Festivals & Holidays
Christmas is the time when Christians around the world
celebrate the birth of Christ.
The word Christmas (or Christ's Mass) comes from the Old
English name Cristes Maesse.
The first “Christmas” occurred in Rome in AD360, but it wasn't
until AD440 that the became December 25.
Most people are on holiday in England and stay at home with
their family on Christmas day.
During the weeks before Christmas Day, the British send cards,
watch nativity plays and go to carol services.
Homes and churches are decorated with green leaves, paper
decorations and colourful electric lights.
Advent is the new year of the
Christian Church and the church
season that leads to Christmas
Advent begins on the Sunday
nearest to 30th November (St.
Andrew's Day) and lasts until
The beginning of Advent is when
the preparations for Christmas
really begin - the festive menu is
planned, gifts are chosen and
wrapped, carols sung, cards are
written and posted and houses
Advent calendars are to
remind children when
Christmas Eve will arrive.
An Advent calendar is a
card with twenty-four small
One door is opened each
day from December 1 until
Every morning children open
1 door of the calendar to find
a picture or a chocolate
Today, many Advent
calendars today have no
It is traditional in England
for Primary schools to put
on a Nativity play At
The Nativity Play
recreates the birth of
Christ, and the visit by the
Shepherds and Wise
The parts of Mary,
Joseph, the Shepherds
and the Wise Men are
played by the children.
A pantomime is a traditional
British Christmas play.
They traditionally start on Boxing
Day and run for two or three
months in theatres.
Nowadays, pantomimes are great
family entertainments and pop
stars, comedians, sports people
and TV personalities often take
part in them.
Pantomimes are a mix of fairy
stories, folk tales and much loved
cartoons, which encourage
In pantomimes the male roles are
often played by women and
female roles by men.
Favourite pantomimes are Snow
White, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and
Puss in Boots.
To celebrate Christmas Day
many people decorate their
Red and green are the
traditional colours of
Green represents the
continuance of life through the
Red symbolizes the blood that
Jesus shed at His Crucifixion.
Decorations are made of
coloured paper and foil.
Towns and cities decorate
their streets with colourful
Plants like Holly, mistletoe and
ivy are also used as
Most houses in England, will have
a tree of some sort which they will
decorate and will place presents
The traditional tree is a fir tree but
today more people use artificial
trees to 'save the earth'.
The decorating of the tree is
usually a family occasion, with
The Christmas tree became
popular in England in 1841 when
Queen Victoria's husband, Prince
Albert, brought a Christmas tree
over from Germany and put it in
It is traditional to light a special
'Yule' log on Christmas Eve and
keep it burning through the 12
nights of Christmas until Twelfth
The Celts believed that, for twelve
days at the end of December, the
sun stood still
If they could keep yule logs burning
bright for those twelve days, then
the sun would be made to move
again, and the days would grow
If a yule log went out, then there
would be terrible luck,
Yule is an old word for the winter
festival, dating back to Viking times.
The first Christmas card was
created and sent in 1843
cards showed religious
pictures of Mary, Joseph
and baby Jesus, or other
parts of the Christmas story.
Today, pictures are often
winter pictures, Father
Christmas, or jokes.
Special songs sung during the Christmas
They were written for a special purpose, often
to accompany performances of religious
dramas dating from medieval times.
Caroling is one of the oldest customs in Great
Poor people seeking food, money, or drink,
would wander the streets singing holiday
People still go 'carol singing'. This is where
people will go from house to house singing
carols and collecting money for charity.
The traditional period to sing carols was from
St Thomas's Day (December 21) until the
morning of Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve (December 24)
is traditionally the day for
decorating churches and
homes. It marks the beginning
of the period formally known as
Eve is not short for evening, it
refers to the day before an
It is the time when Father
Christmas / Santa comes.
Children leave mince pies and
brandy for Father Christmas,
and a carrot for the reindeer.
Children hang their christmas
stockings or bags up ready for
Father Christmas, who will
hopefully fill them up with
presents, if the children have
Christmas Eve during WWI
On the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve 1914, firing from
the German trenches suddenly stopped.
A German brass band began playing Christmas carols.
On Christmas morning, the German soldiers came out of their
trenches, approaching the allied lines, calling "Merry
At first the allied soldiers thought it was a trick, but they soon
climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the German
The truce lasted a few days, and the men exchanged presents
of cigarettes and plum puddings, sang carols and songs. They
even played a game of Soccer.
Christmas Eve Superstitions
An old wives' tale says that
bread baked on Christmas
Eve will never go mouldy.
At midnight, a certain rose
slowly opens and re-closes its
petals to salute the birthday of
Also at midnight, all the sheep
in the fields turn and bow
towards the East.
Father Christmas is the British name
for Santa Claus.
He is an old jolly man with white hair,
a beard and a moustache.
He is dressed in a red suit outlined in
Father Christmas and his elves make
all the toys for Christmas in his home
in the North Pole.
Father Christmas is based on a real
person, St. Nicholas.
