Friday, 1 January 2010


When I mentioned that I was going to be blogging again a friend said how much they enjoyed learning about the customs in the UK last time I wrote, so for a moment I’m going to look back at Christmas and our celebrations.

Just as elsewhere Christmas decorations often centre on the Christmas tree, usually with a star or fairy at the top, although Christmas Trees were used at Christmas time some years earlier it was Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s consort) who really popularized the use of the Christmas tree here, mainly by setting up a tree at Windsor Castle. Each year we also have a 60ft Christmas tree in London’s Trafalgar Square which since 1945 has been the gift of the people of Norway, given in recognition of the British help given to Norway in World War 2.
This year I thought I’d have a little decorating fun with a souvenir of the Dallas meeting: we were able to purchase our wirework replicas of the Eiffel Tower table decorations from the closing dinner. Originally it came with a red Stetson on the top, for Christmas I removed the hat and replaced it with a Christmas fairy and attached small red baubles to the wire structure, then hung a few Christmas decorations inside!
My family think I’m quite mad, but I have a feeling that this may become a little tradition, I already have an idea for next year.
Like other countries we have Christmas Carols and sometimes carollers, actually one of my favourite carols is of American origin, the Cowboy Carol.
A traditional picture of domesticity here is the lady of the house making her last minute preparations, making mince pies or sausage rolls while listening to the service of nine lessons and carols broadcast live from Kings College, Cambridge each year.

Many traditions are food based – we start in November or even earlier by making Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, at the latest the Christmas pudding has to be made by Stir Up Sunday(which in 2009 was 22nd of November) The pudding is made with a lot of dried fruit which has previously been soaked overnight in alcohol, it is steamed for several hours and stored, but fed with yet more alcohol weekly until Christmas day when it is steamed again for a couple of hours – the result should be a rich moist and dark pudding. Traditionally the pudding should have silver coins buried in it, ideally old sixpences or Victorian three penny bits, finding a coin is said to bring good luck! After all this the finishing touch is pour warmed brandy over the pudding and set light to it……then serve it with brandy butter and or cream.

Turkey is the choice of most people for the main meal, we don’t brine turkey here and I think ‘dressing’ is called stuffing ….the neck end is usually stuffed with sage and onion sausage meat and the cavity has an onion, and sometimes other vegetables added, to help with keeping the turkey moist. Accompaniments include chipolata sausages, rolls of bacon, brussels sprouts (often cooked with chestnuts and/or lardons of bacon) parsnips, roast potatoes, carrots and peas with cranberry sauce, bread sauce and gravy……

At teatime we have a rich dark fruit cake (which also has had the feeding treatment) which is covered with marzipan and then icing – royal icing is traditional but these days many of us use fondant icing – below is my 2009 Christmas cake.

Other traditional foods include sausage rolls and mince pies which used to contain minced beef as well as dried fruit, but now usually contain just the fruit
Is it any wonder that the average Brit is said to gain 5lbs in weight over Christmas?

In our house we have two lots of present opening – this was originally to keep the children quiet and stop them becoming over exited. We start in the morning with stocking presents, in this house these are from immediate family and friends, then after the Queens speech (At 3pm on Christmas afternoon) we have other family presents and sometimes surprises from immediate family too, from around the Christmas tree – other families have other variations.
The Royal family (who spend Christmas at Sandringham in Norfolk) exchange their gifts on Christmas Eve, we are told they are fun or practical items rather than lavish gifts – a long table is divided into sections with ribbon and each member of the family has a dedicated section where their presents are piled up. We are told the Royal family like to play charades at Christmas too, oh to be a fly on the wall….

The day after Christmas day is a holiday too here, Boxing Day. This doesn’t refer to boxing as a sport but to the habit of trade’s people in Victorian times to call on their customers in the hope of getting a tip or Christmas box. Traditionally those in service had the day off and the family would have cold cuts, this is still common practice and in fact Boxing Day is the more relaxed fun day very often ….of course these days the Sales start too, so for some Boxing day means shopping for bargains! The Royal family usually go shooting on Boxing Day and those hunts that remain (fox hunting is banned in the UK) also traditionally hold a meet on Boxing Day (hunts go drag hunting now)

One fun British tradition at Christmastime is Pantomime – these are fun plays based children’s fairy tales, the favourite seems to be Cinderella, but there is also Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin, Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington etc. There are certain traditions to be upheld, the ‘Principal boy’ is usually played by a girl and the ‘Dame’ by a man, there are plenty of double entendres littering the script (to keep the adults in the audience entertained) and many opportunities for audience participation with it being compulsory to boo and hiss the villain and make sympathetic noises for the heroine, there are also shouts of ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh yes he is’ or ‘oh no he isn’t’ in the right place. The audience is also encouraged to join in with a song or two, often with audience being divided, the right and left or boys and girls, in a kind of singing competition. Children really enjoy it and it’s a great introduction to the theatre…….

