Every year English people become alive with fervour for the festive season known as Christmas. There are many strange and unusual traditions held dear by the English and they may not be widely known in the outer reaches of the former British Empire.
British Christmas Traditions: a study by Stegzy Gnomepants
In the UK Christmas is the period that runs from November 1st to the second week in January. During that time everything increases in price 7 fold and the supermarket shelves fill with traditional fayre all of which has a short shelf life. The traditional British shops
A traditional UK shop. All shops look like this in England.
fill their shelves quite early on in the period and often have extravagant displays in the windows. A sight often seen at this time is the children. In the UK at Christmas children start work in Workhouses, cotton mills and mines rather than go to school. This saves on taxes and also helps produce some of the worlds finest linens and Coal jam available. Coal jam is often mined at this time of year and becomes especially desired by those that make Christmas puddings (more on this later).
At this time of year, the very poor (remember you can spot these by their customised cars with all the blue lights underneath, fancy spoilers and distinctive Burberry caps), adorn their rabbit hutch homes with festoons of brightly coloured lights, inflatable Santas and Snowmen (both deeply symbolic of the birth of Christ).
The less affluent will cover their house from roof to ground with outdoor lights shaped into trains, men climbing ladders and snowflakes in a desperate attempt to bring a bit of Blackpool to their lowly existence. Most of these lights are funded by the local government through grants, while some are funded by Focus points found in packets of cigarettes and some are just found, possibly in the street, having fallen off the back of a delivery truck.
Moreover, there is no need to worry about generating the electricity to illuminate these lights as most of the electricity is bypassed from the meter, from the external street lights or by drilling a hole in the wall of an elderly neighbour. Old people get free electricity and gas, just no one has told them yet or they were out playing bingo when a representative of the electricity board visited.
British Christmas trees are rarely real trees. Some are made of moulded plastic but the most popular are those made of coat hangers wrapped with silver, green or gold tinsel. These often resemble flue brushes and are often adorned with tacky thin plastic or glass baubles. It is tradition also to dress the tree with fairy lights. These traditionally cease to work after a week and traditionally the head of the household will have to stand on a stool and try each bulb individually to locate the duff one. On finding the duff one it is traditional to groan, re-hang the lights and then let out a sigh of relief. Other decorations include strings of decoratively cut coloured paper, Santas, Snowmen and three balloons tied together to resemble a cock and balls. All more or less having some significant symbolism to the birth of Christ.
Of course, it is ALWAYS a white Christmas in the UK. The Queen demands it!
In the UK it is required by law to have all the popular Christmas tunes playing in the shops non-stop. This boosts staff moral and by no means makes them go postal or feel suicidal. Rumours of repeated playing of Jonah Lewis’ Stop the Cavalry causing a bloody massacre in a Sheffield retail park in 1992 are unfounded. It is also tradition for the young to roam the streets in the dark and often subzero temperatures calling house to house. Upon calling at a house the youngster then waits for the owner to answer the door, upon opening of the door the youngsters break into a chorus of We wish you a Merry Christmas. This is not actually sung out of tune but was arranged by John Cage in 1975 so is actually supposed to sound like that. It is also tradition to gather choir people together and force them to sing in front of old and decrepit people. This is purely an exercise to remind them that one day they too will be frail, slobbery and smelling of wee, not even aware that it is the festive season.
Other Christmas Traditions
This ancient tradition seems to be on the wane in the UK at the moment. The tradition of the Albatross was most popular with seafarer families and would involve the oldest member of the house walking round for the Christmas holiday wearing a decomposing Albatross around their neck. Some deny this actually happens in the UK but it does and is a common sight on British streets.
The mad dash for the TV guide
Until recently there were only 4 or 5 channels on the television in the UK. At the season of Christmas the TV would show expensive blockbuster movies, Christmas specials of favourite shows and only one weekly episode of Only Fools and Horses rather than the usual 15 (though at Christmas this was usually the one where Del falls through the bar. Legend has it, to cut costs, the BBC once showed this sequence repeatedly for 30 minutes in Christmas 1989). Because the TV listings are decided many weeks before, a battle of TV listing magazines would commence, the winner would be the first to get their publication listing all the Christmas TV shows on the shelves before the other. Of course the tabloid newspapers would cheat and publish TV listings, most of which hadn’t been decided and would be advertised as “Film (TBA)” or “Episode of Only Fools & Horses (TBA)”.
The first person to obtain the TV guide would sit for hours with a highlighter pen and mark all the TV programmes that would need to be watched. The geekier types would look through the radio listings too, circling important comedy shows and documentaries on Radio 4. Of course, this tradition faded with the advent of digital Freeview and the Internet, though some would say this faded purely because Christmas TV is a load of pap these days and besides there’s only so many times you can watch Del-boy fall through that bar hatch before it ceases to be funny.
The festive grumpy old person
Usually, this tradition involves some smelly old aunt or uncle that nobody really liked. They traditionally sit in the house favourite armchair and oversee the Christmas celebrations sipping port and eating dates. They would usually be curt with their responses and often smell of alcohol, wee-wee or both. These strange characters are invited in and often just sit and fester.
It is often overlooked but the presents code is still rife in the UK. It is traditional to buy gifts for people based on a hint you wish to give them. For example:-
An electric toothbrush = you should clean your teeth
A deodorant gift pack/ perfume = you stink
Clothes = your dress sense sucks
Gift vouchers = Couldn’t be arsed to think about you
Fitness guide = Lose some weight fatty
Sweet pastry pies containing a mixture of parsnips, olives and Marmite. They were banned by Oliver Cromwell but have survived into the 21st century. Mince pies are most vulgar in taste and those that enjoy eating them normally have big ears or get fingers pointed at them in the street.
This is made from coal jam. Coal jam is jam made from coal. It tastes like coal, it looks like coal, it smells like coal. That’s why people set fire to it and drown it in brandy as brandy is the only thing that can disguise the taste.
Dried prunes. Give you good shits. Popular with the bran brigade.
Popular with those that like mince pies. Why anyone likes cream topped hairy jelly with cold custard is beyond my comprehension. Cold custard is an abomination. As is sherry.
Dirty dry as a bone cake. Possibly containing coal jam and turkey giblets.
I hope you found that educational. There sure are some weird traditions out there…..