Travelling to Britain? There are a few festive traditions you need to know. Picture: FRASER IAIN CAMERON.
Travelling to Britain? There are a few festive traditions you need to know. Picture: FRASER IAIN CAMERON.

If you're travelling to the UK for Christmas you need to know these festive traditions

By Lisa Aspeling Time of article published Dec 10, 2018

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If the names Shakespeare, Jane Austen, J. R. R Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Queen Elizabeth curl your toes, you’re probably an Anglophile – someone with a soft spot for Britain, its culture, history and traditions. 

If you are travelling to Britain, here are some traditions you should know:

Visit the UK’s best Christmas light display: 

If you’re planning to head over to the UK before the end of the year be sure to take a night-time stroll through at least one of these spots:

EDINBURGH: George Street
LONDON: Regent Street & Oxford Street
LEEDS: Victoria Gardens
GLASGOW:  George Square
MANCHESTER:  Albert Square
BELFAST:  City Hall
BRISTOL:  Cabot Circus


Many children around the world write letters to Father Christmas in the days leading up to Christmas Day, but British folk never post them.  Once the children have written a letter to Santa Claus they are thrown onto the fire, sending the ashes up the chimney so that Santa can read their contents in the smoke as it reaches his home in the North Pole.    

Cards and tree: 

In 1846, the tradition of sending Christmas cards began in Britain – a whole five years after the first Christmas tree was displayed at Windsor Castle in 1841.  Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, introduced the Germanic tradition of placing decorated fir trees in the house and only a few years afterwards, nearly every home in England had one.  But do take note: according to British tradition, the decorations should come down 12 days later (on 5 January).


If you find yourself caught beneath the mistletoe with someone, consider this due warning that you’re expected to kiss them.  Just make sure you get caught on the threshold with a romantic interest and not your cousin...

Christmas Carols:

In the UK it’s common for groups of singers go from house to house collecting money for charity and singing traditional Christmas songs.  Three famous British Christmas carols to try out are Good King Wenceslas, The Holly and The Ivy and We Three Kings.

Father Christmas: 

Father Christmas brings their presents in the night after they are fast asleep, then they open them on the morning of the 25th.  Many Britons leave a little treat for him too, usually brandy and a mince pie and not the American substitute of milk and cookies.

Christmas dinner:

In Britain, the most important Christmas meal is a big family dinner on 25 December.  A traditional Christmas dinner in the UK is served at midday or early afternoon. During UK winters, it’s dark by 4 pm in the afternoon, which might explain the unusual timing of the main celebratory meal.  A twentieth-century British Christmas dinner is roast turkey with carrots, potatoes, peas, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and gravy, often served with sausages and bacon too. The traditional Christmas dinner dessert?  A Christmas pudding served with brandy butter.


Originally from China, Christmas crackers reached Britain in the nineteenth century.   Standard crackers usually contain a small plastic toy, a (lame) joke to be shared at the table and a folded, paper crown.  These days you can buy luxury crackers with more expensive, high-quality contents – and, hopefully, better jokes!


Wassail is an Old English word that means ‘good health’ or to ‘be healthy’. It is a hot, mulled drink served as a hot cider, also be made with wine. Traditionally it was topped with slices of toast as sops (a piece of bread to soak up the liquid), but luckily that has gone out of style!

Royal Christmas message: 

The tradition of sending out a Christmas message to the public began in 1932 with King George V.  These days Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, gives the royal address on Christmas Day at 3 pm from Buckingham Palace, in England.  South Africans can watch her address via the BBC channels or later on The Royal Family YouTube channel.

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