New Year is a time for partying just as elsewhere, but many of our traditions are really Scottish, first footing for example – this is when a dark haired man carrying a lump of coal, salt, bread and a coin is the first caller in the New Year, this is said to ensure warmth, food, flavour and wealth for the coming year.
We also sing Auld Langs Syne, a traditional Scottish song which was copied down and added to by Robert Burns.
We live close enough to our local town to hear the church bells ringing in the New Year, and we often go outside to exchange New Year greetings with neighbours and watch the fireworks which illuminate the night sky……

Another tradition is the publishing of the honours list. This is when the Queen announces honours such as CBE’s and MBE’s and announces who she has knighted, this year she has made Patrick Stewart who played Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek a Knight, so he is now Sir Patrick Stewart. The awards are given for a variety of reasons. Another person made a Knight is Eric Reich who is chairman of the Kindertransport Group of the Association of Jewish Refugees; he has helped to raise millions of pounds for charity. He was just four years old when he arrived in the UK, one of 10,000 "Kindertransport" children who were evacuated from Nazi-occupied Europe.

So we say good bye to the ‘noughties’ and enter the tens or teens…….apparently experts think that we will soon stop saying ‘two thousand and ten’ and start saying ‘twenty ten’ and ‘twenty ten’ is apparently what the BBC are advising presenters to say.
Although many of us celebrated the start of the millennium on January 1st 2000 now some are saying that we were really a year early and the year 2001 was the first year of the new millennium, thus we are not actually at the end of the first decade until next year…. But most people do seem to be treating this as the end of the first decade of the 21st century, why let the experts be party poopers!

Whether you think we are starting a new decade or just a new year I hope that you enjoyed the seasonal celebrations and we send you our very best wishes for a Happy and Healthy 2010.


  1. Maggie, Happy New Year! Thank you for giving us a look into British traditions and for being such a faithful, interesting blogger. Your Christmas cake is a work of art as well.

  2. Hi Doris,
    I'm afraid that I can't claim the credit for this interesting post as QCI President Gay is the author!
    She just forgot to sign it!!
    Happy New Year everyone.
    Maggie @ Normandy Life

  3. Enjoyed reading...our Canadian son in law's tradition was to have Eggs Benedict & Mimosas on Boxing Day with relatives. We have added it to our festivities.

    We were in the UK/Cambridge 2 yrs ago/January! Had a lovely time! Westminster Abbey & Windsor Castle were highlights. Want to go back!!

    Best wishes

  4. Gay sorry to have given credit to Maggie, Happy New Year to you and keep up the good work.

  5. How interesting! Thanks for sharing your traditions and Happy New Year!

  6. Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment about my New Year's Eve table. Your post was very interesting, and I gleaned a great deal about your customs. Every time I read about Christmas Pudding, I'm reminded of the one written in Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Though I've never had one of my own, the thought of seeing it be lit afire seems very exciting. Happy New Year in "twenty ten" :)

  7. oh wow. a holiday the day after christmas. as in a relaxing holiday that includes shopping sounds wonderful.
    i agree with the above comment. your christmas cake looks amazing.
    and oh my the outlook of us now being in our "tens or teens" for the century seem a little scarey. at least to me it does. :)

    thanks for the peek inside a different custom. so interesting. really. i think it makes the world seem a little smaller to know how people celebrate and what they hold dear in other places.

    happy new year.

  8. Gay, thank you for sharing these customs. It's always fun to learn about the holiday customs of others. The Eiffel Tower tree looks cute decked out in the red balls and topped with the fairy. Will look forward to seeing what you do next year. Perhaps this will be come a new tradition in your home. Hope you and all have enjoyed your day. Quiet one here!
    All the best for 2010! ~ Sarah

  9. Gay, I started a holiday tradition with decorating the eiffel tower too! I can only imagine how much alcohol is in the pudding or cake... makes for an even happier celebration I'm sure! - Melissa