12 November 2018
There's nothing like Christmas for indulging in a spot of nostalgia. Read on to learn about Christmas traditions that have been enjoyed for generations worldwide. They might even inspire you to create your own new ones too!
Christmas traditions in England
Christmas, as we experience it today, was mostly an Victorian invention, however there are various traditions that have been observed for much longer, such as making plum puddings, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The ingredients of suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts and spices were loosely tied in a cloth and boiled for several hours until they are “plum”, meaning they have expanded to fill the cloth. The Christmas pudding is then sliced up and eaten with cream.
Welsh Christmas traditions
Before Christmas, it was traditional to decorate homes with fresh mistletoe and holly; mistletoe protected the home from evil and holly was a symbol of eternal life. In the 19th century Boxing Day in Wales was celebrated in a unique way and included the tradition of holly beating or holming. Young men and boys would beat the unprotected arms of young females with holly branches until they bled. In some areas it was the legs that were beaten and in others it was customary for the last person to get out of bed in the morning to be beaten with the sprigs of holly. It is not surprising this tradition did not survive!
Christmas traditions in Scotland
Christmas hasn’t been celebrated in Scotland for very long, Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958. During the Reformation in 1647 Christmas celebrations were banned by Oliver Cromwell and not lifted in Scotland for over 300 years. New Year or Hogmanay has always been the largest celebration.
The first visitor to the home on Christmas Day was called the first footer and was expected to bear gifts of peat/coal, money and bread or black bun, and a wee dram to symbolize warmth, wealth and lack of want. This became a Hogmanay tradition.
Irish Christmas traditions
Lighting the way
On Christmas Eve a large candle is placed in the front window of the family home, to symbolise guidance for Mary and Joseph before the birth of Christ. It welcomes strangers and also remembers those who are far away from home. The symbolic candle is explained to the children but they are also told the candle helps Santa to find his way to their home.
Little Christmas or Nollaig Na mBean
January 6th or the Feast of Epiphany which marks the end of Christmas was called the Women’s Christmas. Traditionally Irish women got the day off and the men were expected to do the housework and cooking, while the women met together in each other’s houses for a gossip and rest. Sounds good to me!
American Christmas traditions
According to reports by Captain John Smith, leader of the first permanent colony in the New World, the first eggnog made in America was consumed in his 1607 Jamestown settlement. Nog comes from the word grog, which refers to any drink made with rum.
Canadian Christmas traditions
In the far north of Canada the Innuit celebrate a Winter festival called sinck tuck which features parties with dancing and the exchanging of gifts.
Christmas traditions in Australia
Anyone for barbecued turkey?
Christmas falls during the heat of the summer in the Antipodes, so beachtime barbecues are often how the Aussies celebrate, though many do celebrate with the traditional hot meal of turkey, ham, pork or beef, as in Great Britain.
Christmas traditions in New Zealand
Like Australians, New Zealanders celebrate Christmas in their summer and many flowers and trees are in bloom at this time. One example is the pohutukawa which grows on the North Island and has lovely red blossoms and New Zealanders call this their Christmas tree.
Apart from picnics and barbecues some people cook using a traditional Maori hangi: they dig a hole in the ground and heat it with hot stones, then they put meat and vegetables into this hole and let the food cook inside. The hangi is served in the afternoon or evening. Some New Zealanders celebrate Christmas twice a year, when I visited in July (mid-Winter) many hotels and restaurants were offering Christmas meals and were fully decorated.
Christmas traditions in South Africa
A number of traditions celebrated by some South Africans reflect the country’s heritage as a British colony. Again it falls during summer when schools are closed. There is carol singing and the Christmas Eve service, along with Christmas fir trees and stockings put out for Santa. A traditional Christmas pudding is often served called Malva Pudding, sometimes called Lekker Pudding. (I have the recipe for this pudding and also egg nog, if you want them.)