Ever wondered where our Christmas day traditions came from, why there are treats in crackers and why we're gifted a tree?
What do you consider a British Christmas? The grand lighting of the Christmas tree, the smell of a pulled cracker cord, an old humbug sitting in the corner armchair?
All our Christmas traditions have a story. Many are stolen from our neighbouring countries, ancestors and adapted over time but here are a few practices that are distinctly British and here to stay.
Hear the snap of a Christmas cracker
A Christmas table would not be ‘proper’ without a cracker and the faint smoky smell of a pulled cord. The idea came about in London between 1845-50 when sweet maker, Tome Smith, became interested in the ornate decoration of French bonbon sweets. To little success, he went back to the drawing board. After taking inspiration from his fire’s crackles and spits one evening, he went back on to create a fun, snapping crack when wrapping was pulled apart. His sons were later responsible for adding the paper hats we know today and the Smiths still produce the Royal family’s Christmas crackers.
See the great Trafalgar Square tree
It’s one of the most famous Christmas trees in the word, but where does the Christmas tree come from? The annual tree that stands prominently at the heart of London is a gift from Oslo that dates back to 1947. It is a token of gratitude to the people of Britain and our country’s aid in World War II. Traditionally the tree is a Norway spruce that stands at over 20 metres high and is cut down in November in a ceremony attended by the British Ambassador of Norway, Mayor of Oslo, and Lord Mayor of Westminster before it gets shipped over.
Munch on mince pies
This nugget of mincey gold gifted to Santa on Christmas Eve and enjoyed warm with a dosing of clotted cream dates back to the 13th
century. Returning crusaders bought back magical recipes and luxurious flavours and spices that are eaten at Christmas, a time of over indulgence. After much tweaking across hundreds of years, cake has transformed from a huge mutton pie encased in suet pastry into the sweet, crumbly treat that we know today.
Listen to the Queen’s Speech
Millions of people across the British Colonies and beyond tune in to the Queen’s Speech every year. Her Father, King George, began the tradition in 1932, 22 years after his rule began. It was Sir John Reith, founder of the BBC, who proposed the radio idea in an attempt to speak to the entire Empire. Beating his infamous stutter, George V spoke to Australia, Canada, India, Kenya and South Africa. The speech has since become a staple in the British household on Christmas Day.
Write a note this Christmas
Everyone gets excited when the first red, glittery envelope tumbles through the letterbox. Of course, this traditional custom is one of ours and began in the Victorian era, specifically 1843. Sire Henry Cole became interested in the new Post Office service and wanted everyone in Britain to begin using it extensively. He and an artist friend created the first commercial Christmas card (that would only cost 5p today!) adorned with images of people caring for the poor and dining with their families. Over 1000 were produced and sold and so the tradition began.
Snuggle up for Christmas tales
Christmas was celebrated extensively in the Middle Ages, and it is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that is acclaimed for bringing Christmas back to popularity in 1843. The title’s success encouraged society to celebrate Christmas extensively, hence the birth of so many traditions in the Victorian century.