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Project Britain
Folklore Calendar
stories, sayings, customs
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A month by month of forgotten legends and pastimes from Britain's folk history

image: back to main pageFacts about December Month
Sayings, Customs and Traditions

Gemstone: Turquoise
Flower: Narcissus
Christmas Plant - Poinsettia


Online Advent Calendar

December used to be the tenth month of the Roman year, and it gets its name from the word 'decem', which means ten.

The Anglo-Saxons called it 'Winter monath', or 'Yule monath' because of the custom of burning the yule log around this time. After many Anglo-Saxons became Christians they called it 'Heligh monath' or holy month, because Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is celebrated in December.

In the northern hemisphere December marks the beginning of winter, and it is the time of rain, wind and snow.


All year round Christmas month

Jesus lying in a manger in a stableDecember is very much associated with Christmas and a lot of December customs and traditions have therefore been swallowed up by the festival.

Christmas, the mass of Christ, is held on 25th December and commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago.

At the beginning of December, the season of Advent starts. The word advent means 'coming', and as its name suggests it is a time of preparation for the coming feast of Christmas.

We have a vast section on our website about Christmas and how it is celebrated in Britain. Find out more ....

Interesting Facts about Christmas

6St Nicholas Day 6 December

St NicholasThis is the feast day of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (now Turkey) in the 4th century AD. He is the patron saint of children.

In the Netherlands and neighbouring countries of Europe, St Nicholas is said to bring sweets and presents to well behaved children on 6 December. This tradition was imported to the USA by Dutch settlers, and St Nicholas evolved into Santa Claus, those gift-giving rounds are preformed later in the month. In this new incarnation he subsequently returned across the Atlantic to merge with the British Father Christmas.

Boy Bishops

It was formerly customary on St Nicholas Day to elect a boy bishop who would perform a juvenile version of the normal duties and ceremonies of this office, excluding the celebration of Mass, until Holy Innocents Day (28 December)

17Lord of Misrule 17 December

In ancient Roman times, 17 December was the beginning of the festival of Saturnalia, in honour of the god of agriculture. It was originally just a day event but eventually grew into a seven day orgy of feasting and merrymaking, elements which later appeared in the Christmas, New Year and Twelfth Night celebrations in thee UK.

The Saturnalia was a holiday period for all including the slaves, who were waited on by their masters for the duration. Presents were exchanged, informal clothes worn and gambling games permitted. It was also customary to appoint a master of the revels, a character that reappeared in England as the Lord of Misrule, who formally presided over the Christmas celebrations, or over the entire period from All-Hallows Eve (31 October) to Candlemas (2 February).

All year round The Winter Solstice (1st day of winter)

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the first day of the season of winter. It falls on or near 21 December.

The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. It is a celebration of the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the North Pole is at its furthest point away from the sun (the sun is at its southernmost point in the sky).

Follow this link to read about the customs and traditions of the Winter Solstice

28All year round Holy Innocents Day - Childermass

Holy Innocents Day, also known as Childermas, falls on 28 December. It commemorates King Herod's massacre of all male infants in and around Bethlehem under the age of two in attempt to kill the young Christ.

In the days when Christmas was less child-centred, Childermas was a time for indulging children with treats and parties.


On a more sombre note, 28 December is widely regarded as the unluckiest day of the year, so don't do anything and certainly don't start anything on this day!

31All year round New Year's Eve

31st December is the last day of the year. It is New Year's Eve. Many people see the old year out with a party, welcoming in the New Year with toasts of champagne, and exchanging good wishes for a 'Happy New Year'.

Follow this link to read about and see photos of New Year's Eve customs and traditions

All year round December Superstitions

"Marry on December third
For all the grief you ever heard "

christmas puddingA Christmas pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and His Disciples and that every member of the family should take turns to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west, in honour of the Wise Men.

If you take a candle to church this Christmas, don't bring it home, blow it out and leave it there with the vicar for good luck.

"On Christmas Eve all animals can speak."
However, it is bad luck to test this superstition.

"The child born on Christmas Day will have a special fortune."

"Wearing new shoes on Christmas Day will bring bad luck."

"Good luck will come to the home where a fire is kept burning throughout the Christmas season. "

If a girl raps at the henhouse door on Christmas Eve and a rooster crows, she will marry within the year.

All year round December Weather-lore, beliefs and sayings

A mild December precedes a cold snap later in the winter:
"A green December fills the graveyard"

"A clear star-filled sky on Christmas Eve will bring good crops in the summer."

"If sun shines through the apple trees upon a Christmas Day,
When autumn comes they will a load of fruit display."

"Snow on Christmas means Easter will be green."

"A green Christmas; a white Easter."

"If Christmas day be bright and clear
There'll be two winters in the year."

"The nearer the New Moon to Christmas Day, the harder the Winter."

"If New Year's Eve night-wind blows south,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk, and fish in the sea;
If north, cold and storms there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man and brute!"

All year round December Festivals and Traditions

Advent and Advent Calendars

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day

Boxing Day

All year round December Anniversaries

1st December 1990 The island of Britain is connected with the European mainland for the first time since the Ice Age when workers from England and France meet 40 meters beneath the English Channel seabed. The Channel tunnel was officially opened in May 1994 and featured two rail tunnels and a service tunnel.
1st December World AIDS Day.
2nd December 1697

Opening of the new St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

3rd December 1795 Rowland Hill, the originator of the Penny Post, was born.
4th December Feast of St Barbara, patron saint of anything connected with thunderstorms, fire, gunpowder, electricity or sudden loud noises!
5th December 1901 Walt Disney was born.
5th December 1958 Prime Minister Harold MacMillan opens Britain's first motorway
5th December St. Nicholas Eve – in Holland everyone gives presents.
6th December St. Nicholas’ Day – patron saint of children.
10th December 1960 First episode of "Coronation Street" aired.
10th December Annual presentation of the Nobel Prizes.
13th December 1577 Francis Drake set sail round the world, in the Golden Hind.
13th December St. Lucia’s Day – known as Lucia in Sweden.
17th December 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered aeroplane flight.
18th December Closing the Gates of Derry – historical pageant held in Londonderry, Ireland.
21st December 1937 Premiere of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", the first full-length animated cartoon.
21st December

Winter Solstice
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the first day of the season of winter. It falls on or near 21 December. The Winter Solstice falls on the 22nd in 2011.

24th December 1818 "Silent Night, Holy Night" was first sung. The words were written by Joseph Franz Mohr, a young priest, and the music by Herr Gruber in Oberndorf in Austria.
25th December Christmas Day.
25th December 1642 Sir Isaac Newton was born. He found white light could be split into the colours of the Rainbow.
26th December St. Stephen’s Day. The first Christian martyr; the patron saint of altar servers. His story is told in the Acts of the Apostles.
26th December Boxing Day , refers to the custom of giving Christmas ‘boxes’ – presents to the people who have worked for us during the year.
28th December Holy Innocents Day. On this day we think of the babies slaughtered by Herod in his attempt to kill the Christ Child.
28th December 1065 Consecration of Westminster Abbey.
29th December St. Thomas of Canterbury. St. Thomas à Becket, martyred in his own Cathedral at Christmastide. Born 1118, martyred on this day 1170.
30th December 1903 First powered flight by Orville.
30th December Rudyard Kipling, author of "Jungle Book", was born.
31st December New Year’s Eve.

All year round

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