Foxymoron (rosie_red73) wrote in in_english,


Following on from bell_witch's Christmas Traditions post, here's a list of traditional British food and festive customs.

  • Advent: Advent originated in Germany but is now celebrated to varying degrees in Britain. Originally, families would have an advent candle with 25 marks on it. It would be lit on the first of December and burnt down by one mark for each day in the run up to Christmas. These days, advent calanders are more common. An advent calander is a printed sheet of cardboard with 24 or 25 little doors, each with a festive picture behind it (or more commonly these days, a chocolate).

  • Christmas Eve: There's less emphasis on Christmas Eve in England than in other countries. Families tend to have their own traditions regarding it - some go to midnight mass, some just sit around and get drunk (us), some have parties but there's no set big thing with it over here. It's traditional to leave a glass of sherry and a mince pie out for Father Christmas and more recently, a carrot for the reindeer.

  • Christmas Carols:Either a group of people going round "singing for their supper" (a polite version of trick or treat!!!) sing a carol and get some mince pies, or perhaps collecting for charidee. (Thanks to underlucius for this one).

  • Christmas Day: Interesting fact: In 1647 Oliver Cromwell made Christmas festivities illegal since he thought that indulgence and celebration on a holy day was immoral. This ban was lifted in 1660 when Cromwell lost power, however a law was past in 1551 stating that all British citizens must attend a Christian church service on Christmas day, and they must not use any kind of vehicle to get to the service. This law is still in force, but not enforced, luckily.

    Again, Christmas traditions are different depending on the family (as seen in bell_witch's post), but there are a few things that are pretty standard:

    • Presents: Yes we do have them. Sometimes in stockings by our beds, sometimes before lunch, sometimes after, sometimes all three.
    • Christmas dinner: Most people have this at lunch time (between noon and 2pm-ish), some have it at tea time (6pm-8pm-ish). I'll do a full breakdown of what it entails later, but it's pretty standard stuff for everyone.
    • Christmas crackers: I'm not sure if these are common US side or not but here's a picture. Basically, it's a bit of paper rolled up with a snap inside, so when you pull it, it goes bang. You get a party hat, a crappy joke or piece of trivia and a gift (ranging from a rubbish plastic toy to a piece of reasonably tacky silver jewellery or a mini-manicure kit or something, depending on how much you spend).
    • The Queen's speech: Every year on Christmas day in the afternoon, the Queen does her speech. This was started in 1932 by King George. Channel 4 have started an alternative speech which has been done by people like Sharon Osbourne and Marge Simpson. This year the crown goes to Jamie Oliver.

  • Boxing Day: (St Stephen's Day) The day after Christmas was traditionally the time when everyone would give their leftover Christmas stuff to servants, tradesmen or the poor. These days it's mostly a time of sitting around with a bad stomach from all the food and eating more anyway. A lot of shops start their January sales on this day, so people with a death wish go shopping. Other traditions include traditions also include in some part of the country, Morris Dancing or Mumming, Hunting the Wren. Click here and here for more info. (Thanks to underlucius

Christmas Food

  • Christmas Dinner: Christmas dinner was traditionally a goose, but these days it's turkey for most people, or a 'joint' of meat (see this discussion). This is accompanied by roast potatoes and roast parsnips, stuffing, little sausages wrapped in bacon (pigs in blankets), sprouts and other vegetables.

  • Christmas Pudding: A very rich, dark pudding with lots of dried fruit, nuts and spices and lots of brandy or rum. It's traditional to put so much alcohol in it that you can set it on fire before you serve it. It used to be the thing to hide a sixpence somewhere in it, so whoever got it gets good luck (and usually a broken tooth). It's served with brandy butter, sweet white sauce, cream or custard. Very few people actually like it but everyone eats it anyway because it's Christmas and you just have to. Alternatives offered are Trifle (layers of sponge, fruit jelly, custard and cream) or mince pies (see below).

  • Christmas Cake: Fruit cake with marzipan and icing, usually decorated with christmassy things like icing santas, holly or christmassy sugar flowers. Served at teatime usually.

  • Mince Pies: Sweet pastry pies (usually individual) filled with mincemeat. Contrary to popular misconception, this is NOT minced beef or any other kind of meat (it used to be until the early twentieth century). It's actually dried fruit (have you noticed a theme with the dried fruit here?), apples, spices, sugar, suet and tons of brandy. Topped with a bit of icing sugar for extra sweetness. You can eat them cold or hot with custard.

