7 Unique British holiday traditions

A British Christmas cracker
A British Christmas cracker

7 Unique British holiday traditions

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Every culture has unique and what could be perceived as slightly odd holiday traditions. In Germany, the terrifying image of Krampus is enough to set any kid (or adult for that matter) straight. The Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas, the patron saint of children based on St. Nicholas. Even Americans, with the booze-laden eggnog and Hallmark holiday movies, have plenty of quirky celebrations. The U.K. is no exception. With tissue paper crowns and crackers, I give you seven unique British holiday traditions to partake in.

Boxing Day

Ah, Boxing Day. Akin to our Black Friday, this day was originally conceived as the day servants in more affluent households would receive a Christmas box from the head of the family. In turn, they would then go home and present their families with special Christmas boxes. However, nowadays, it’s become a day for eating delicious leftovers and shopping. Just know that transportation and other services are extremely limited on Boxing Day. Many rail lines into London are either suspended or run partial schedules. Banks and post offices are also closed.

Burning letters to Father Christmas

Like most children, the British send their gift requests to Father Christmas (Santa Claus) via good ol’ fashioned snail mail. However, don’t be surprised if you see parents tossing the precious lists into the fire rather than the mailbox. By burning the letters, the jolly man in the red suit reads said letters from the smoke.

Christmas Pudding

Not quite the gelatin dessert Americans are used to, Christmas pudding is kind of like a cross between fruit and rum cake. The upside-down bowl-shaped treat is made of 13 ingredients (typically dried fruits, molasses and egg) and topped with a sprig of holly, said to be representative of Jesus and his disciples. The pudding is usually aged for a month, steamed or boiled, soaked in brandy or rum and set ablaze.


Nope, not saltines or Cheez-Its. These crackers are hollow cardboard tubes wrapped in bright foil or festive wrapping paper found at parties and on dinner tables. Revelers pull either side of the tube, “cracking” it open and revealing a tissue paper crown, small toy and joke inside. My favorite ones contained wind-up Santas and reindeer.

Mince Pies

Back in the day, these handheld pies were filled with minced meat, dried fruits and spices. Also known as Christmas pie, today bakers tend to forgo the actual “meat” ingredient in favor of just the fruits and spices. This treat is often enjoyed at parties, church carol service and Christmas markets with a hot mug of wassail (mulled wine).

The Royal Christmas Message

Beginning with King George V in 1932, the Royal message is a tradition his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II has continued. Initially read on BBC radio, the delivery has shifted from radio to television. Each year, Her Majesty addresses milestones achieved throughout the Commonwealth of Nations and sovereignty, as well as her thoughts surrounding the Christmas holidays.

Tissue paper crowns

Dating back to the Victorian era, paper crowns are an essential part of Christmas festivities. They’re bright, colorful, flimsy, way too big for most heads and often fall off into the food you’re eating. But it’s all part of the fun. Included in Christmas crackers, you can either don one of those or make your own.

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