Christmas in the UK: what's it like?
21 December 2011

Every country has its own traditions, and Christmas in the UK has borrowed many ideas from other cultures, especially in the last few hundred years.

Many of our cultures were created in the 19th century. Prince Albert brought some ideas from Germany, such as the decorated Christmas tree. Novelist Charles Dickens promoted other ideas, particularly the lunch including "plum pudding".

25 and 26 December are public holidays so families get to spend time together. December 25 tends to be a very quiet day because most places are shut and there is not much traffic about. Public transport does not run. Smaller shops are often open for a while, and pubs are open in the early part of the day.

Another public holiday comes on 1 January (and 2 January in Scotland) and many people take the week after Christmas off work.

What are the main events at Christmas?

Before Christmas people send greetings cards to each other.

Christmas Eve on 24 December, is a time for last-minute present buying, travel, cooking preparation and church services often called Midnight Mass even though it is often held in the early evening.

Presents are opened on Christmas Day, with children usually up very early. Children here usually expect to find small presents in a stocking (a big sock) brought by Father Christmas in the night. Most children leave some food for Father Christmas and his reindeer.

People usually have a big family lunch on Christmas Day.

The Queen always gives a speech on TV at 3pm on Christmas afternoon. Some families like to watch this every year, others do not.

Boxing Day, 26 December, is another public holiday. Some people spend this day with family as well, often eating left-over turkey. For others, it is the start of the sales in the shops and is a very busy day.

What do people eat at Christmas?

This is a time when people often expect to eat a lot of rich food, such as roast meat and ham.

The traditional meal is of roast turkey 'with all the trimmings'. This generally means roast potatoes, small sausages, and sausages wrapped in bacon called 'pigs in blankets'. People also expect to eat Brussels sprouts, a vegetable like tiny cabbages. People either love or hate these – they have a very bad name for being overcooked.

Christmas pudding follows – this is a dark steamed pudding filled with dried fruit and spices, and is usually very rich and heavy. Sometimes people cover it in brandy and set fire to it. This is called flaming the pudding.

Another speciality is mince pies. These are little pastries filled with mincemeat – a sweet dried fruit and spice mix. Years ago there used to be meat in these and sometimes there is still animal fat.

You may also be offered Christmas cake. This is a rich fruit cake with icing and marzipan (almond paste).

You are also likely to be offered alcohol at Christmas, with different drinks on offer. These might include port, which is a sweet fortified wine, and 'snowballs'. These are made of a sweet egg alcohol and lemonade.

What other Christmas traditions are there?

People in the UK usually put up special decorations. These include having a fir tree (which may not be real) in the house, covered with lights and glass balls. It is now popular to put lights outside the house too. Sometimes people decorate the outside of their homes so much that they become a tourist attraction.

What do people do at Christmas?

People often get together with their families. They tend to eat a lot and watch a lot of TV. Some families like to play games, including board games. You may also see families out walking together.

Once Christmas Day is out of the way, shopping is popular as the January sales begin.


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