Every year, many families in Britain make it a point to go out of town for the holidays – much like people in other countries, as a matter of fact. For this year, today marks the beginning of a mass exodus out of the major cities into the countryside, spilling over to the bordering countries.
Despite the price of petrol, which has skyrocketed to astronomical amounts in the past year, it seems that a large number of motorists are still going to be on the road. According to a survey conducted by RAC, the estimated number of cars that will be on the road during this season total to about 18 million!
On the other hand, the survey also found out that majority of the motorists is planning to cut their road trips over the next several days. This is mainly due to the high prices of petrol.
Another factor that might make road trips a bit complicated today and in the next several days is the fact that the rail network is due for repairs. This of course means that more people will be forced to travel by car and traverse the roads.
So where are the Britons going during the Christmas season? Though a large number still stick to the traditional celebrations – that is, visiting family members and friends – a considerable number are also opting to go down south where the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing. Who can blame them? Rather than stressing over visits to in-laws, who wouldn’t choose a tropical Christmas instead?
World War II Christmas
This event changed the course of history all over the world and the way the English celebrated Christmas was not spared from change. Because of the hardships that the war brought about, the English of that time learned how to make do with what they had for the holidays. The best thing about the changes that the war brought about is that the people back then kept the spirit of Christmas alive – giving and sharing – and turned the affair into something productive for those who needed it the most.
The trend was for those who had money to give to those who needed help and to help support the war. Of course, travel and other festivities were disrupted by the Blitz. The war also brought out the creativeness in most people back then as they had to prepare meals and feasts with the barest essentials. Perhaps, despite the leanness of the season with regard to material things, it was the best period for many, as they really experienced what Christmas was about.
This is perhaps the most familiar era to most of us today. We pretty much celebrate Christmas the way they did way back in the 50s. Quoting BBC again:
‘Parties … owe much of their success to the thought expended on food and drink. Even the impromptu need not take the hostess by surprise if the store cupboard is kept well-stocked with pastry shells in airtight tins and good supplies of canned and bottled delicacies.’
Have a party-filled Christmas!
We featured Father Christmas in a previous post but let’s talk a bit about him once again. He dates back to the late Victorian period (even way before this actually) and became really popular at this point. BBC describes the Late Victorian Christmas in relation to Father Christmas as:
In medieval England and for centuries afterwards, the figure of Father Christmas represented the spirit of benevolence and good cheer. In the 19th century, his role changed to something more like that of the European Saint Nicholas. At about the same time, Dutch emigrants took the story of a legendary gift-bringer called ‘Sinterklaas’ to America, where he eventually became known as Santa Claus.
The names may be different, but there were enough similarities between all these symbolic personages to allow, by the early 20th century, Father Christmas, Santa, St Nick and others to merge. And the resulting ‘right jolly old elf’ is now the universally recognised symbol of Christmas.
Early 20th Century
Ahh, this period is when Christmas shopping became an art. I suppose a whole lot of modern people today would be able to relate to this period. More so, they would be thanking whoever thought of Christmas shopping!
It was also during this time that stockings became a staple of Christmas celebrations. In fact, the stockings were adopted from a Dutch tradition wherein the children stuffed their stockings with straw, which was supposed to be a gift for Father Christmas’s horse. In return, they hoped to be given some sweets.
(last installment next time!)
Georgian and Regency Christmas
The subdued atmosphere and celebrations of the Restoration Christmas did not really become popular in England. After this period, the Georgian and Regency period entered. Quite naturally, the kings and queens of this era became the focal point of many celebrations.
It was also during this time that the Twelfth Night became firmly embedded in the English Christmas Tradition. The Twelfth Night is actually the 5th of January and is celebrated as the end of the Christmas season. This tradition can be traced way back to the Middle Ages but the festivities surrounding this date can be attributed to the parties that the monarchs and other nobility held during this day.
Early Victorian Christmas
Perhaps the most popular image that can be attributed to the Early Victorian Christmas would be the Christmas tree. For many people today, Christmas is not complete with out this tree – and this is true for many countries around the world, even those who do not really have evergreen trees. Although the Christmas tree was introduced to England during the Georgian period (this was from Germany, by the way), it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who made it part of English custom. They were quite passionate about the holiday season and made the Christmas tree a focal point of their family celebrations.
If the Early Victorian Christmas made the Christmas tree popular, the mid-Victorian era brought forth the Christmas card and the Christmas cracker. As one Victorian writer wrote:
‘If there is one thing inseparable from Christmas in general and the little ones’ seasonable gatherings in particular, it is – a cracker. With what a delightful look of expectation they have waited for it to go “bang”, and how they have screamed as they scrambled after the surprise which came in response to the explosion …’.
Christmas as we know it today was not always like this. Over the centuries, Christmas has evolved in so many ways that we may not even recognise the way that the early British celebrated their Christmas. This is the first part of a mini-series on the 10 Ages of Christmas, starting from the Medieval times to the Post-War era.
