The British have been celebrating Christmas for over one thousand years. According to legend, King Arthur spent Christmas in York in 521 in mirth, jollity and drinking. Since then, the English have spent the holiday feasting and merrymaking!
The word “Christmas” comes from Christes, meaning Christ, and Masse, meaning feast or festival. Many American families have incorporated British customs into their observance of Christmas, adopting traditions from the times of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens.
A custom immortalized by Washington Irving and Dickens is the boar’s head ceremony. It is one of England’s feudal customs still cherished at Queen’s College at Oxford. A boar’s head is gaily festooned and an orange is placed in its mouth and it becomes the centerpiece of a rite which has been observed for centuries.
Burning the yule log is a very old English custom. A huge log is carried in and burned in the fireplace. It must burn for at least twelve hours. Ashes from this log are saved and used to start the fire the following year. It is believed this will bring good luck.
Another holiday tradition that comes from Britain is the Christmas card. This popular form of correspondence was invented around 1841 by Sir Henry Cole, who hoped to avoid writing personal greetings to his many friends at the holidays.
Father Christmas is Santa Claus to the English. Long ago in England, Father Christmas was depicted as a merry figure with a wreath of mistletoe or holly upon his head; his gown was sometimes red, but often green, white or even brown. The contemporary Father Christmas was imported from America a little more than 100 years ago and is a mixture of American and British traditions. He is usually tall and thin with a white beard, and wearing a long crimson robe with a hood or cap trimmed in white fur.
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