At Maclaren, we take great pride in our British heritage, including the fact that the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was first published in England (although some scholars believe the song originated in France). In honour of the season, we offer you 12 tidbits about Christmas in Great Britain, in rough chronological order:
1. Mummering is an English holiday tradition from the Middle Ages. During the Twelve Days of Christmas, groups of people don masks and put on plays while their hosts try to identify the people behind the masks.
2. Christmas pudding, also known as “plum pudding,” contains raisins, nuts, and cherries but no plums (“plum” was a term for raisins in pre-Victorian times).
3. Way back when, many servants worked on Christmas Day and were given the next day off to visit with their families. Their employers would box up leftover food and other gifts as thanks for their work, thus creating Boxing Day. Now, Boxing day (December 26th) is a major retail sale day throughout the U.K.
4. The English parliament banned all Christmas festivities in 1647. Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell believed that feasting and revelry on such a holy day was immoral. Fortunately, the ban was lifted when Cromwell lost power in 1660.
5. Santa Claus is more commonly known as “Father Christmas” in the United Kingdom, where some families leave him a glass of sherry or mulled wine, along with mince pies, biscuits, or chocolate.
6. Many British families cap off the holiday with a Christmas Tea, to which they invite extended family and friends over for an evening of games, tea, and other refreshments.
7. Legend has it that the Christmas tree became popular in England in 1841 when Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought one over from his native Germany.
8. John Callcott Horsley designed the first commercial Christmas card in London in 1843 at the request of his friend Sir Henry Cole.
9. The English Christmas cracker, used at the meal Christmas day, was invented in 1847 by Tom Smith, is a small treat wrapped in chemically treated paper twisted at both ends. Pulling the cracker apart creates a small, explosive “pop” and reveals a bright paper hat, small toy, or other gift inside the tube.
10. Every Christmas Day since 1932, the head of the British monarchy has delivered a Christmas Message to the Commonwealth of Nations, one of the few times when the sovereign addresses the public without consulting with any ministers of the Crown. (Check out Queen Elizabeth’s first televised Christmas Message from 1957)
11. The British royal family opens its presents on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day, as is the normal English custom.
12. The city of Oslo, Norway, has presented a Trafalgar Square Christmas tree to the people of London each year since 1947 as a token of gratitude for England’s support of Norway during the Second World War.
Here at Maclaren, we wish you and yours a very happy holiday and hope you enjoy all the days of Christmas.