Christmas is the biggest event of the year in the UK calendar. England might officially be a Christian country but fewer and fewer people are religious these days. There are also a lot of people living here who practise other religions. Christmas is an important time for Christians but it’s also enjoyed by many other people as a time for seeing family, eating a lot and exchanging presents.
For readers who don’t know, let me explain what Christmas means to Christians. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem because there was no room for his parents to stay anywhere else. Angels and a new star appeared in the sky. Jesus was visited by shepherds and wise men.
Before Christianity came to Britain over 1,500 years ago, there were many pagan celebrations during the winter solstice and some of these were absorbed into Christian celebrations of Christmas. The traditions of decorating the house with evergreen leaves, giving gifts and even Santa Claus all go back to pagan times.
Many of the Christmas traditions we follow nowadays started in the 19th century during the reign of Queen Victoria. Christmas cards were invented in 1843. Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, is thought to be responsible for introducing Christmas trees to this country from Germany. A lot of the Christmas carols which we still sing today were written during this time.
Let me tell you how we celebrate Christmas today. On Christmas Eve, the day before Christmas, children put a stocking, or maybe a pillowcase, on the end of their bed for “Santa Claus” or “Father Christmas” to fill with presents. They usually realise after a few years that the gifts are actually from their parents but families may carry on with the fun until the children grow up. In some families, all the presents are from “Santa” but in my family, we had small gifts from Father Christmas in the morning, and then bigger presents from family members after lunch, which were waiting for us under the Christmas tree.
Christmas Day is the 25th and families usually get together on this day. We tuck into a traditional Christmas meal, usually at lunchtime, which is turkey with roast potatoes and vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips. For dessert, we have Christmas pudding, which is a bit like a cake made with spices and lots of dried fruit. We give our presents to each other on this day.
The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day. Nobody knows for sure where the name comes from. One possibility is that it’s because churches used to use boxes on this day to collect money for the poor. Another possibility is that employers used to give a gift or money, called a Christmas box, to their employees. Nowadays, it’s a national holiday and many people see it as a good day to go for a walk with friends or family after eating too many calories the day before! The shops are open and the post-Christmas sales begin. Some people go to the shops really early to try to get the best bargains!
If you would like to learn more about English life, try my e-book, "A Year in England". It contains a text like this for each month, plus a vocabulary list and reading comprehension questions. There are also bonus sections about Christmas and Easter. Click the image below or visit my shop.
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