From putting up a Christmas tree to sending Christmas cards in the mail, these 10 Christmas traditions are a testament to how much we still love old-fashioned yuletide customs.
1.Sending Christmas Cards by Post
The first Christmas card was invented by Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant working for the Post Office. Cole wanted to increase the British public’s use of the Post Office, and together with his friend, artist John Horsley, they came up with the first Christmas card which was sold for a shilling.
Nowadays, around 900 million Christmas cards delight their recipients in the UK every year. Even though you can send cards made out of pixels on your phone, people still love to receive physical cards in the post, and personalised Christmas cards are a beautiful way to let your loved ones know you’re thinking of them during this special time of year.
2.Fill Your Stockings
When it comes to the excitement generated by the contents of socks, nothing comes close to Christmas stockings. The festive fireplace hosiery has been around for centuries, since at least the early 1800s.
Although the exact origin of Christmas stockings is unknown, one story speaks of St. Nicholas, who being the charitable chap he was threw three bags of gold into a poor man’s house one night. One sack of gold landed in a stocking being dried by the fireplace, making the man’s daughters very happy when they awoke next morning. Children (and adults) still get excited to discover what goodies St. Nick has left for them in their novelty sized socks.
3.Singing Christmas Carols
People have been singing carols for thousands of years in Europe, a tradition that was originally practiced by Pagans while they partied at stone circles during the winter solstice. It wasn’t until 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi put on nativity plays in Italy that these carols took on a more orthodox Christian tone, closer to the beautiful songs we’re all familiar with today.
4.Eating A Turkey Christmas Dinner
What Christmas would be complete without a turkey dinner with all the trimmings? Even vegans can get in on the action, with plant-based turkey substitutes. But long before quorn was a thing, Queen Victoria set a trend in the 1800s when she requested the big bird be served up on her plate.
Before this, most people in England consumed roast beef or goose for their Christmas dinners. As the 19th century drew to a close, Queen Vic’s influence had established turkey as a British Christmas staple, a delicious tradition we still enjoy to this day.
5. Watching a Vintage James Bond Flick
For generations of older Brits, a certain part of Christmas day is synonymous with Ian Fleming’s famous spy, James Bond. Since 1975, 007 has been delivering his suave brand of espionage to TVs in the UK every Christmas, entertaining blokes with gadgets and explosions and charming ladies on and off the screen.
This festive tradition proved so popular that it influenced the decision to release some of the more modern Bond films in cinemas close to Christmas time. Incidentally, the 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features the song “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?”
6. Pennies in the Pudding
Christmas Puddings are loved the world over, and the fact that finding a penny in one is supposed to bring good luck can only add to their appeal. The fruit and nut based dessert was first made as a savoury delicacy in the 14th century using beef and mutton fat. Time passed and the Christmas pudding became sweeter and more alcoholic as people added beer and spirits into the mix. Between then and now, people decided to put objects in there for good luck, including pennies, rings and thimbles.
7. Putting Up a Christmas Tree
Perhaps the most iconic Christmas tradition, putting up Christmas trees, has a rich history. The Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun god Ra, who they believed got weaker during winter time. They celebrated the winter solstice as the point when Ra got stronger again, indicating that they could start sowing crops for next year, by decorating their homes with green palm rushes.
The Romans celebrated winter solstice with a festival called Saturnalia, dedicated to the god of agriculture, Saturn. The Romans adorned their homes with evergreen boughs to commemorate this time of year and the promise of their land becoming fertile and fruitful again. This tradition was passed down to the 16th century German Christians who bought trees for their homes at Christmas. When German settlers arrived in North America in the 1830s they took their Christmas tree tradition with them, but it was banned by American Puritans who considered it a “pagan mockery.”
However, in 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made the Christmas tree popular in Britain, influencing the United States to follow suit, and the rest is history. Now it’s hard to imagine celebrating Christmas without putting up a tree, decorating it with tinsel, and putting presents beneath it, a symbol that for many of us encapsulates everything we love about Christmas.
8. The Yule Log
The Yule log is a tasty tradition stretching back to the Iron Age, when during winter solstice Celtic and Gaelic people burned logs in their fireplaces bedecked with holly, ivy and pinecones. This tradition continued with the rise of Christianity, when some bright spark had the idea of baking a cake on their fireplace. 8 Marzipan, meringues and cake sponge were popular Yule log ingredients for medieval people in the 1600s, so the next time you’re enjoying a Yule log you can have a deeper appreciation for where it came from.
9. Snapping Christmas Crackers
Christmas crackers were invented by an English pastry cook called Tom Smith in the 1840s, who observed the French ‘bon bon’ (an almond wrapped in tissue paper) while on a trip to Paris. Tom loved the idea but wanted to make it more unique, and inspiration came when he heard a log in his fireplace crackle and pop. Using a chemical compound called silver fulminate, Tom added a ‘bang’ to his crackers; the satisfying snap of crackers which we still love making during Christmas dinner. 9
10. Enjoying Advent Calendars
What better way to count down to Christmas than with an advent calendar? In the mid 19th century German Protestants marked doors with chalk in December to indicate how many days were left until Christmas. Then, in the early years of the 20th century, a German man called Gerhard Lang created the first advent calendar, attaching 24 little doors to a piece of cardboard, a simple idea that became incredibly successful. 10
Children’s excitement over Christmas grows every day as they open another door of their calendars and enjoy the little chocolates inside (that is, if they haven’t eaten them all already!)