This was basically the time when Christmas was celebrated mixed with pagan festivities. Pre-Christian communities used to celebrate the winter solstice in order to make the dreary winter nights livelier. They had their own rites and rituals, which eventually became incorporated into the celebration of Christmas, which was of course, all about the birth of Christ. Some traditions that started in this period include evergreen wreaths, the Mistletoe, as well as the Yule log.
Perhaps the best phrase to describe the Elizabethan Christmas would be “Eat, drink, and be merry.” The main highlight of the Christmas celebrations during this time was the feast or banquet that was offered on Christmas Day. Of course, not everyone was able to afford this so it actually became a status symbol for those who were. The important thing was to be able to hold a banquet that would impress the guests – and nothing was spared in doing so. The theme was grandiosity and expenditure.
In contrast to the Elizabethan Christmas, the Christmas of the Restoration emphasised simplicity and austerity. Philip Stubbes (16th century) wrote:
“More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides … What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used … to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.”
Different people with different backgrounds usually have their own symbol for Christmas. It cannot be denied, however, that Father Christmas (St. Nicholas or Santa Claus to others) is one of the strongest symbols related to this holiday. Though some may not really hold the idea in high esteem, it remains a fact that Father Christmas is known wherever you go.
In Britain, it is no different. Religion or race does not come into play – everyone simply knows about Father Christmas. How is Father Christmas different from Santa Claus or St. Nicholas? Not by much, really.
Father Christmas could be described as a jolly old man – white hair and beard and mustache and all. He wears the signature red suit that we all recognize and he lives in the North Pole with his elves who make the Christmas gifts that he distributes to good girls and boys on Christmas Eve.
If you didn’t know this before, Father Christmas’s suit was actually not always red. Pictures – or drawings, rather – of Father Christmas in the late 1800s actually showed him in green garb. It was not till the early to mid 1900s that he “changed” his color of choice to red – thanks to Coca Cola.
In Britain, Father Christmas became part of tradition during the midwinter festival of the Old English. His green garb was a symbolism for the coming of spring. Another different thing about the original Father Christmas is that he was not really the bringer of Christmas gifts. Instead, he merely went around from house to house feasting and celebrating with the people.
Indeed, some things may change but some things don’t.
There is no doubt about it – popular British culture has Nigella Lawson as one of its icons. This celebrity chef has been labeled a domestic goddess and any concoction she whips up in her kitchen is sure to be a hit – whether in the UK or other countries. Recently, BBC teamed up with her to come up with her Christmas Kitchen. Let’s take a peek into Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen. Here are some excerpts from her interview with BBC.
Who would be around your fantasy Christmas table?
Christmas is a time for family and friends, so however much I admire someone in history or now, I think I would feel far too intimidated to invite them in for Christmas. Without wanting to sound mawkish, I should like to have all of those in my family who are no longer with me. Oh, and maybe Mae West, just to keep us all entertained.
What did you eat at Christmas as a child? What do you remember loving or hating?
I loved the sausages – who doesn’t? – and the bread sauce. I didn’t have a huge interest in anything else. I hated the Christmas pudding and I also wasn’t particularly enamoured of sprouts.
When do you start planning Christmas dinner in your household?
I don’t need to plan too much. I make pretty much the same thing year in, year out. I might change the stuffing slightly, but essentially it’s the same. I still write out what I’m doing when. There are so many distractions – shopping, wrapping, people dropping in, wine… I like to have a plotted timeline ready by about 23 December though; just so there are no surprises.
Maybe we can get some ideas from her…
Who does not appreciate a fine cake during Christmas? To give you a taste of British food for Christmas dinner, here is a recipe from BritainExpress. I don’t know about you but it sure looks promising!
12ozs Golden raisins
8oz Brown sugar
8oz Butter or Margarine
4oz Mixed peel
1/2 Lemon – grated rind
Orange – grated rind
2 oz Chopped almonds
1-1/2 tsp Mixed spice
1 tbs Black treacle (Molasses)
Milk if required
Cream together the butter and sugar, salt, mixed spice, treacle, add eggs one at a time. Stir in the fruit and flour in alternate batches until thoroughly mixed.
Use a metal pan about 10″ wide x 5″ or six inch high, one with a loose bottom is best. Line sides and bottom of pan with wax paper allowing the paper to extend up over the sides by an inch.
Put in round pan and bake at 325f for 1 hour and turn down to 300f and continue cooking for at least 2 hours and then check for doneness by inserting thin instrument until it comes out clean.
Store upside-down (you put the icing on the bottom and sides) and leave for about 2 weeks in an airtight tin. Poke holes a few inches down into bottom of cake and pour over sherry or brandy. Repeat this procedure two or three times over a two day period. Keep stored in airtight tin. . Roll out the marzipan and stick to sides and bottom of cake with melted apricot jam. Leave a few days to dry and ice with the royal icing.