they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in England, Scotland or Ireland, the lead up to Christmas in the United Kingdom often dominates most of the fall season. Restaurants and bars start advertising bookings for Christmas parties well before Halloween, as early as September. Christmas markets and winter activities such as skating last until mid-January. While the lead up to the holiday season starts in early fall, the real start of the season is marked by the release of Christmas themed advertisements. Popular department stores such as John Lewis and Selfridges release specially made feel-good Christmas commercials in mid-November that people look forward to watching all year.

While in 2019 the fall season was slightly overshadowed by campaigns for the general election taking place in December, the feeling of Christmas was still widely felt.

London

Christmas in London is exceptionally festive and there are many Christmas themed events going on in December. Royal Albert Hall, an iconic performance hall in the city puts on a series of concerts called ‘Christmas at Royal Albert Hall’. Last year they showed a screening of the Home Alone movies accompanied by a full orchestra and this year they are hosting events such as a Christmas carol sing along and the nutcracker.

Oxford Street in Central London is set up with scenic Christmas lights from mid-November.

Selfridges, an iconic high-end department store on Oxford street in Central London holds an event to unveil their holiday window displays.

Food

While in Canada Christmas dinners bring the thought of turkey and stuffing, roasted chestnuts and cranberry sauce, the UK has their own distinct Yuletide foods. Mince pies, sweet tarts filled with raisin, apple and cinnamon are popular desserts reserved for the holidays and are often served with cold cream or brandy butter as dessert.

Traditions

There are clear differences in how Christmas is celebrated in the UK in comparison to North America. Firstly, they say ‘Happy Christmas’ as opposed to ‘Merry Christmas’ and call Santa Clause, ‘Father Christmas’. Other than these distinctions, old traditions such as gifting oranges and other fruits as stocking stuffers are practiced. Some also refrain from putting up a Christmas tree until 12 days before Christmas, and leave it up into the new year, although stores and restaurants often decorate as soon as Halloween is over. Christmas in the UK is more widely regarded as a secular holiday as opposed to a religious one and has been commercialized in a similar way to the holiday in North America.

Another yearly tradition that families often partake in are attending Pantomimes, which are comedy musicals, based on films like Peter Pan, Aladdin and Cinderella. They occasionally star well known celebrities and are part of Christmas traditions.

While Christmas parades are not as prevalent across the pond, perhaps one of the most well attended traditions is to attend German themed Christmas markets. While Ontario has one large Christmas market in Toronto, many cities in the UK have their own. No need to travel to London to attend one! These outdoor markets sell crafts and holiday goods that are often bought as unique gifts. In addition, there are German sausages, hot ciders and mulled wine to drink in the cold.

In addition to the classic Christmas songs like Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Frosty the Snowman, there are British classics unique to England. Some good ones to check out are Do they know its Christmastime and Merry Christmas Everyone!