Christmas is Britain's most popular holiday and is characterized by traditions which date back hundreds of years. The first ever Christmas card was posted in England in the 1840s, and the practice soon became an established part of the build-up to Christmas. Christmas decorations in general have even earlier origins.
Holly, ivy and mistletoe are associated with rituals going back beyond the Dark Ages. (The custom of kissing beneath a sprig of mistletoe is derived from an ancient pagan tradition.) The Christmas tree was popularised by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who introduced one to the Royal Household in 1840. Since 1947, the country of Norway has presented Britain annually with a large Christmas tree which stands in Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during the Second World War.
Popular among children at Christmas time are pantomimes: song and dance dramatisations of well-known fairy tales which encourage audience participation. Carols are often sung on Christmas Eve by groups of singers to their neighbours, and children hang a stocking on the fireplace or at the foot of their bed for Santa Claus (also named Father Christmas) to fill. Presents for the family are placed beneath the Christmas tree. Christmas Day sees the opening of presents and many families attend Christmas services at church.
Christmas dinner consists traditionally of a roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing and roast potatoes. This is followed by mince pies and Christmas pudding flaming with brandy, which might contain coins or lucky charms for children. (The pudding is usually prepared weeks beforehand and is customarily stirred by each member of the family as a wish is made.) Later in the day, a Christmas cake may be served - a rich baked fruit cake with marzipan, icing and sugar frosting.
St. George's Day
Saint George oil painting by RaphaelSt. George's Day, April 23, is celebrated by several nations of whom Saint George is the patron saint, including Georgia, Bulgaria, Portugal, England, and the Gora. Catalonia also celebrates it. For England, St. George's Day also marks its National Day. April 23 is traditionally accepted as the date of Saint George's death in 303.In 1969, Saint George's feast day was reduced to an optional memorial in the Roman Catholic calendar, and the solemnity of his commemoration depends purely on local observance.
He is, however, still honoured as a saint of major importance by Eastern Orthodoxy. His feast date remains the second most important National Feast in Catalonia. There, it is known in Catalan as Diada de Sant Jordi and it is traditional to give a rose and a book to a loved one. This tradition inspired UNESCO to declare this the International Day of the Book, since 23 April 1616 was also the date of the death of the English playwright William Shakespeare (according to the Julian calendar) and the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes (according to the Gregorian calendar). Shakespeare died on his birthday, meaning the date was of double-barreled significance.
Saint George wood carving St. George's Day is not celebrated as much in England as other National Days are around the world. The celebration of St. George's Day was once a major feast in England on a par with Christmas from the early 15th century. However, this tradition had waned by the end of the 18th century. In recent years the popularity of St. George's Day appears to be increasing gradually. BBC Radio 3 had a full programme of St. George's Day events in 2006. And Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, has been putting his argument forward in the House of Commons to try to make St. George's Day a public holiday.
A traditional custom at this time was to wear a red rose in one's lapel, though with changes in fashion this is not as widely done. Another custom is to fly or adorn the St. George's Cross flag in some way: pubs in particular can be seen on April 23 festooned with garlands of St. George's crosses. However, the modern association of the St. George's Cross with sports such as football, cricket and rugby means that this tradition too is losing popularity with people who do not associate themselves with those sports.