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UK Christmas traditions

James Rippon James Rippon
Modern living room by valentina cirillo architetto Modern
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Christmas in the UK is truly a special time. As it starts to creep up on us, and Christmas decorations begin to line the streets, we need to start thinking about decorating our own home, and realising what Christmas means to our families. Most of us will follow the common Christmas traditions, practised for many centuries. Giving and receiving gifts, spending time with loved ones, feasting, drinking, singing carols, and decorating our homes with lights, trinkets, stockings, and of course, a Christmas tree. But do we know what these traditions really mean, how they came about, and where they came from? With the sounds and sights of Christmas starting to fill the air, we thought it fitting to take a step back, and honour the traditions of Christmas, and realise why we practise them with such affection.

The story of Saint Nicholas

The stories of Saint Nicholas, the original Father Christmas, dates back to the fourth century AD, to the area that is now modern Turkey. There are many legends about Saint Nicholas, but all have a common theme of a wealthy and generous man who spread his wealth by giving gifts to those in need. One story of St. Nicholas tells how he helped three sisters, by dropping money down the chimney of their home, so their poor father could pay their dowries (a sum of money paid to a groom's family on wedding day). St. Nicholas was caught by the poor father, who was determined to find and thank the generous person leaving money in their home. Centuries later, the legend and generosity of St. Nicholas lives on in the modern day version of Father Christmas, a generous man who gives gifts to children on Christmas day.


Christmas Range by The White Company
The White Company

Christmas Range

The White Company

Christmas eve in the UK usually involves one thing—celebratory drinks! In many countries, Christmas eve is a day just as important as Christmas itself, but here we focus more on Christmas day and Boxing day. For children however, Christmas eve is an exciting time, a feeling every parent can relive. Children hang their stocking and excitedly try to sleep, knowing that Father Christmas will soon visit them, leaving presents for them to find in the morning. Don't forget to leave out some mince pies and milk for Santa (no alcohol because he's driving), and some carrots for his reindeer!


So Christmas day has sprung. It's now time to open presents, and of course, feast! The origins of what are now Christmas day traditions, date back to sixth century England. By the middle ages, it was a well established and important holiday, with customs of pageantry, music and feasting, many of which have continued into modern British Christmas celebrations. After the presents have been opened, it is time to sit down for breakfast, or for some British families, it's customary to visit church on Christmas morning. Christmas lunch is the biggest meal of the day, serving up an array of meats, including of course, the traditional roast turkey, complete with all the trimmings. Once we have eaten and drunk as much as physically possible, its time to pass out on the couch, only to wake up and do it all again at dinner.

Twelve days of Christmas

Christmas '14 Country style living room by Farrow & Ball Country
Farrow & Ball

Christmas '14

Farrow & Ball

The Twelve Days of Christmas is something we hear about every year, but what is it, really? It is a Christian celebration beginning on Christmas day, running through to January 6, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It is a period of feasting, and although is not strictly practised as a twelve day celebration, many elements of the twelve days of Christmas still exist, including taking down the tree and Christmas decorations on the twelfth day, January 6. It was traditionally bad luck to take down your tree and decorations before this day, and this is why we see Christmas decorations taken down after the first week of the new year!

Queens christmas message

The Queen's Christmas message also plays a huge part in Christmas day in Britain. While most of us are trying to digest Christmas lunch, Queen Elizabeth delivers her speech to Britain, the Commonwealth, and indeed the world. This tradition began in 1932 when King George V delivered a speech, which would continue to be an integral part of Christmas day in Britain.

Hit the high street

Boxing day was traditionally a time to give gifts to servants and friends. It originated in medieval times when priests emptied the alms box of his church and distributed it amongst the poor, and wealthy families gave the leftovers of their Christmas feasts to their servants. Nowadays, it has become a day for bargain hunters, with the high street chain stores opening up their doors for a bargain hunters frenzy. Last year alone, over £2.6 billion was spent on boxing day.

As you can see, Christmas is a tradition dating back many centuries, and is a time of generosity, religion, feasting, and above all, family. Whether you enjoy Christmas for the gifts, the time off work, the food or the sales, it is all about spending time with loved ones and enjoying the company of those close to you. Haven't started putting up your decorations yet? Check out this ideabook for inspiration and ideas on decorating your home this Christmas.

What's your favourite part of Christmas? Let us know in the comments section below!
Whitton Drive by GK Architects Ltd Modern

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