Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in the UK. Despite being a Christian holiday, it is also celebrated almost universally outside the religious community and by a growing number of non-Christians too.
This post will tell you all you need to know about Christmas in the UK.
The Christmas season is the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, believed to be the son of God in the Christian faith, making his birth an important date in the Christian calendar. According to popular tradition, the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph travelled on a donkey from their home in Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, to pay their taxes and take part in a census. On their arrival in Bethlehem, they found that all of the rooms across the city were full. Wherever they tried to find lodging, they were told, “There is no room at the inn”. Eventually, one innkeeper allowed them to spend the night in his stable. That night Mary gave birth to Jesus in the stable, surrounded by farm animals, where she laid him in a manger. Shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel and were the first to visit the baby. Three wise men also visited Jesus in the manger, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, which they believed signalled the birth of a King of the Jews. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby.
There are many services and traditions in churches associated with Christmas, however I will focus on the more secular traditions followed by most people in the UK.
The run up to Christmas is my favourite part of the year, and while many shops start preparing for Christmas in early autumn, I start celebrating at the beginning of December. In fact, while I am writing this, the International Office is decked out with tinsel and snowflakes! The most typical Christmas decoration is the Christmas tree, which became popular in England after Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought a Christmas tree over from his native Germany. The royal family were shown standing around the tree in a newspaper, and so the tradition began. This huge one is in the Business School here at MMU.
I also love Christmas songs, ranging from the religious carols sung by choirs and in church, to the secular favourites played on the radio throughout December. Here are some links to my favourites; the first two are traditional carols you might hear in a carol service.
O Come All Ye Faithful
The next two are popular Christmas songs that are heard everywhere all December. Feed the World is a charity Christmas song originally released in 1984 to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia.
Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas
Wham – Last Christmas
Manchester is an amazing place to be at Christmas time with the beautiful decorations in the city centre, two temporary outdoor ice rinks and the world famous Christmas markets. If you only do one thing in Manchester for Christmas, wander through over 300 chalet style stalls selling intricate gifts, sample a hog roll, Bratwurst sausage or crepe, and soak in the festive atmosphere.
One of the main traditions of Christmas is gift giving. Typically people buy presents for their family and friends, wrap them in Christmas paper (decorated with religious or secular pictures or phrases) and place them under the tree to be opened on Christmas morning. Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, delivers presents to children during Christmas Eve night and places them either under the Christmas tree, or in Christmas stockings. He delivers presents to children across the world by flying his sleigh – pulled by nine reindeer, led by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – and going down the chimney. Many homes leave out a glass of whisky and a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for his reindeer, to re-fuel before the continue on their journey.
Christmas in my house involves opening my presents from Father Christmas with my brother as soon as we wake up. We then go downstairs and open our presents from family and friends with our parents and Grandma. Afterwards, we eat a big cooked breakfast and put the Christmas dinner in the oven. While my Mum and Grandma cook, my Dad, brother and I go to the village pub to say hello to our friends over a quick drink. We return to the house to help with the last preparations for the Christmas dinner of turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, pigs in blankets, stuffing, Brussels sprouts and cranberry or bread sauce. Before we eat the dinner, we pull Christmas crackers, telling the jokes, and wearing the paper crowns found inside them. After dinner, my family settle down to watch a classic Christmas film. My personal favourites are the very British Love Actually, Elf and The Snowman.
If you do not celebrate Christmas you might be wondering what to do on Christmas day while most people are with their families. A popular thing to do is to go for a Chinese meal followed by a trip to the cinema. Chinatown and Rusholme will be very busy with the sizeable proportion of Mancunians who do not celebrate Christmas, so why not gather some friends and go out for a big lunch or dinner? Alternatively, cook up a traditional Christmas dinner and see what all the fuss is about!
Tell us about the Christmas traditions in your own country or about what happens in your favourite holiday in the comments section below.
Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays if you do not celebrate!