By Sarah Doyle
Every year as I use more and notice more and more of the traditions in my family, I wonder where they come from and why they are the ones that we use today. Traditions such as decorating a Christmas tree, drinking eggnog, using advent calendars, or even hanging a stocking on the fireplace perplex me as to where they come from. Then I begin to wonder if other countries practice the same traditions as we do in the United States. “Surely they do,” I wondered, “But what about countries that are similar to ours? What about England for example?” England, much to my surprise, does not practice Christmas as I would’ve expected them to.
England and America, though vastly different in landmass, and accents, are also quite different in their holiday traditions. What does it mean to drink a snowball, wassail, or eggnog? Where are the stockings hung? How about letters to Santa Claus–who sends them snail-mail and who decides to burn them? If you’re wondering about the answers to these questions and more–you’ve come to the right place for the answers.
In the United States, drinks such as mulled cider, eggnog, and hot chocolate are popular Christmas delicacies that are only enjoyed at this festive time of year. In England, there are other drinks that have the same connotations to the Christmas season. Wassail, is a drink that originally meant “good health” in the olden days. It is made as a mulled-cider type drink sometimes prepared with a base of wine, that was traditionally topped with a piece of toast to soak up the liquid. Soggy bread–just what we all wanted floating in our drinks.
They also have “winter warmers”, or alcoholic drinks that are supposed to warm people from the inside out. Some drinks of this variety are Snowballs, Hot Toddys, and Glögg, all guaranteed to keep people warm on a cold winter night.
2.Letters to Santa
Every year millions of letters are written in hopes that Old Saint Nick will answer the wishes of little boys and girls all over the country. The Post Office is littered with children’s dreams.
In England, children burn letters of the very same sort. It may sound symbolically harsh to do so as it does contain the hopes of what they want to get for Christmas, but the reasoning behind the tradition is pure, I promise. Tradition says that if you burn your letter to Santa Claus in the fireplace, it will go up through the chimney and Father Christmas will be able to read the smoke–sick right?
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…right? Well, this is true for those of us in America, but in England, stockings are usually hung elsewhere. The English choose to hang their stockings at the bottom of their beds so that they can wake up in the morning to see it filled with Christmas goodies. Neither way is right, just different. The tradition originated in Asia Minor so it really wasn’t either country who invented the tradition–war need not be initiated over such a trivial issue.
There are no real noise-related traditions on Christmas besides singing Christmas carols which are also popular in England as relayed in A Christmas Carol. These noisemakers are constructed of a paper tube covered in a type of foil and closed by twisting the aluminum at both ends.
As a tradition people cross their arms and hold on to one side of their neighbor’s cracker and pull do pup it revealing little treats. Some of the treats inside could be a joke, a trinket of some kind, and a crown. It is the loud version of a kinder egg–but without the chocolate.
Usually on the first day after Christmas people start to take down their decorations in preparation for the New Year celebrations. The day after Christmas is the indication for the end of the holiday season. In England however, there is another holiday to behold–“Boxing Day”. This is another national holiday so that means an extra day off for those who work. There is another aspect that is also similar to American traditions as the end-of-season sales begin and a Black Friday-esque shopping spree begins.
The origins of the name are that of either the tradition of opening boxes and giving them to the poor at the Church of England in olden days or the giving of boxes to servants in Victorian eras.
England and America have very similar holiday traditions, but it is interesting to see how slightly different we make each of them lest one be confused with the other. Analyzing some of the traditions and practices that differ from the United States makes it easier to understand European culture and how the whole world doesn’t celebrate Christmas in the way that we would think. These are just some of the ways in which it’s different, but visiting it for yourself is another way to get into the Dickens Christmas spirit and understand more about England and its culture.