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Archive for December, 2010

Mid-winter festivals were observed in Britain long before Christianity reached our shores. In ancient Britain, the Winter Solstice (near December 22) was seen as a turning point in the cold dark months. Rituals were held to encourage the return of the sun and banish evil spirits believed to lurk in the bleakest days. On the last day of winter, called Yule, a huge log was added to a bonfire and people gathered round to summon the sun by singing and dancing. Houses were decorated with green plants, particularly mistletoe and holly, as a symbol of fertility and rebirth the new season would bring.
Victorian Christmas Celebration

Saturnalia, a very popular Roman festival, was held in mid-December. It was celebrated in countries across the Empire, including Britain which was occupied by the Romans from 43 to the early part of the fifth century. The week long party was held in honour of the Roman God Saturn. Revellers enjoyed feasting, visiting family and sharing gifts. The festival offered temporary social freedom for slaves who were excused from work and allowed privileges, such as the right to gamble.

In 596, St. Augustine undertook a mission to bring Christianity to the Anglo Saxons. He and his monks introduced the Christian calendar to Britain, including the Christmas date. The Christian church decreed Christ’s birthday be celebrated on December 25, a decision made by the Pope in 336. As Christianity spread across Britain, pagan celebrations were mainly engulfed by or assimilated in to Christmas ritual.

Varied Christmas activities were adopted across Britain.

In England, people ate frumenty (a type of porridge made from corn) on Christmas morning. The recipe changed over time and eggs, fruit, spice, lumps of meat and dried plums were added. The whole mixture was wrapped in a cloth and boiled. This is the origin of plum pudding.

Christmas festivities in Ireland last from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Epiphany on 6th January, which is referred to as Little Christmas. Many Irish women bake a seed cake for each person in the house. It is also Irish tradition to bake three puddings, one for each key day of the Epiphany – Christmas, New Year’s Day and the Twelfth Night.

In Scotland, Christmas has traditionally been celebrated very quietly because the Presbyterian Church places no great emphasis on the date. The season is however enjoyed by many Scots. A popular Scottish festive party involved the building of big bonfires which people could gather round for warmth, dancing and to play bagpipes. A time-honoured Scottish Christmas treat is Bannock cakes made of oatmeal.

In Wales, music was vital to the festive celebrations. Christmas morning between 3am and dawn men gathered at churches to sing carols until the cockerel crowed. This was called Plygrain.

Taffy making on Christmas Eve was one of the most important festive traditions of the Welsh. Taffy is a special kind of chewy toffee made from brown sugar and butter. It is boiled and then pulled until it becomes lovely and glossy.

Britain today is home to many different cultures and mid-winter is, as it always has been, a time for diverse cultural celebration.

Thankyou for all your Christmas wishes.  Have a wonderful Christmas from all the Histouries UK team.

External Links:
http://www.welcome2london.org.uk/christmas-xmas-festive-new-year-london-tours-uk.htm
http://www.visitlondon.com/events/christmas/
http://www.christmasinlondon.net/

British Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

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Us Brits love Christmas. Our ancient streets come alive as thousands of shoppers and party-goers make their way past carol singers and chestnut vendors under a canopy of shimmering festive lights. The shops are overflowing with gifts, decorations and delicious food, and there are thousands of seasonal events from carol services to wild parties as the holiday spirit takes hold

Why is England a good place to visit at Christmas time?
Christmas is Britain’s most popular holiday and is characterised by traditions that date back hundreds of years. Many Christmas customs that originated in Britain have been adopted in the United States. There is nothing more magical than wandering through a British garden on a crisp, clear winter day: the sun, low in the sky, sparkling on elegant branches; the satisfying crunch of early morning frost underfoot; the delicate scent of winter-flowering shrubs. Holly berries bring a splash of colour to the festive season. Shortly after New Year, snowdrops poke their heads through the earth. Hints of spring arrive in late February as buds begin to appear on trees and the petals of early daffodils unfold.

