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Sunday 29 November 2020

Have yourself a merry British Christmas

Christmas markets, Christmas carols, Christmas lights - nowhere does Christmas quite like Britain. 

When it comes to festive traditions – from mince pies to the Queen’s speech – no one does Christmas with more reverence than the Brits.

Christmas lights are ubiquitous, and are often switched on as early as mid-November. The Brits like their festivities to last at least six weeks. 
Twinkling fairy lights can be seen all over Britain, from Regent Street in the capital, London, to quaint market towns such as Harrogate in Yorkshire.

Electric bulbs were first used to add a touch of magic to the winter festivities in 1881, a year that saw the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End become the first building in the world to be entirely lit by electricity.

Pantomimes, known as pantos, are a Christmas tradition enjoyed almost exclusively in the British Isles, often extravagant and comedic retellings of classic tales such as Dick Whittington, Cinderella or Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. 

The history of pantomimes dates back to the Middle Ages, where religious tales highlighting the triumph of good over evil were performed. The theatrical style of the performances has its foundations in 14th-century court entertainment, which commonly featured song and dramatic mime.

One of London’s best-known festive traditions is the annual Christmas tree displayed in the heart of Trafalgar Square. First gifted to Britain from Norway in 1947, in thanks for the country’s support during the World War II, the tree has become an annual tradition and sits proudly at the centre of the square bedecked in dazzling strings of fairy lights. 

Many families also choose to celebrate the holidays with their own decorated Christmas tree, a custom first introduced to the people of Britain by Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, in 1800.

There are special dishes also enjoyed over the holiday period, roast turkeys, mince pies and Christmas puddings among them. 

Mince pies have been enjoyed by Brits since the Tudor period, when they were stuffed with a savoury meat filling! Now mixing fruit and spices encased in a buttery pastry, they are a firm favourite in festive Britain.

Also soaked in warming spiced fruit, but with an alcoholic twist, is the classic Christmas pudding. Made from dried fruit, spices and brandy, the traditional Christmas pudding is an iconic part of Christmas day lunch across Britain. 

Dating back to medieval times, this potent pudding was created with a high alcohol content to prevent it from spoiling too quickly. To give it an added touch of festive flare, it is usually set on fire as it is served, an effect created by pouring a pre-lit ladle of brandy over the pud before it is presented at the table. 

No Christmas dinner in Britain would be complete without the ceremonial pulling of the crackers, traditionally used to decorate the table for the day’s feast. 

These paper tubes come primed with a ‘cracking’ mechanism that, when pulled by two people, creates a small bang. Each loaded with a small prize (ranging from bottle openers to magic tricks), classic paper crown hats and an inevitably terrible joke, crackers are a fun addition to the day’s festivities. 

A relatively modern tradition, these cracking decorations were first introduced in the Victorian period and continue to win the hearts of Christmas-loving Brits to this day.

After the fun of roast lunches and crackers, fans of the Royal Family sit down to watch the Royal Christmas Message – a staple part of British yuletide since it was first broadcast by King George V on BBC radio in 1932. 

This royal communication is broadcast to the Commonwealth at 3pm on Christmas Day, highlighting the year’s standout events and the monarch’s personal reflections on the past 12 months.

Many churches, concert halls and music venues are filled with the sound of Christmas carols in the days leading up to Christmas and Boxing Day is marked by the start of post-Christmas sales across stores in Britain.

Info: Visit Britain 

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