From the moment preparations for the festive season begin, year upon year similar traditions are followed. It’s a time when following superstitions can be fun, bringing a sense of unity, togetherness and continuity into our lives. Christmas is a celebration of many things: of the birth of Christ for Christians, of love, peace and goodwill for some and of Pagan traditions for others. There’s also the material side of Christmas that could never go unnoticed! Christmas superstitions draw on many beliefs and observations all combining to add so much of what is familiar and welcomed about Christmas in the UK.
It is customary through many areas of the UK to decorate homes and workplaces with holly and mistletoe although in Wales and Scotland, some say it is bad luck to hang holly and mistletoe in the house before Christmas Eve. Mistletoe was sacred to the Druids; they used it during their ceremonies and incantations. Mistletoe should be hung in high places allowing men to kiss any woman he finds standing under the mistletoe. It would be bad luck for her to refuse that kiss and should a girl be kissed under the mistletoe seven times in one day, according to superstition, she will marry one of the seven lucky guys!
Evergreen decorations, should be taken down before the old Christmas Day in the UK (6th January) so as not to attract bad luck.
It is tradition in the UK and many other countries to send a card at Christmas. This tradition originated in the early 1800s and the first ever Christmas card, dated 23rd December 1843 and designed by J Horsley shows a party of children and adults with raised glasses over a greeting saying “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
Many Christmas Eve superstitions can be traced back to Pagan times. It was believed to be unlucky, for instance, to give out fire or light from a house on the night before Christmas. All doors of the house should be opened when midnight strikes in order to let the evil spirits out. The tradition of burning the Yule log goes back to ancient times when a log for each person living in the home was placed on the fire. This fire should never be allowed to go out and if it gave off many sparks, this would be indication of a good harvest in the following year.
There’s always a touch of romance and magic to the festive and other celebrations and should a single girl wish to see an image of her future husband on Christmas Eve all she has to do is walk backwards around a pear tree three times! An engagement announced on Christmas Eve gave promise of a happy marriage to come.
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees in the home goes back to the time when Prince Albert brought a Christmas tree over from Germany for Windsor Castle.
Children throughout the UK hang Christmas stockings at the end of their beds on Christmas Eve, or on the fireplace. So the saying goes, this goes back to a time in the late 1800s when Santa accidentally dropped some coins down the chimney. Luckily there were some stockings hanging, drying by the fire and the coins landed in the stockings. Ever since, children have hung stockings up at Christmas for Santa to fill with little gifts.
Moving on to Christmas Day and in the North of England, it was believed that for luck, the first person to enter the house should be a dark-haired man. (This was also tradition at New Year too.) In Yorkshire, many believed it would be bad luck for anyone to leave the house before a male visitor had been invited over the threshold.
The first guest of Christmas Day, (preferably this dark-haired fellow) should carry a sprig of holly and be given a sixpence for thanks of him being the “first-footer.” Since sixpences are no more, to follow this tradition a silver coin might be a suitable repalcement!
A more modern tradition on Christmas Day afternoon in the UK is the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast when the Queen gives her festive message and greetings to the nation.
It is usual to pull Christmas Crackers with paper hat, a gift and motto inside, at Christmas dinner. Take care when eating Christmas pudding as it is customary for a silver coin to be added to its other ingredients when cooking. Luck will go to whoever gets the coin.
It is said to be lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas. The tradition of eating mince pies goes back to medieval times although they were quite different then. As well as dried fruits, they also contained shredded meat, not the sweetmeats of the modern mince pie.
Throughout this festive time, so many traditions are followed and superstitions remembered. Goodwill fills the atmosphere and gifts exchanged as a symbol of friendship and love.