Christmas Traditions and Their Origins

23 December 2020

Christmas has a long history in the UK, and we continue many well-loved traditions such as card giving, decorating trees, and even hanging mistletoe — but do any of us really know the origins of them? We’ve done a little digging to find out how some of them came to be, and even unearthed some more unusual ones along the way…

Misteltoe berries   

Christmas vs Xmas - In 15th Century writings you’ll first find the use of this abbreviation with the X originally representing the first letter of the Greek word Xριστóς, meaning Christ. However, more 20th Century uses probably have more to do with the abbreviation having the same number of letters as the word ‘sale’.

Christmas Trees - In 1800, Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III brought a tradition from her native Germany where a Yew Tree is brought into the home during the festive period. She asked that a Yew Tree be placed into the Queens Lodge at Windsor, and she decorated it herself. 

Boxing Day - This term came from sometime in the 1800’s where the wealthier class would receive their gifts in a Christmas ‘box’, then the following day, they would fill the boxes with gifts to give to the poor or donate to local churches etc. This was also a day that would normally be taken as a day of rest by the servants and staff of more wealthier families' homes. 

Mistletoe - This romantic symbol was once considered so sacred, it could only be cut by druids with a golden sickle. Those who met underneath this plant were forbidden from fighting even if they were sworn enemies. This then became a symbol of peace and protection and people started decorating their homes with it, to symbolise these offerings. From the Middle Ages our ancestors decided the plant could ward off evil with its symbols of peace, so would hang it above the threshold — and then the Victorians took this one step further and helped bring our current kissing-under-the-mistletoe tradition to life. 

Christmas Cards - It is reported that the very first Christmas Card was sent in 1843 by John Calcott Horsley to his friend Sir Henry Cole, and it caused quite the stir as it depicted a child drinking wine. Despite its somewhat controversial start, the card-sending idea caught on and even today fills our homes with messages of Seasons Greetings from our loved ones. 


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