Out with the old in with the new… But hold fire, let’s not be too hasty! This time of year is all about seasonal customs – and there are many English Christmas traditions that can be given a new lease of life and enjoyed in modern day family festivities. And best of all, following old Christmas traditions means less spend…
Christmas traditions: food and drink
- Pudding charms: Charms were added to Christmas puddings during the 17th century to symbolise something wished for, such as a coin for wealth. Why not place one randomly under one of the plates or place mats at the table instead, for one lucky recipient to find? Or get inventive at pudding making time using a chocolate coin, heart-shaped sweetie or other edible symbol.
- Sweetmeats: Elizabethan hosts used to enjoy serving sweet, whimsical delicacies at the end of a banquet, including their marzipan equivalent ‘marchpane’, accompanied by a hot drink. So serve a few marzipan treats at the end of your own Christmas banquet in a nod to the age of the great feast (and take the excuse to tuck into more mulled wine!).
- Twelfth Night: Twelfth Night was celebrated by parties during the 1700s and 1800s where there would be a special cake containing a dried bean and a dried pea! The lucky recipients would be elected King and Queen for the night and the remaining guests would have to obey them. Well, as modern day party themes go, it would certainly be different!
Christmas traditions: decorations
- Evergreens: Since pagan times, holly and ivy have symbolised everlasting life since they do not shed their leaves. Why not ditch the costly, manufactured decorations this year and go green? Use pliable branches and incorporate pine cones for interest or sprigs of berries and mistletoe to add some natural ‘jewels’ (but best keep them out of reach of children and pets).
- Yule log: In medieval times, a large log would be carried into the house on Christmas Eve, put in the fireplace and decorated, then lit for warmth and light during the twelve days of Christmas. Add one of your own and let the kids decorate it while you get on with the sprouts. Lighting it or switching off the central heating is entirely optional!
- Table top trees: If a large Christmas tree is beyond the budget this year, revert to the original early Victorian practice of placing a smaller, potted tree on a table.
Christmas traditions: activities
Visiting customs: Descend on the neighbours during the Christmas and New Year period for a swift sherry (mince pie optional) and claim that you are simply upholding a centuries-old tradition! ‘Wassailing’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon salutation meaning ‘good health’.
- Ghostly tales: The Victorians would gather round the fire to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve. Give this tradition a modern twist by watching a ghostly-but-fun DVD instead.
- Boxing Day: During the Middle Ages churches would open their alms boxes on the day after Christmas and distribute the donations to the poor of the parish. It later became the day when gifts would be given to staff or tradespeople. Revive the tradition by donating something to a charity this Boxing Day or delivering a thank you gift to someone who has helped you this year.
Which Christmas traditions do you enjoy? We’d love to hear the details – just add your comments below. A very merry and sherry-tastic Christmas to you!