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Different Christmas Traditions Across The UK

There really is no better time to spend with your family and friends than the holidays, and with the current climate, we definitely need that Christmas spirit more than ever before.

Here we look at some of the customs and traditions of Christmas, and how the holiday is celebrated in different parts of Britain, to help to bring you some of that much needed festive cheer.


A traditional English Christmas isn’t complete without an advent calender. An advent calender is a poster or card with twenty-four small doors, one to be opened each day from 1st December until Christmas. Most homes in England also decorate with a Christmas tree and other decorations. Most villages, towns and cities and decorated with Christmas lights over the Christmas period. Often a famous person switches them on. The most famous Christmas lights in the UK are in Oxford Street in London. Every year they get bigger and better. Thousands of people go to watch the big 'switch on' around the beginning of November. 

On Christmas day, most families sit down to a traditional dinner. A traditional English (and British) Christmas dinner includes roast turkey or goose, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, rich nutty stuffing, tiny sausages wrapped in bacon (pigs in a blanket) and lashings of hot gravy.

Oxford Street Christmas light switch on in 2018


In wales, people decorate their Christmas tree with both mistletoe and holly, as it’s believed to be a magical plant. One tradition that is celebrated is plygain, a carol singing service where people attend church as early as possible on Christmas day.  In parts of South Wales, there is the tradition of the 'Mari Lwyd' wassailing horse. a horse's skull (not a real one, thankfully!) is decorated with ribbons and put on the top of a pole; the 'body' is a large cloth or blanket that someone hides under.

The horse and its followers go from house to house, playing music and singing songs. Wassailers earn an invitation to come in by proving themselves through a back-and-forth rhyming battle with the residents. Once inside, it’s traditional cakes and ale all around. Wæs hæil!


Christmas was actually cancelled from the Scottish party calendar for almost four whole centuries! Believe it or not, Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958, and Boxing Day in 1974.

Even today, the traditional Christmas celebration is usually a low-key affair, but the festivities still often add cheer to many homes.  A favourite tradition is the burning of the branches of a rowan tree on Christmas Eve, which symbolises putting aside bad feeling between family and friends.

The Christmas Dinner is a grand affair which includes black buns, smoked salmon coronets, spiced roast duck, mince pies, plum pudding, bannock cakes, and seafood bisque with brandy sauce.

Christmas might not have been around for long in Scotland, but New Year has. New year in Scotland is known as Hogmanay, which is the country’s biggest party. It’s celebrated throughout Scotland with a bang – fireworks, bonfires and plenty of whisky. The celebrations start toward the end of December and lasts until 2nd January, giving the Scots two full days to recover.

A traditional Scottish Dundee cake

Northern Ireland

Similarly to the rest of the UK, homes in Northern Ireland are decorated from early December. A candle is lit in the window of every home, to represent guidance for the Virgin Mary and Joseph before the birth of Christ. The Christmas tradition of hanging a ring of holly on the door is thought to have originated in Ireland, as it was a plant that was abundant on the island in December.

There are large attendances at religious services for Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, with Midnight Mass a popular choice for Roman Catholics.

The Christmas dinner in the majority of homes in Northern Ireland is fit for a king with a spread of turkey, ham, vegetables, stuffing and potatoes. Fish is traditionally eaten on Christmas even as a form of fasting before the big day. 

As well as officially being the last day of Christmas,  January 6th also marks a very unique Irish celebration for the women of Ireland - Nollaig na mBan or Women's Little Christmas. Women must avoid all housework, and the men of the house stay home, take down decorations (it’s bad luck if you don’t!) and prepare all the meals.

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