UK

In the United Kingdom Christmas decorations are put up in shops and town centers from early November. Many towns and cities have a public event involving a local or regional celebrity to mark the switching on of Christmas lights. Decorations in people’s homes are commonly put up from early December, traditionally including a Christmas tree, cards, and lights both inside and outside the home. Every year, Norway donates a giant Christmas tree for the British to raise in Trafalgar Square as a thank you for helping during the Second World War. Christmas carolers at Trafalgar Square in London sing around the tree on various evenings up until Christmas Eve and Christmas decorations are traditionally left up until the evening of January 5 (the night before Epiphany); it is considered bad luck to have Christmas decorations up after this date. In practice, many Christmas traditions, such as the playing of Christmas music, largely stop after Christmas Day.
Mince pies are traditionally sold during the festive season and are a popular food for Christmas. It is common in many UK households for children and adults to put up advent calendars in their homes, which may either contain chocolates or Christmas scenes behind their doors.

A common feature of the Christmas season is the Nativity play which is practiced in most primary and some secondary schools across the UK. This practice is becoming less common, and Christmas pantomimes may be performed instead. Midnight Mass is also celebrated by Anglicans, Catholics, and other denominations, and services take place in nearly all Church of England parishes on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, presents are supposedly delivered in stockings and under the Christmas tree by Father Christmas, who previously had been something like The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), but who has now become mainly conflated with Santa Claus. The two names are now used interchangeably and are equally known to British people, though some distinctive features still remain. Many families tell their children stories about Father Christmas and his reindeer. One tradition is to put out a plate of carrots for the reindeer, and mince pies and sherry for Father Christmas to help him on his way.

The majority of families open their presents on the morning of Christmas Day, the Royal family being a notable exception, as they open their gifts on Christmas Eve, following German tradition introduced by the Hanoverians. Queen Victoria as a child made note of it in her diary for Christmas Eve 1832; the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, “After dinner … we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room … There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees…” Since the first commercial Christmas card was produced in London in 1843, cards are sent in the weeks leading up to Christmas, many of which contain the English festive greeting Merry Christmas.

On Christmas Day, a public holiday in the United Kingdom, nearly the whole population has the day off to be with their family and friends, so they can gather round for a traditional Christmas dinner, traditionally comprising of turkey with cranberries, Brussel sprouts, parsnips, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes, quite like the Sunday roast, and followed by a Christmas pudding. During the meal, Christmas crackers, containing toys, jokes, and a paper hat are pulled. Attendance at a Christmas Day church service has become less popular in modern times, with fewer than 3 million now attending a Christmas Day Church of England service. Watching the Queen’s Speech on TV is a tradition that can be important in many households on Christmas Day, typically averaging 7 million viewers and sometimes being the most watched show of the day.

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