He was a very shy man and wanted
to give money to poor people without
them knowing about it.
Children wake up very early in
the morning to find their
stockings have been filled by
Father Christmas and excitedly
unwrap the presents before
going down to breakfast.
Families gather together in late
morning or the afternoon to
open the presents found under
the Christmas tree.
The tradition of giving gifts is
thought to be related to the gifts
that the wise men (the Magi)
brought to Jesus.
Many people will go to church to
sing carols and to celebrate the
birth of Jesus on Christmas
Day. More people attend the
church on this day than any
other day of the year.
The Queen's Speech
A traditional of Christmas
afternoon is the Queen's
At three o'clock in the
afternoon, the Queen gives her
Christmas Message to the
nation on radio and television.
The Queen's message is also
broadcast throughout the
British Commonwealth. The
custom was begun by King
George V in 1932.
This main Christmas Meal is
usually eaten at lunchtime or
A traditional English
Christmas dinner consists of
roast turkey and stuffing,
roast potatoes and
vegetables, bread sauce,
cranberry sauce and gravy,
followed by Christmas
pudding with brandy butter.
A Christmas tradition
involving the turkey is to pull
This is one of the bones of
the turkey which is shaped
like the letter 'Y'.
Two people will each hold
an end and pull. The person
left with the larger piece of
the bone makes a wish.
The Christmas Pudding
Christmas pudding is a
brown pudding with raisins,
nuts and cherries. It is
served with custard or
Often brandy is poured over
the pudding, which is then
set a light as it is carried to
the table. The lights are
turned off so people can see
Traditionally silver coins
were hidden in it.
A silver coin brought good
fortune to whomever was
lucky enough to find it when
the pudding was cut.
It is traditional to pull Christmas
Crackers before the meal.
Traditionally a Christmas cracker
is placed next to each plate on
the Christmas dinner table.
When the crackers are pulled,
out falls a colourful party crown,
a toy or gift and a festive joke.
meal contains mince
pies and a Christmas
This cake is a rich
baked fruit cake with
marzipan, icing and
Boxing Day is the day after
Like Christmas Day it is also
a national holiday in England.
The name goes back more
than 800 years
Boxes were placed at the
back of every church to
collect money for the poor.
shops have broken
from tradition and
started opening on
Boxing Day to start
the New Year sales.
Hundreds of people
now spend Boxing
Day morning in
National Days in Britain are not celebrated to
the same extent as National Days in
countries like the United States.
Each country in the United Kingdom has its
own National Day, named after their
respective patron saint
St. David's Day
St David's Day is the national day of
It is celebrated in Wales on 1 March, in
honour of Dewi Sant or St David, the
patron saint of Wales.
He was a Celtic monk, abbot and bishop,
who lived in the sixth century. He spread
Christianity across Wales.
St David's Day is commemorated by the
wearing of daffodils or leeks. Both plants
are traditionally regarded as national
St. Patrick's Day
17 March is the national day of Northern
Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.
He is credited with bringing Christianity to
He was born in Britain, he was carried off
by pirates and spent six years in slavery
before escaping and training as a
The day is marked by the wearing of
shamrocks (a clover-like plant), the
national emblem of both Northern Ireland
and the Republic of Ireland.
St. George's Day
23 April is the national
day of England.
A story dating back to the
6th century tells that St
George rescued a
maiden by slaying a
Some people wear a red
rose on St Georges Day.
St. Andrew's Day
30 November is the
national day of
St. Andrew was one of
Christ's twelve apostles.
Some of his bones are
said to have been
brought to what is now
St. Andrews in Fife
during the 4th century.
Other public holidays in Britain are commonly
known as 'bank' holidays
They are called this because these are the
days on which banks are legally closed.
Most are on a Monday
Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day)
Shrove Tuesday is the last day before
Shrove Tuesday is always 47 days
before Easter Sunday, so the date
varies from year to year and falls
between February 3 and March 9.
Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving
Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to
indulge yourself, and to use up the
foods that aren't allowed in Lent.
Pancakes are eaten on this day
because they contain fat, butter and
eggs which were forbidden during Lent
Like most Christian
festivals, Easter has its
origins in pre-Christian
Originally a celebration
of Spring but now
Easter is the story of
Chocolate eggs are
given to children as a
symbol of new life
When is Easter?
Easter usually comes in the month of April. It
is what is called a 'moveable feast' because
the date of it is fixed according to the moon.
Easter Sunday has to be the first Sunday
following the full moon, after the Spring
equinox (March 21)
This means that Easter can fall as early as
March 22 or as late as April 25.
The first day of the month of
May is known as May Day.
It is the time of year when
warmer weather begins and
flowers and trees start to
It is when people celebrate the
coming of summer with lots of
different customs that are
expressions of joy and hope
after a long winter.
People in Britain have
given thanks for
successful harvests since
This is celebrated by
singing, praying and
decorating churches with
baskets of fruit and food
Usually during the month
Remembrance Day (Poppy Day)
the end of World
Held on the 11th
hour of the 11th
day of the 11th
month every year