Europe Food and Drink Tradition Travelling United Kingdom

The Essential Elements of a British Christmas

[mks_boxquote align=”left” width=”250″ arrow=”right”]”The Brits are pretty special in the way that they celebrate Christmas…”[/mks_boxquote]“How do you celebrate Christmas in the UK?” is a question that I have been asked a number of times during the six Christmases that I have spent away from home. The first time I was asked I was genuinely surprised: I assumed that the way Christmas is celebrated would be similar in most places. But the more Christmases I have spent away from our quirky island, the more I have realised that the British are rather, erm, special, in the way that they celebrate the festive season.

Crazy Shopping

Christmas Shopping in London (Source: Christiano Betta)
Christmas Shopping in London (Image: Christiano Betta)

Christmas begins early in the UK; it is not uncommon for the shops to start stocking Christmas produce as soon as the summer has passed (let’s face it, there’s not much else to look forward to between September and December). By the time December comes around, chaos ensues. Late Night Shopping allows shoppers to purchase their Christmas goodies up until 11pm, and facing the gauntlet of the supermarket aisles the week of Christmas is only for the brave or insane.

Novelty Records

Slade, Wizzard, Band Aid, John & Yoko, Shakin’ Stevens, East 17, The Pogues: every Brit has a favourite Christmas pop song. Mine is the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York (featured below). The fight for the UK Christmas Number 1 is HUGE in Britain, although many would argue that the UK’s heyday of catchy Christmas numbers is now well and truly over.

These Christmas records tend to hit the radio stations, TV commercials and shops in November and are played CONSTANTLY until the 25th. There is no point fighting it, if you don’t embrace them they will drive you crazy!

Christmas Crackers

Christmas Crackers (Image: JulietteCulver)
Christmas Crackers (Image: JulietteCulver)

So the shopping has been done and the Christmas music is starting to grate on your nerves, but the Big Day has finally arrived and it is almost time to enjoy a much-anticipated Christmas dinner. Before you can eat though, you need to pull the Christmas cracker with the person sitting next to you in order to eat your meal whilst wearing a flimsy tissue-paper crown. You also get a terrible joke and a small toy (often a miniature pack of cards, key-ring, dice or a fortune-telling fish) to play with in between courses.

Sprouts, Chipolatas, and Stuffing

Pigs in blankets (Image: JKBlacker)
Pigs in blankets (Image: JKBlacker)

Everybody knows about the turkey and roast potatoes, but it’s the trimmings that really identify a British Christmas dinner. Sprouts are always a staple veggie at the dinner table, although I’m willing to bet that at least half of the people around the table won’t eat them! Pigs-in-blankets (chipolatas wrapped in bacon) are always a welcome sight, and stuffing balls are another Christmas treat.

Sugar—lots of it!

Mince Pies (Image: Ayca13)
Mince Pies (Image: Ayca13)

It’s no surprise that the Brits have a sweet tooth (and the waistline to prove it), and Christmas is the perfect excuse to indulge it.  After the turkey there will no doubt be Christmas cake, Christmas pudding served with brandy butter, mince pies and various other desserts. Not only that, but there will be a huge tin of Roses, Quality Street or Celebrations lurking nearby to enjoy with a liquor-laced coffee after the meal. Other notable sweet treats include Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Matchmakers, and chocolate covered Brazil nuts.


Once dinner has been served and everybody has slipped into a food-induced coma, most families will then head to the sofa to watch a plethora of Chrístmas-themed TV shows on offer. The patriotic amongst us may choose to watch the Queen’s annual speech at 3pm (I have never yet done so) and, of course, Christmas movies will feature highly on many channels. Old favourite TV shows such as Morecambe and Wise—a popular comedy duo of my parents’ generation—reappear every year too.

Doctor Who and Downton Abbey will feature in many homes this year, I’m sure. And of course, the soaps will kill off a few much-loved cast members in the spirit of Christmas. For those of you who have never seen ‘The Snowman’ a Channel 4 favourite on Christmas Eve, check it out on YouTube below.

In front of the TV (with a beer, Bailey’s, or glass of wine) is pretty much where most people will stay for the rest of the day until, like a flash, Christmas is over for another year. Well, for 10 months at least, until the shops start stocking their Christmas produce again…

Tell me about Christmas in your homeland. What makes it special?

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