8 British Holiday Traditions and Their Origins

Christmas Lunch

With Christmas just around the corner, this is a great time to pounce on winter deals on London hotels and book a festive getaway. The Park Grand Paddington Court welcomes guests who wish to spend the holiday in London with Christmas decorations and festive treats. You’ll feel like part of the family!

Whilst you’re in town, you might end up wondering about some of the common British traditions we celebrate over the Christmas holiday. If you’ve ever questioned exactly why it is the British put up Christmas trees, eat turkey and kiss under the mistletoe – this article is for you.

Christmas Traditions

Christmas trees: The practice of using trees for decoration dates back to the ancient Romans who would decorate their temples with fir trees during Saturnalia. This festival was held in honour of the god of agriculture, Saturn, and Romans would spend this period of time feasting, singing and giving their loved one’s gifts. Meanwhile, northern European Pagans would put up evergreen trees to ward off evil spirits and illnesses during the winter solstice. We can credit Germany with bringing trees indoors. During the 16th century devout German Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them with baubles. Others built pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles. Now you know who to thank for that delightful tree in the lobby of your accommodation in Paddington London!

Father Christmas: Our jolly, gift-bearing bearded icon of Christmas originally dates back to ancient Turkey. Fourth century Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra who became known for his charitable deeds with the poor, particularly children. He would drop stockings of gold anonymously down chimneys for those in need. After his death, Saint ‘Nick’ was commemorated with an annual feast day on 6 December. This eventually became merged with 25 December, which celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ as part of Pope Julius I’s plans to Christianise former Pagan celebrations. Father Christmas’s red ensemble does stem from the original Saint Nicholas who wore red robes, and he has been depicted with this colour for centuries. However, it really was the advertisements of Coca Cola that introduced the plump, cheerful chap we know and love today, created by illustrator Haddon Sundblom in 1931. Listen out for the sound of sleigh bells from the Park Grand Paddington Court…

Christmas lunch: Turkey is the most common meat you’ll find plated up on Christmas Day. King Henry VIII was the first English monarch to tuck into turkey over the holiday. This had a domino effect on the upper classes of the country who ditched peacocks and boars to follow suit. However, it wasn’t until the arrival of refrigerators in the 1950s that turkey took prominence in family households, and replaced the common tendency for goose.

Christmas crackers: The tradition of pulling crackers with your loved ones before diving into the festive feast was inspired by the French practice of ‘bon bons’ – sweet almonds in twists of paper, for decoration. London confectionery maker Tom adopted the practice in the mid-1800s and included riddles in the package. It wasn’t until he added the ‘spark’ that they became the success they are today. If you find yourself dining alongside a stranger in your accommodation in London, pulling a cracker is the perfect icebreaker.

Mistletoe: The practice of hanging mistletoe sprigs dates back to the ancient Druids who believed it possessed mystical powers which brought good luck and warded off evil. The Romans, again, would hang mistletoe during Saturnalia and they associated it with peace, love and compassion. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe stems from the servants of Victorian England and states that if a woman standing beneath the mistletoe refuses a kiss from a man she will have bad luck. A variation states that with each kiss a berry should be plucked from the spring and that all kissing must stop once all the berries are gone. Nobody is sure exactly when it became a Christmas tradition, but if you spot some in the hotel lobby, be sure to give your loved one a kiss for good tidings!

Pantomime: Predominantly catering to children, the Christmas pantomime is a traditional opportunity for the whole family to go to the theatre and see a comedy performance of a well-known fairytale. This tradition is yet another adopted from the Roman Saturnalia, where men dressed as women and vice versa. It then arrived in Britain during the 18th century, as part of the Italian method of improvised performance. When searching for deals on London hotels for the family, check out pantomime tickets to give the children a Christmas laugh!

Other traditions

Besides Christmas, here are the explanations behind a few other famous British holidays which might make you think about snapping up springtime hotel deals.

Easter: Easter originates from the Pagan tradition of celebrating the spring equinox and giving thanks to the goddess of the dawn and spring – known as Eostre. Rabbits were associated with fertility and the goddess. Meanwhile, it was during the Middle Ages that people began decorating hard-boiled eggs and eating them as a post-Lent treat on Easter Sunday. The tradition of the ‘Easter Bunny’ hiding eggs for children to find is thought to date back to the 18th century. During the 19th-century, rabbits became symbolic of Easter and large confectionary makers such as Cadburys begun producing chocolate eggs.

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day): It’s thought that the earliest instances of Pancake Day also derive from Paganism. Pancakes celebrated the arrival of spring and their shape symbolised the sun. The term ‘Shrove Tuesday’ comes from the practice of Anglo-Saxon Christians going into confession the day before Lent, and being ‘shriven’ – acquitted of their sins. A bell would be rung to call people to confession, which became known as the ‘Pancake Bell’. Shrove Tuesday was the opportunity to indulge in fatty, dairy produce before abstaining for the 40 days of Lent – so pile your plate high.