This post is dedicated to my friend across the pond, Tammy Maas, who constantly delights by sharing her wonderful festive traditions from her home town of Iowa. Click here to read an excerpt from Tammy’s blog, Animaasity.
I admit it. I’m a great fan of the festive period. For me, it encompasses all that is charitable and good. It’s a time when family and friends catch up and spend quality time together.
What interests me are all the traditions we adhere to and where they derive. Here’s my run down of those my family follow:
Carol singing in Britain goes back to the Middle Ages where beggars seeking food, drink or money would wander the streets singing holiday songs. These days, it is used as a vehicle to raise money for charity.
In early December, a group from our local Primary school gather to spend an evening walking around the village carol singing, complete with one of the teachers playing her cornet, to raise money for Help for Heroes. In years gone by we’ve joined them, and it has always felt like the perfect kick-start to Christmas. As my daughter has now left the school we were spectators this year, but it still felt magical.
The sending and receiving of cards has become a huge tradition in the UK since it started in the 1840s. Originally established to send greetings to people you don’t see, it has got rather out of hand over the years until we have reached a situation whereby everyone sends to everyone – including neighbours, friends, family, work colleagues. Up until a few years back, I found myself writing well over 100 cards.
Recently, I have broken with tradition. It’s not that I’ve become a ‘bah humbug’, but most of the cards just get recycled after Christmas and it seems such a waste. I prefer to donate to charity – this year I donated to Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society. I still send some greeting cards to distant family and friends, usually with a personal note tucked inside, and somehow they feel more special now.
Christmas Tree and Decorations
One of the things I love about Christmas is the decorations. During the mid nineteenth century the royal family introduced the German tradition of decorating a fir tree inside the home to celebrate Christmas. This idea spread across the UK (and to many other countries) and has continued to this day. Our tree is firmly ensconced in our front room, lit up with sparkly fairy lights and laden with baubles and other decorations that my daughter has made over the years. Apparently the Norwegians donate the spruce tree that sits in Trafalgar Square at Christmas time. It’s usually over 20 metres high and given in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during the Second World War.
Most of the larger towns and cities (and also some of the smaller ones) are lit up with an array of sparkly Christmas lights. There is usually a celebratory evening to signify their ‘switching on’. This year Robbie Williams switched on the London Oxford Street lights and gave a live show with some songs from his new album.
Many individual houses have fairy lights in their front garden and some have a whole Christmas display(!), depending on their choice. Lots of people also decorate their doors with wreaths too, usually evergreens twisted into a circle, decorated with holly leaves and berries. This tradition goes back thousands of years to the Roman times where wreaths were placed on victors’ heads after battle. The circled wreath became a never ending symbol of completeness: life and eternity, and has been adopted by many cultures since. A wreath decorates our front door every year and I love to take a walk around the village and look at the different styles and colours on display.
On Christmas day, will we be with my husband’s family and cooking roast venison. Turkey is the traditional Christmas meal, as introduced by King Henry VIII in the sixteenth century (prior to this most ate boar), although many people currently eat a wide variety of different meats including beef, lamb, goose and duck for Christmas dinner.
This year we will be joined by their elderly neighbour, George, courtesy of an invitation by my eleven year old daughter. The more the merrier I say. We’ll open our presents in the morning with mince pies, then enjoy a late dinner with crackers. I love crackers – somehow the tradition of pulling a rolled piece of cardboard, wrapped in bright paper, twisted at both ends, which contains a party hat, joke and toy or trinket, makes everybody smile. We tried to make them one year, but they weren’t the same since we didn’t have the gunpowder to make the requisite bang when the cracker breaks. I guess they’ve been around since the mid 1840s (invented by a London baker), so they must be either very good or very bad to have kept going for so long.
It’s estimated around 8 million people last year tuned in for the Queen’s Christmas broadcast on TV from Buckingham Palace in the afternoon. The first Christmas Broadcast was delivered by King George V in 1932 and since then it has become an annual event. However we rarely catch this as we are usually exercising our dogs and walking our dinner off over the fields. As always, we are hoping for a white Christmas…
I hope you enjoyed my insight into our family Christmas festivities. May I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let’s make it a good one.