Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Happy Christmas from the United Kingdom!

The holidays in the United Kingdom, as many of you might know, are a spectacular season in which the ceilings of buildings throughout England, Scotland and Ireland are bewitched to snow and everlasting icicles are found hanging on the banisters of homes.  You may be pleasantly surprised by caroling suits of armor and gifts of chessboards or stylish wizard hats flying out the ends of your magical Christmas crackers. It is a snowy season, and a good time for a trip to the popular getaway village of Hogsmeade, where the thatched roofed cottages and strings of holly are sure to put you in the Christmas mood. Hogsmeade is also known for sweet shop called Honeydukes, where you can find delicious sweets of all kinds including creamy nougat, hundreds of varieties of chocolates, and toad shaped peppermint creams, which make perfect stocking stuffers...

Okay, I wish. Harry Potter isn't real, guys. In reality, many of the holiday traditions of the United Kingdom are ones that you may be familiar with here in the United States. There are some small differences however, some of which you can read about here: 10 Ways to British Up Your Christmas. First of all, there are actually Christmas crackers, although they are unfortunately not magical. Generally you can expect to find a joke, a small trinket and a paper crown, which is usually worn for Christmas lunch. They usually look something like this:

The crackers can be pulled by individuals or pulled all in a circle with a different person holding each end. A little strip with an explosive charge is what causes the exciting pop. Apparently in cheaper versions, you might find a plastic mustache, which could come in handy. The history of these Christmas crackers dates back to the Mid-Victorian age, when a confectioner's apprentice named Tom Smith decided to bring the French bon-bon, wrapped in colored tissue, to England. They ended up not selling as well as he had hoped, so he devised a way to make them more POP-ular. (Corny, I know.)

This tradition takes place on Christmas day, which usually consists of unwrapping presents in the morning, and then having lunch-much like here in the United States. The food which is eaten is also very similar to popular American holiday feasts and can include items such as turkey, gravy, potatoes, and cranberry sauce.

Mince Pie
For dessert, there may be Christmas cake or pudding. Another popular dessert is called mince pie, which is a little pie with fruit filling. These are commonly left overnight for Santa rather than milk and cookies.

Like many American children, children in the United Kingdom enjoy writing letters to Santa. There are two ways to make sure that Santa gets these letters. You can either follow the traditional method of burning them up in the fireplace or send them to the following address, courtesy of the Royal Mail:
                                             Santa/Father Christmas
                                             Santa's Grotto
                                             XM4 5HQ
The deadline for this year, however, has already passed. Santa expects his letters by no later than December 6th, so procrastinators, you'll just have to wait for next year. (Psst: for those of you who may moonlight as Santa, you can pay to have replies from Santa sent to your kids at Santa even sends text messages. He's very modern.)

You also may be wondering where exactly "Reindeerland" is located. In the U.K., children learn that Santa lives in Lapland, a region in the arctic circle that includes parts of Russia, Finland, Sweden and Russia. You can actually go visit "Santa Claus Village" in Finland, a place which includes a husky park, snowmobile park, shopping areas, Santa's underground caves, reindeer sleigh rides and Santa's House of Snowmobiles.

Santa Claus Village in Finnish Lapland
After tearing through your presents, Christmas crackers and mince pie on Christmas Day, you may think that the holidays are over. Not true. The day following Christmas Day is also a holiday, known as Boxing Day. Some call it the day of the Christmas hangover. It is a public holiday, so many people do not have to work, but it is known as a shopping day similar to Black Friday here in the United States.

Boxing day is really for Santa to go to the beach and relax. 
Another tradition associated with Boxing Day consists of giving a small gift to those who "serve" you all year long. In days gone past, this literally meant giving a small gift to servants, but in modern times, this might mean remembering your mail carrier, or local public services like the fire department. This holiday is celebrated not just in the U.K. but also in the Republic of Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Boxing Day also coincides with the religious observance St. Stephen's Day. In Ireland this day is still known as St. Stephen's Day and has its own unique traditions. An important symbol of that day for the Irish is the wren. The story is that St. Stephen, a Christian martyr who was stoned to death, was according to legend betrayed by a wren. Until about 1900, this resulted in a St. Stephen's Day tradition in which Irish boys would kill wrens by stoning them to death. Today this tradition is remembered, but no longer practiced. This is the reason why you may hear St.Stephen's Day referred to as the "Day of the Wren" in Ireland.

A winter wren

By the way, you may be also be familiar with the song "Good King Wenceslas." If you listen to it again, you will realize that it is actually about St. Stephen's Day--hence the lyrics "Good King Wenceslas looked down on the feast of Stephen."

Last, but not least, is the tradition of the Queen's Christmas Message. The tradition was begun in 1932, and the first message, which went out over the radio, was read by George V. Today, and since 1952, the message comes from Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth II

 It is broadcast on T.V., radio and over the Internet. Below, you can view the 2012 message:

(Learn more about British holiday traditions through the ages here, including during the Middle Ages, 
WWII and more!)

P.S. don't forget the Santa run! Below is a picture of this intern's sister participating in the Santa run while studying abroad in London!

And keep reading! We have holiday posts coming up on Germany, Greece and the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

No comments:

Post a Comment