  • Mulled Wine: Not sure if this is universal or not, but basically it's red wine heated up and flavoured with spices. Yummy.

  • Sausage Rolls: No Christmas would be complete without Sausage Rolls (slim sausages or sausage meat wrapped in puff or short crust pastry, depending on how you like it). YUM. Served hot or cold at tea time with leftover turkey sandwiches and various other nibbles. These are fairly standard British party food, as are Pork Pies (short crust pastry filled with reconstituted pork and jelly). (Thanks underlucius for the tip!)

Note: We do not traditionally have eggnog (edit: Apparently we do, according to underlucius) or yule logs (the wooden kind I mean, we do have the chocolate kind) and contrary to most christmas cards, it's actually very rare for us to have a white Christmas. I think the bookies are giving it a 20/1 chance this year, though we did officially get one in 2004 (i.e., one flake of snow falls on the post office tower in London).

As usual, all of this is open to discussion, debate and I'd love to hear about contrasting traditions in other parts of the world.

Tags: christmas, food, traditions
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We do always have eggnog (which I think is vile) Warnicks Advocaat is the most famous.

We always have a Yule Log too, which I usually make, not this year though...

Don't forget sausage rolls, slim sausages or sausage meat wrapped in either puff (yum) or short (yuk) pastry.

That's interesting about Cromwell, I knew he had, but couldn't find the proof of WHEN - and I need to know for Transgressions as I'm in 1647 now - do you have the citation I can see?

Christmas Carols: Either a group of people going round "singing for their supper" (a polite version of trick or treat!!!) sing a carol and get some mince pies, or perhaps collecting for charidee.

Boxing Day (st Stephen's Day) traditions also include in some part of the country, Morris Dancing or Mumming, Hunting the Wren
Ta for the tips, I've added them in. So what the hell IS eggnog, anyway? I picture raw eggs in a kind of hangover cure creation but I'm sure I must be wrong.

I don't have the citation I'm afraid, I'm nowhere near THAT thorough :D I got the information from here, which isn't actually a British site but shhhhh!
We have one of those calenders! My family is bad with time, so by the time Christmas actually comes, most of the doors are still closed. Mom got one a few years back that had a piece of chocolate behind each door... Well, by the time the third came, every door was open. lol.

We don't have crackers but I keep hearing about them and it frustrates because I want one ...or a dozen. I think the first time I heard about one was in a Harry Potter fanfic, and the closer it gets to Christmas, the more I keep reading references to them. I'm seriously drowning in jealously here.

I was so confused about the Trifle. I was googling it for god knows how long because apparently there's three "major" categories and more minor ones than I cared to count. Plus like, it's also a chocolate candy, which is what I first thought you meant. Finally I realized, "Hey! I should google English trifle." and it worked. We have those, at least, based on the picture and description we do. I see them at the store all the time, but they're called something... that I don't remember. Chocolate / Strawberry / Whatever Flavour something something pudding.
*snicker* if it was up to my son all the doors on his calender would have been open by the 4th too, but I'm a bitch :D In my day you just got a picture of santa behind each door. *is old*

Crackers win at life, you HAVE to find some. I get dead excited when I pull a cracker even though I know I'm going to get a pile of crap out of it. This year I chose them based on the prizes rather than the colour scheme and I have dibs on the mini rubix cube :D
Other things which are traditional (not usually for the Christmas meal itself but to supply buffet meals over the holiday period as family and friends turn up) are:

a big ham on the bone boiled then baked (usually studded with cloves and glazed with brown sugar or honey and spices, orange peel and other such things)

A round of beef (brisket and silverside are the suitable cuts) salted, spiced, boiled then pressed and eaten cold in slices. It's WONDERFUL. My husband wouldn't mind if I didn't cook the goose, *plum pudding and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, but he's divorce me if I didn't give him spiced pressed beef over Christmas.

*BTW, there are usually no plums in plum pudding. 17th-century English people were very vague as to what the dried fruits imported from the Mediterranean actually were, and just called them all - prunes, raisins, currants and the rest - by the generic term "dried plums" or "figs" (Hence another name for Christmas/plum pudding is "figgy pudding". It doesn't have real figs in, either.)