Holiday Traditions in the British Isles
Article describing Christmas holiday traditions in the British Isles.
Before Christmas & Christmas Day
· The ‘greening’ of Christmas – holly and ivy, mistletoe, and the Christmas tree.
· Father Christmas/St. Nicholas – the popular patron saint of little children. St. Nicholas’ Day is December 6th.
· St. Thomas’ Day, December 21st – poor widows went door to door begging for food and money.
· Caroling – the Welsh are particularly fond of and noted for their singing.
· Wassailling – to drink from the wassail bowl – a traditional drink made with apples and spices.
· Mummers – An 800 year old tradition – troops of ‘mummers’ would put on a traditional play.
· Pantomime – more traditional plays.
· Christmas cards began in 1843.
· A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was published in December 1843 and more than 15,000 copies were sold within a year.
· Candles were placed in the windows to light the way for the Christ Child, and to invite anyone in need into the home.
· Christmas Day, celebrated on Dec. 25, coinciding with ancient celebrations of the return of light to the Northern Hemisphere.
§ Christmas dinner and pudding
- Christmas crackers
- The Queen’s speech
December 26th, ST. STEPHEN’s DAY
· He was a disciple of Christ, one of seven to whom the twelve Apostles gave the task of caring for the widows and the poor.
· St. Stephen is the patron saint of alms giving.
· On St. Stephen’s Day the alms boxes were opened and alms were given to the poor.
DECEMBER 26th, BOXING DAY
· A day for giving to the poor and to those who serve you throughout the year.
· The origin comes from the tradition of opening the church alms boxes on this day and distributing alms to the poor.
· Or, it comes from the tradition of the wealthy boxing up the left-over of their Christmas feast and giving it to their servants and poor.
· Tips are given to those who serve you such as the postman or dustman.
· In Ireland, young men in extravagant dress, sometimes wearing masks, parade noisily through the streets in the Wren Boys' Procession. They carry a long pole on top of which is attached a holly bush. The bush supposedly contains a captured wren, and for whose sake the young men beg for money.
THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
· Begin on December 25th and end on January 5th, called Twelfth Night.
· The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas.
· Two turtle doves represent the two books of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments.
· Three French hens represent the Three Christian Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
· Four calling birds represent the four Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
· Five gold rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament.
· Six geese a-laying represent the six days or periods of the Creation.
· Seven swans a-swimming represent seven gifts of the Spirit (see Romans12:6-8).
· Eight maids a-milking represent the eight Beatitudes.
· Nine ladies dancing represent the nine Fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22).
· Ten lords a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments.
· Eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles of Jesus Christ.
· Twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
' · The new year used to begin in the Spring on March 25th and was not changed to January 1st in England until 1752 (Scotland changed in 1600).
· New Year’s Eve is a time for partying with family and friends and visiting each other’s homes.
· On the stroke of midnight church bells peel throughout the land.
· “First Footing” is the tradition of having a dark stranger be first to step over your threshold at midnight. He brings coal, food, and a coin for good luck and your feed him.
· “Hogmanay” is what the New Year’s Eve party is called in Scotland and gifts may be exchanged at midnight.
· Twelfth Night is the eve of January 5th and is the official end of the twelve days of Christmas.
· Again parties are held, plays are put on, and bonfires are lit.
· Christmas decorations are taken down.
· Epiphany is the commemoration of the visit of the Three Wise Men to the Baby Jesus.
· It is the climax of the Christmas season.
· Gifts may be exchanged on this day instead of Christmas.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
· Baker, Margaret, Folklore and Customs of Rural England, FHL book 942 H7bm.
· Hole, Christina, English Custom & Usage, FHL book 942 H6hc.
· Various Internet web sites, especially http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/Xmas/