9 quirky British and Irish Christmas traditions you need to adopt right now
LONDON It’s the most wonderful time of year. And, it’s made even more wonderful by the myriad of unique holiday traditions around the world.
The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have a more than their fair share of quirky and downright weird traditions that remain important parts of the festive season.
Though they might seem odd to some people, these distinctly British and Irish traditions are the proverbial icing on the (Christmas) cake when it comes to making the Yuletide season special.
If you’re an Anglophile or Hibernophile, or you have an appreciation for the quirks of British and Irish life, here are 9 Christmas traditions you need to adopt.
1. Christmas crackers
Nope, we’re not talking about edible crackers (we call those biscuits for cheese, though). These are a very important staple at the Christmas dinner table. A Christmas cracker is a cardboard tube that resembles an oversized sweet wrapper. Two people grab either side of the cracker and pull it to make the cracker split in two. Whoever is holding the side still attached to the cracker’s centre-chamber gets to keep the contents which usually include a corny joke, a small toy and a paper crown.
According to Professor Julie Coleman from the University of Leicester, crackers were invented by the Victorians in the 1840s and were once replete with sweets that would explode when the crackers were pulled.
2. Paper crowns
Paper crowns couldn’t be more important during Christmas festivities. Once the crackers have been pulled, each person at the table must don a brightly coloured paper crown. And, though they might not be trendy, they might not fit on your head, they might have already fallen into a puddle of gravy, that doesn’t matter one jot. You have to wear them.
The tradition is said to date back to Roman times and the Saturnalia festivities, which involved wearing decorative headpieces.
3. Brussels sprouts
Likely the least popular aspect of the traditional Christmas dinner for some (and the favourite for others depending on your taste), this controversial vegetable is guaranteed to appear on plates up and down the country on 25 December. Who knows how it ended up on our plates, but I think we might be stuck with this one.
4. The Queen’s Christmas message
It just wouldn’t be Christmas without our beloved Queen delivering her Christmas message. The Queen’s speech often focuses on the moments that have defined the nation’s year, as well as personal events in her own year. The Queen’s speech is a moment that many families look forward to each year. The tradition was started off by Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King George V, in 1931, and the ritual has been observed every year since then. The Queen has been delivering the yearly message since 1952, at the very start of her reign.
5. Mince pies
This is a festive tradition that we can all get behind. Mince pies are sweet pies filled with dried fruits and spices, otherwise known as “mincemeat”. The pies can be be traced back to the 13th century when European crusaders brought back Middle Eastern recipes containing fruits and spices. In short, mince pies are delicious and their fruity taste is the epitome of Christmas.
6. Bread sauce
“What the hell is that?” I hear you ask. It might not look like the most appetizing condiment on the planet, but we can assure you, it’s quite delicious. Bread sauce is served as a traditional accompaniment to Christmas dinner in the UK. The sauce is made from yep, you guessed it breadcrumbs mixed together with milk, butter, onions and several spices. Bread sauce has been around since medieval times, when cooks would use bread as a thickening agent for sauces.
7. Christmas goose
Christmas dinner might be all about the turkey in 2016. But, in England, the traditional bird has always been and still is the goose. Many people, including Prime Minister Theresa May, will be feasting on a goose this Christmas. This tradition of serving goose was widely observed in the 16th and 17th centuries in England when turkey was not commonplace.
8. Boxing Day
Christmas Day is just so great, we don’t want it to end. Boxing Day 26 December is a national holiday in the UK and in recent years the day has become associated with sales. The day takes its name from an old English tradition of giving people in service “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as a thank you for their hard work throughout the year. Nowadays it’s largely spent eating leftovers, shopping in the sales, and watching old movies.
Wrenboys are a traditional aspect of Wren Day, which is celebrated on 26 December in Ireland. People dress up in straw suits and colourful clothing to play music and parade through towns and villagers. Often wrenboys knock on doors and perform for residents who give them money. Traditionally, the activity formed part of the Wren Day celebrations in Ireland, which consist of “hunting” a fake wren and putting it on top of a decorated pole. These celebrations are believed to descend from Celtic mythology, in which the wren symbolised the past year.