Christmas in the UK is full of special traditions that most of us have enjoyed since we were children. Yet most of us have no idea where they came from. Have you ever wondered why we hang up mistletoe or decorate Christmas trees? Well let’s have a look at the top 5!
Traditionally it is said that mistletoe should never touch the ground between being cut and its removal (it should be the last of the green decorations removed from the house after the Christmas season is over). It is supposed to be hung each year to protect the house from fire, and any man and woman that met each other under it were obliged to kiss. After each kiss a berry was plucked from the bush and once all the berries were plucked the privilege ceased. The use of mistletoe as a Christmas decoration is very common and started back in the 18th century.
The Christmas tree tradition originally began in modern Germany in the early Renaissance when pine or fir trees were decorated with apples, roses, candies and coloured paper. It gained widespread popularity after its introduction by various members of the nobility. Decorating a Christmas tree became much more popular and widely accepted in the United Kingdom after Queen Victoria’s marriage to the German Prince Albert.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding where the tradition of Christmas stockings came from, but a popular legend is this: It starts with the story of an old man with three beautiful daughters who had no money to pay for their dowries and so they could not marry. St Nicholas was riding through the village and heard of this story. Understanding that the old man would not accept charity, he crept down the chimney that night and found stockings that the daughters had hung by the fireplace to dry. Into these 3 stockings he placed a bag of gold. The next morning the 3 beautiful women and their father were overjoyed and soon after the women were married. Ever since, adults and children alike have hung stockings by the fireplace or at the end of their beds to be filled with presents while they sleep, ready to be joyfully opened the next morning!
According to popular history, in 1670 a German choirmaster wished to find a way to get the children to be quiet in his church during Christmas Eve ceremonies. He asked the local sweet maker to make sweet sticks for the children but, in order to justify the giving of candy during worship, he had the sweet maker add a crook to the tip of each sweet (to resemble the crocks of the three shepherds) and to make them red and white (to reinforce Christian beliefs in the sinless life of Jesus). These delicious candy canes then spread through Europe – being given out at nativity plays. Now they are a popular tradition each year, and come in many different flavours, not just the traditional peppermint.
A mince pie is a sweet pie of British origin, filled with a mixture of dried fruits and spices called “mincemeat”, that is traditionally served during the Christmas season in the English-speaking world. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices.
The early mince pie was known by several names, including “mutton pie”, “shrid pie” and “Christmas pie”. Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices. Served around Christmas, the savoury Christmas pie (as it became known) was associated with supposed Catholic “idolatry” and during the English Civil War was frowned on by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating Christmas pie in December continued through to the Victorian era, although by then its recipe had become sweeter and its size markedly reduced from the large oblong shape once observed. Today the mince pie remains a popular seasonal treat enjoyed by many across the United Kingdom.
So the next time you’re putting up lights on the Christmas tree or tucking into a mince pie, have a think about the centuries-old origins of these beloved Christmas traditions.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year!