There is another name for Father Christmas in Britain - Santa Claus. That comes from the European name for him - Saint Nicholas. In the traditional story he lives at the North Pole. But now he lives in big shops in towns and cities all over Britain. Well, that's where children see him in November and December. Then on Christmas Eve he visits every house. He climbs down the chimney and leaves lots of presents. Some people leave something for him, too. A glass of wine and some biscuits, for example.
At Christmas everyone decorates their houses with holly, ivy colourful lamps.
In Britain the most important meal on December 25th is Christmas dinner. Nearly all Christmas food is traditional, but a lot of the traditions are not very old. For example, there were no turkeys in Britain before 1800. And even in the nineteenth century, goose was the traditional meat at Christmas. But not now.
A twentieth-century British Christmas dinner is roast turkey with carrots, potatoes, peas, Brussels sprouts and gravy. There are sausages and bacon, too. Then, after the turkey, there's Christmas pudding. Some people make this pudding months before Christmas. A lot of families have their own Christmas pudding recipes. Some, for example, use a lot of brandy. Others put in a lot of fruit or add a silver coin for good luck. Real Christmas puddings always have a piece of holly on the top. Holly bushes and trees have red berries at Christmas time, and so people use holly to decorate their houses for Christmas. The holly on the pudding is part of the decoration.
Crackers are also usual at Christmas dinner. These came to Britain from China in the nineteenth century. Two people pull a cracker. Usually there is a small toy in the middle. Often there is a joke on a piece of paper, too. Most of the jokes in Christmas crackers are not very good. Here is on example:
Customer: Waiter, there's a frog in my soup.
Waiter: Yes, sir, the fly's on holidays.
A pantomime is a traditional English entertainment at Christmas. It is meant for children, but adults enjoy is just as much. It is a very old form of entertainment, and can be traced back to 16th century Italian comedies. There have been a lot of changes over the years. Singing and dancing and all kinds of jokes have been added; but the stories that are told are still fairy tales, with a hero, a heroine, and a villain.
In every pantomime there are always three main characters. These are the "principal boy", the "principal girl", and the "dame". Pantomimes are changing all the time. Every year, someone has a new idea to make them more exciting or more up-to-date.
December 26th is Boxing Day. Traditionally boys from the shops in each town asked for money at Christmas. They went from house to house on December 26th and took boxes made of wood with them. At each house people gave them money. This was a Christmas present. So the name of December 26th doesn't come from the sport of boxing - it comes from the boys' wooden boxes. Now, Boxing Day is an extra holiday after Christmas Day.
Traditionally Boxing Day Hunts is a day for foxhunting. The huntsmen and huntswomen ride horses. They use dogs, too. The dogs (fox hounds) follow the smell of the fox. Then the huntsmen and huntswomen follow the hounds. Before a Boxing Day hunt, the huntsmen and huntswomen drink not wine. But the tradition of the December 26th hunt is changing. Now, some people want to stop Boxing Day Hunts (and other hunts, too). They don't like foxhunting. For them it's not a sport - it is cruel.
In England people celebrate the New Year. But it is not as widely or as enthusiastically observed as Christmas. Some people ignore it completely and go to bed at the same time as usual on New Year's Eve. Many others, however, do celebrate it in one way or another, the type of celebration varying very much according to the local custom, family tradition and personal taste.
The most common type of celebration is a New Year party, either a family party or one arranged by a group of young people. And another popular way of celebrating the New Year is to go to a New Year's dance.
The most famous celebration is in London round the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus where crowds gather and sing and welcome the New Year. In Trafalgar Square there is also a big crowd and someone usually falls into the fountain.
Every Year the people of Norway give the city of London a present. It's a big Christmas tree and it stands in Trafalgar Square. Also in central London, Oxford Street and Regent Street always have beautiful decorations at the New Year and Christmas. Thousands of people come to look at them.
In Britain a lot of people make New Year Resolutions on the evening of December 31st. For example, "I'll get up early every morning next year", or "I'll clean, my shoes every day". But there is a problem. Most people forget their New Year Resolutions on January 2nd.
But New Year's Eve is a more important festival in Scotland then it is in England, and it even has a special name. It is not clear where the 'Hogmanay' comes from, but it is connected with the provision of food and drink for all visitors to your home on 31st December.
There is a Scottish song that is sung all over the world at midnight on New Year's Eve. It was written by Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet, and you may find some of the traditional words a bit difficult to understand, but that's the way it's always sung - even by English people!
It was believed that the first person to visit one's house on New Year's Day could bring good or bad luck. Therefore, people tried to arrange for the person of their own choice to be standing outside their houses ready to be let in the moment midnight had come.
Usually a dark-complexioned man was chosen, and never a woman, for she would bring bad luck. The first footer was required to carry three articles: a piece of coal to wish warmth, a piece of bread to wish food, and a silver coin to wish wealth. In some parts of northern England this pleasing custom is still observed. So this interesting tradition called "First Footing".
On Bank holiday the townsfolk usually flock into the country and to the coast. If the weather is fine many families take a picnic - lunch or tea with them and enjoy their meal in the open. Seaside towns