Bath Christmas Market

Bath Christmas Market

 

1. Christmas Traditions • Pantomimes • Crackers • Dinner • Decorations • Mistletoe
2. Father Christmas
3. Queens Speech
4. Boxing Day

1: (Pantomines) In the UK, the word ‘Pantomine’ means a form of entertainment, generally performed during the Christmas season. Most cities throughout UK have a form of pantomine at this time of year. The origins of British pantomine, or ‘Panto’ as they are know as today, date back to the middle ages. Panto is generally aimed at children however adults from all ages thoughly enjoy this show. Pantos are based on childrens fairy tales and legends (Aladdin, Cinderalla, Jack and the Bean Stalk). It is traditional for the audience to join in with the panto – cheering the hero or heroine and hissing at the villains. Many phrases to be learnt before seeing a panto are “He’s behind you!” and “Oh yes he is!”, although this may seem strange to be reading all will become clear when watching a British pantomine.
(Cracker) The pulling of Christmas crackers often accompanies food on Christmas Day. Invented by a London baker in 1846, a cracker is a brightly coloured paper tube, twisted at both ends, which contains a party hat, riddle and toy or other trinket. When it is pulled by two people it gives out a crack as its contents are dispersed.
(Dinner) Christmas Day sees the opening of presents and many families attend Christmas services at church. Christmas dinner consists traditionally of a roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing and roast potatoes. This is followed by mince pies and Christmas pudding flaming with brandy, which might contain coins or lucky charms for children. (The pudding is usually prepared weeks beforehand and is customarily stirred by each member of the family as a wish is made.) Later in the day, a Christmas cake may be served – a rich baked fruit cake with marzipan, icing and sugar frosting.
(Decorations) Christmas decorations in general have early origins. Holly, ivy and mistletoe are associated with rituals going back beyond the Dark Ages. (The custom of kissing beneath a sprig of mistletoe is derived from an ancient pagan tradition.) The Christmas tree was popularised by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who introduced one to the Royal Household in 1840. Since 1947, the country of Norway has presented Britain annually with a large Christmas tree which stands in Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during the Second World War.
(Mistletoe) Mistletoe, considered sacred by the British Druids, was believed to have many miraculous powers. Among the Romans, it was symbol of peace, and, it was said that when enemies met under it, they discarded their arms and declared a truce. From this comes our custom of kissing under the mistletoe. England was the first country to use it during the Christmas season. 2.
2. (Father Christmas) The English gift giver is called Father Christmas. He wears a long red or green robe, and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve. However, the gifts are not usually opened until the following afternoon. Father Christmas delivers them during the night before Christmas. The Children leave an empty stocking or pillowcase hanging at the end of the bed. In the morning they hope it will be full of presents.
3. (Queens Speech) Another traditional feature of Christmas afternoon is the Queen’s Christmas Message to the nation, broadcast on radio and television. This normally occurs in the mid afternoon after most people have eaten their Christmas Dinner. The Queen summaries the events of the year past and looks to the future. 4. (Boxing Day) Christmas day is followed by Boxing day (26th December). which takes its name from a former custom of giving a Christmas Box – a gift of money or food inside a box – to the deliverymen and trades people who called regularly during the year. This tradition survives in the custom of tipping the milkman, postman, dustmen and other callers of good service at Christmas time normally on the run up to Christmas.

A Christmas Market Christmas Markets are loved by everyone – the little wooden chalets selling all sorts of goodies and the magical atmosphere created by special Christmas fragrances of pine branches and incense and of course the hot mulled wine to keep you warm! The stalls filled with wooden smoking men, Christmas pyramids, music boxes, straw stars, angels and all manner of wooden decorations. Then you have the stalls with the lebkuchen, stollen and fresh sugared almonds – tempting you with Christmas aromas. Friends and family meet up to enjoy the day together and everyone gets absorbed in the excitement of Christmas.

Bath Christmas Market – A very traditional style English Christmas Market will be runnning every day from December 2nd – 11th selling a a wide variety of original hand crafted gifts, decorations, cards and toys. With the famous Bath Abbey and Roman Baths providing an amazing backdrop to this event, you will know that the festive season has really arrived in Bath. You will have plenty of time on tour for some Christmas shopping!
Windsor Christmas Market – A traditional German market which will be running throughout December. There will be individual wooden chalets each offering a variety of hand-made goods or sumptuous fare! Perfect for Christmas shopping!

More historical Chrismas facts coming soon. 
External Links:
Welcome2London – Christmas in the Capital

Wiltshire Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours at Christmas time

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