Christmas is probably the most festive time of the year, a season of gift-giving and celebration. We all know that Christmas is a religious holiday which marks the birth of Jesus Christ. However, every country and culture have plenty of curious, peculiar habits and traditions that mark this moment, some adapted from rituals dating back to a time before Christianity! Are you ready to join us on a quest to explore the most amazing Christmas traditions of the English-speaking world?
Before we set off to find the most bizzarre and unexpected Christmas traditions, let’s first make sure you know what the English-speaking world and its Christmas is famous for. How many of these traditions have their equivalent in your country?
The All Time Favourite Christmas Traditions
- Food. A lot of it! OK, we are listing the absolute obvious here, but this season is marked by some really delicious dishes in every household and every culture. What to expect from your holiday menu will depend on the country you find yourself in, but it is safe to say it’s not a good time for a diet anywhere on the planet. January – well, that’s a whole different story, isn’t it?
- Carolling (or, as it was called in the days of yore: wassailing) A carol is a religious song that’s sung around Christmas time. In some towns, people who celebrate Christmas go carolling – meaning they visit their neighbours’ houses and sing carols.
- Gift-giving It’s safe to say that wherever you may celebrate the holiday time, you will most likely expect to get a gift (a present) and people who share this time with you will probably get something from you. However, the type of the present and the moment of the exchange will differ from country to country.
- Christmas Decorations There is hardly a place in the world that doesn’t light up with the season-specific ornaments in December! The most popular are: Garlands, Wreaths, Candles, Holiday Gnomes, Christmas Swags (a chain of flowers, leaves, fruit, etc. hung as a decoration for example: a mantelpiece decorated with swags of holly), Santa Claus Figures and so much more!
And now, let’s find out what holiday surprises await us in English-speaking countries around the globe!
Only The Brave: Santa’s Ocean Splash off the Irish coast
If you happen to spend Christmas in Ireland, you may wake up on Christmas Day hoping for a cozy day under a blankie (blanket, just less formal), punctuated with some scrumptious Irish food. And you would be right, of course; but there is a Christmas practice you might find surprising. If you’re by the coast, your host and their friends might invite you to join them on a traditional Christmas Day Ocean Splash! Jumping into the Atlantic Ocean (dressed as Santa or wearing Santa hats) on Christmas Day is a tradition you may find in many coastal towns in Ireland. ‘We go for a dive with family and people from the village’, says Eva, one of the MPEC’s Irish Coaches. ‘Then we go for an Irish coffee or hot chocolate in the local cafe all together’
Pull a Cracker, Win a Pre-Christian Gift!
Christmas crackers are festive table decorations that make a snapping sound when pulled open, and often contain a small gift, paper hat and a joke. A cracker consists of a segmented cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper with a prize in the centre, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper.
The cracker is pulled apart by two people, each holding an outer chamber, causing the cracker to split unevenly and leaving one person holding the central chamber and prize. Christmas crackers traditionally contain a colourful crown-shaped hat made of tissue paper, a small toy, a plastic model, or a trinket, and a small strip of paper with a motto, a joke, a riddle or potentially a piece of trivia.
The paper hats, with the appearance of crowns, are usually worn when eating Christmas dinner. The tradition of wearing festive hats is believed to date back to Roman times and the Saturnalia celebrations, which also involved decorative headgear.
Poke the Mummer in Newfoundland!
An old Christmas custom from England and Ireland, mummering in a version of its modern form can be traced back in Newfoundland into the 19th century. Although it is unclear precisely when this tradition was brought to Newfoundland by the English and Irish, the earliest record dates back to 1819
Also known as mumming or janneying, it typically involves a group of friends or family who dress in disguise and visit homes within their community or neighbouring communities during the twelve days of Christmas. If the mummers are welcomed into a house, they often do a variety of informal performances that may include dance, music, jokes, or recitations. The hosts must guess the mummers’ identities before offering them food or drink. They may poke and prod the mummers or ask them questions.
To make this a challenge for the hosts, the mummers may stuff their costumes, cross-dress, or speak while inhaling (ingressive speech). Once the mummers have been identified, they remove their disguises, spend some social time with the hosts, and then travel as a group to the next home
The US & Mistletoe: Kiss me, or else!
The Romans associated mistletoe with peace, love and understanding and hung it over doorways to protect the household
In the Christian era, mistletoe in the Western world became associated with Christmas as a decoration under which lovers are expected to kiss, as well as with protection from witches and demons. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is referred to as popular among servants in late 18th-century England – it dictated that a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath mistletoe, and that bad luck would befall any woman who refused the kiss. Nowadays, the tradition of hanging the mistletoe is very popular in North America. So, all we can say is: Be careful where you stand when celebrating Christmas in an American household.
Go To Australia for A Boxing Day Test!
If you are a cricket fan, this most certainly is going to be your favourite test of the year!
The Boxing Day Test match is a cricket Test match held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, involving the Australian cricket team and an opposing national team that is touring Australia during the southern summer. It begins annually on Boxing Day (26 December) and is played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
By long tradition, a Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and New South Wales had been played at the MCG over the Christmas period dating back as far as 1865. It included Boxing Day as one of the scheduled days of play, much to the chagrin of the NSW players who missed spending Christmas with their families as a result.
Once the family gatherings are over, Australians usually enjoy their second public holiday with yet another barbeque, catching up with friends and family over an esky (portable fridge) of beer in a mate’s backyard. The main appeal of this holiday is the Boxing Day Test, a cricket match held annually at Melbourne’s Cricket Ground. Folks gather around their TVs as they enjoy the long game with drinks and nibbles in hand. Once seeing the pros go at on the TV, many Australia’s have their own cricket match in the backyard, showing off their skills after their second or third beer.
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