Just because you watch Love Actually and The Holiday on repeat every December doesn’t mean you’re an expert on British Christmas traditions—but it does mean you’re probably a bit English-obsessed. Here, a list of holiday customs and rituals from our friends across the pond that will have you shouting, Happy Christmas! (Psst: Make like a Brit and say happy—not merry—Christmas, OK?)
1. The Holiday Season Doesn’t Start Until the Christmas Adverts Do
In some countries, the holiday season kicks off on advent Sunday and for many Americans, it begins as soon as the last slice of Thanksgiving pie has been gobbled up. But in the UK, it’s not Christmas until mega retailer John Lewis releases their holiday advert. This commercial is less of an advertorial and more like a short film, set to a catchy tune and guaranteed to pull at the heart strings—just check on this year’s ad above and see for yourself. Other brands (like Sainsbury’s and Asda) follow suit to spread some festive cheer.
2. Families Go to See a Panto Over the Holidays
Pantos—short for pantomimes—are a quintessential British holiday tradition. These musical comedy shows are loosely based around a classic fairy tale and feature slapstick humor and silly jokes for the kids, plus mild sexual innuendoes and double entendres for the grown-ups. So um, family fun for all?
3. Everyone Tunes In to the
Queen’s King’s Speech on Christmas Day
King George V delivered the first holiday address over the radio in 1932, a tradition that Queen Elizabeth II continued until her death (she began televising her speech in 1957). Last year, a staggering 24 million people tuned in to Her Majesty’s speech and this year, we can only assume that as many will be eager to hear King Charles’ first Christmas addressing the nation. The speech typically looks back at the previous year and offers some hopeful words for the year ahead.
4. A Turkey Is the Holiday Table Centerpiece
A British holiday feast typically consists of roast turkey with vegetables, stuffing, pigs in blankets and the ever-important gravy. Yum.
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5. While Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding Feature as Dessert
While mince pies are filled with “mincemeat,” there’s no actual meat in them but rather a gooey mix of dried fruits and spices. Brits like to dish them up cold or with a dollop of cream. A Christmas pudding, similarly, can be served with cream (or brandy butter) and is made with dried fruit, candied fruit peel, and citrus zest to create a dense and very moist fruit cake. Fun fact: Christmas pudding is actually made weeks before Christmas and should be stored in a cool, dry place until Christmas Day.
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6. The Meal Finishes with Christmas Crackers
After Christmas dinner, Brits have fun with Christmas crackers—and we’re not talking about the kind you can eat. These table decorations are meant to be pulled apart, making a loud snapping sound in the process, and revealing a hidden gift inside. Many crackers will also contain a party hat and a so-bad-it’s-funny joke inside.
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7. Boxing Day Is Sacred
In the UK, December 26 is another public holiday known as Boxing Day. This is typically a chilled out day where people sit at home and watch the telly, munch on chocolates and leftovers, and continue the festivities in a low-key way.