Christmas in Britain

Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year in Britain. If you visit the country at any time during December, you will be aware of the festival.

Christmas is celebrated on December 25, just after the shortest day of the year. It marks the birthday of Jesus Christ and has been a Christian festival for over a thousand years. Before that, there would have been midwinter festivals and some of those traditions carry on.

Most people in Britain are not practising Christians, but Christmas takes over the whole country. For most people it is a holiday rather than a religious festival.

It is very common for families to get together, exchange presents, and enjoy a large meal on Christmas Day. It is also traditional for the Queen to appear on television during Christmas afternoon.

The build-up to Christmas starts in early December as people begin to send cards to each other. This is a good way of keeping in touch with old friends.

It can get difficult to eat out in restaurants and pubs as workplaces organise their Christmas celebrations.

In December, the shops are very busy before Christmas as people shop for presents and food, and things to make their homes look good for the holiday. Then the shops are very busy after Christmas as the New Year sales start.

Many people are on holiday from work from December 24 to January 2, which is the day after the New Year holiday.

 So what can you expect if you visit Britain in December?

You will probably see lots of images of snowmen and old-fashioned streets in winter. Snow at Christmas is very rare, but pictures of it are very common. Lots of our Christmas traditions date back over a hundred years and come from the novels of Victorian writer Charles Dickens.

You will see pine trees decorated with glass balls and lights in public buildings and private homes. This tradition came from Germany with Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. It is also popular now to have extra lights outside. Some homes have so many lights that people make special journeys to see them.

j0422578But most often, you will see pictures of a jolly man dressed in red with a white beard. This is Father Christmas, also called Santa Claus. Most British children believe that Father Christmas brings presents to everyone in the world during the night before Christmas morning.

They get very excited in the weeks before Christmas and often write a letter to Father Christmas asking for the gifts they would like.

Children believe that Father Christmas lives at the North Pole, and that small magical helpers (called elves) make the toys for children. Father Christmas then delivers them on a sleigh (a large sledge) pulled by reindeer through the sky. Father Christmas gets into each home by climbing down the chimney and putting presents in a large sock.

What about religious celebrations?

This is a special time of the year for Christian churches. At Christmas itself there are services which tell the Bible story of how Jesus was born in a stable, with a star overhead. You are likely to see images of angels, the stable with people inside, and the shepherds and wise men who came to visit the baby.

Special hymns (religious songs) are sung for Christmas and many churches have a service very late on December 24. Many people attend this service even if they do not go to church during the rest of the year.

Are there any special foods to try at Christmas?

There are traditional foods for the Christmas Day meal and some of these are also eaten during December. Christmas lunch itself is large and filling. Most people buy lots of food and invite their families for the day.

j0423630Mince Pies are small pastries filled with a sweet and spicy mix of raisins and currants. They are eaten hot and cold, and sometimes served with brandy butter (an alcoholic, sweetened butter) or cream. These are widely eaten in December.

Christmas dinner. The traditional meal for December 25 is also often served in restaurants and pubs beforehand. Expect to be offered a roast dinner which includes turkey or goose, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, small sausages and stuffing (a herby bread sauce).j0423691

Families often buy an enormous turkey and so there are often leftovers. There are lots of jokes about different ways of serving the meat that is leftover.

Dessert is likely to be Christmas Pudding. This is a dark, very sweet cake-like pudding full of dried fruit. Be warned - it is sometimes brought to the table on fire!

List of English UK member centres that will be open over the Christmas holidays


Stanton School of English

Closed 25, 28 Dec, 1 Jan


British Study Centres Oxford

Closed 25 Dec - 4 Jan

British Study Centres London             Closed 25 Dec - 4 Jan 
British Study Centres Brighton Closed 25 Dec - 4 Jan  

Colchester English Study Centre

Closed 25, 28 Dec, 1 Jan


Frances King

Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan

4hr study, sightseeing

Regent London

Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan

22.5 hrs pw, sightseeing

Regent Brighton

Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan


Central School of English

Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan

London sights

OISE Cambridge

Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan

Social programme

Select English London

Closed 25, 28 Dec, 1 Jan

15/20/25 hrs, celebrate with hosts

Professional Language Solutions

Closed 25, 28 Dec, 1 Jan


Manchester Academy of English

Closed 25, 28 Dec, 1 Jan


Edinburgh Language Academy

Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan


Kingsway English Centre

Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan

Christmas course - social activities, accommodation


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