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Project Britain

British Christmas Traditions
by Mandy Barrow

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Christmas Eve

Woodlands Junior School is in the south-east corner of England

image: Santa down the chimneyChristmas Eve (December 24) is traditionally the day for decorating churches and homes. It marks the beginning of the period formally known as Christmas-tide. © copyright of

Christmas traditionally started at sunset on 24 December. Our ancient ancestors considered this to be Christmas Evening (Christmas Eve for short).


What happens on Christmas Eve in Britain?

Father Christmas

Night time on Christmas Eve is a very exciting time for young children. It is the time when Father Christmas (Santa) comes.

The children leave mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas, and a carrot for the reindeer.

image: stockingChristmas Stockings

From 1870, children have hung up Christmas stockings at the ends of their beds or along the mantelpiece above the fireplace. © copyright of

Children hang Christmas stockings or bags up ready for Father Christmas, who will hopefully fill them up with presents, if the children have been good.

Why do the children hang up Christmas stockings?

Father Christmas once dropped some gold coins while coming down the chimney. The coins would have fallen through the ash grate and been lost if they hadn't landed in a stocking that had been hung out to dry. Since that time children have continued to hang out stockings in hopes of finding them filled with gifts.

Carol Service

Christians go to a special carol service at their church on Christmas Eve night. There are usually two carols services:

  • Candle Lit Service - early evening
    The congregation hold a candle each whilst they sing Christmas songs (carols) and watch a Nativity performed by children.

  • Midnight Mass
    Christians welcome Christmas Day in and rejoice in the coming of our Lord.


Christmas Eve during the First World War

On the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve 1914, firing from the German trenches suddenly stopped. A German brass band began playing Christmas carols. On Christmas morning, the German soldiers came out of their trenches, approaching the allied lines, calling "Merry Christmas". At first the allied soldiers thought it was a trick, but they soon climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the German soldiers. The truce lasted a few days, and the men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings, sang carols and songs. They even played a game of Soccer.


Christmas Eve Superstitions

An old wives' tale says that bread baked on Christmas Eve will never go mouldy. © copyright of

At midnight, a certain rose slowly opens and re-closes its petals to salute the birthday of Jesus. © copyright of

Also at midnight, all the sheep in the fields turn and bow towards the East. © copyright of


The traditional Christmas Eve drink

To add good cheer to the merry-making of English Christmases, posset was drunk on Christmas Eve. It was made of hot milk combined with spices, lemon and sugar, and bits of oatcake and bread were added. © copyright of

The posset was taken with a spoon, and lucky, indeed, was the fortunate youth or maiden who drew out the lucky coin or the wedding-ring which had been dropped in the posset-pot!

During the 19th century, on Christmas Eve, the custom was to offer each caroling guest a posset cup and a piece of apple pie or tart.

4 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
4 slices toast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups of beer (preferably ale)

Heat the milk, sugar, and toast in a saucepan, but don't let it boil. Stir the cinnamon and beer together in a punch bowl.

Discard the toast. Pour the hot milk over the ale and stir. Drink from mugs while warm.

Serves 8-10.

Some possets contained raw eggs. The egg-nog (eggs beaten with sugar, milk or cream, and some kind of spirit) is a modern form of this drink. (In Britain, nog is slang for ale.)

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.