What’s the Holiday Season in the UK

by CiCi
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The holiday season in the United Kingdom is a time of joy, celebration, and tradition. It encompasses a variety of festive events and observances that are deeply rooted in British culture and history. From the anticipation of Christmas to the exuberance of New Year’s Eve, the UK holiday season is a period marked by family gatherings, festive foods, and a spirit of generosity. This article explores the key elements, customs, and significance of the holiday season in the UK, offering a comprehensive overview of how it is celebrated across the nation.

Christmas Preparations and Traditions

Christmas is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the UK holiday season. The preparations for Christmas often begin weeks in advance, with many people starting to plan and decorate their homes from late November or early December.


Christmas Decorations

Christmas decorations in the UK are a blend of traditional and contemporary styles. Homes, shops, and streets are adorned with twinkling lights, tinsel, and baubles. The Christmas tree, a staple in most British households, is often decorated with ornaments, lights, and a star or angel on top. The practice of putting up Christmas trees was popularized in the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, in the 19th century.


Advent Calendars

Advent calendars are a cherished tradition, especially among children. These calendars count down the days to Christmas, starting on December 1st. Each day, a small door is opened to reveal a treat, such as a chocolate or a small toy. Some advent calendars offer more elaborate gifts, including beauty products or miniature spirits for adults.

Christmas Cards

Sending Christmas cards is another integral part of the holiday season. This tradition dates back to the 1840s and is a way for people to convey their holiday wishes to friends and family. The cards often feature festive imagery, such as snow-covered landscapes, nativity scenes, or jolly Santas.

Festive Foods and Drinks

The holiday season in the UK is also a time for indulging in special foods and drinks. Many of these festive treats have been enjoyed for centuries and are an essential part of the holiday experience.

Christmas Dinner

The Christmas dinner is the highlight of the festive food traditions. It typically features roast turkey as the centerpiece, although some families opt for alternatives such as roast beef, ham, or goose. The turkey is usually accompanied by stuffing, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and parsnips. Pigs in blankets, which are sausages wrapped in bacon, are another popular addition to the meal.

Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding, also known as plum pudding, is a rich, dense dessert made with dried fruits, spices, and suet. It is traditionally prepared weeks in advance to allow the flavors to mature. On Christmas Day, it is often doused in brandy and set alight before serving, creating a dramatic and festive presentation.

Mince Pies

Mince pies are small, sweet pastries filled with a mixture of dried fruits, spices, and sometimes a dash of brandy or rum. These treats are enjoyed throughout the holiday season and are often left out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, accompanied by a glass of milk or sherry and a carrot for Rudolph.

Yule Log

The Yule log, or Bûche de Noël, is a chocolate sponge cake rolled and decorated to resemble a log. This dessert is inspired by the ancient tradition of burning a Yule log during the winter solstice. The cake is often adorned with icing, meringue mushrooms, and other festive decorations.

Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is a popular festive drink made by heating red wine with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, along with sugar and citrus fruits. This warm, aromatic beverage is often enjoyed at Christmas markets and holiday gatherings.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the pinnacle of the holiday season in the UK, filled with traditions that bring families together and create lasting memories.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, many families attend midnight mass or a church service to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This religious observance is a central part of the holiday for many people in the UK.

In addition to religious services, Christmas Eve is also a time for family gatherings and festive activities. Children hang stockings by the fireplace or at the end of their beds, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus. In some households, families exchange one small gift on Christmas Eve as a prelude to the main gift-giving on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is a public holiday in the UK, and it is a time for family, feasting, and festivity. The day typically begins with the exchange of gifts, followed by a hearty breakfast. Many people tune in to watch the Queen’s Christmas message, a tradition that began in 1932 with a radio broadcast by King George V. The speech, which is now televised, reflects on the past year and offers a message of hope and goodwill.

The centerpiece of Christmas Day is the Christmas dinner, which is enjoyed in the afternoon or early evening. The meal is a grand affair, often followed by the serving of Christmas pudding and the pulling of Christmas crackers. Christmas crackers are brightly colored paper tubes that make a snapping sound when pulled apart. Inside, they contain a paper hat, a joke, and a small gift.

After the meal, families often relax and enjoy the rest of the day together, playing games, watching holiday films, or simply spending quality time with loved ones.

Boxing Day

The day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day, is also a public holiday in the UK. Traditionally, it was a day when servants and tradespeople received gifts, known as “Christmas boxes,” from their employers. Today, Boxing Day is synonymous with shopping, as many retailers offer significant sales and discounts.

Sports and Entertainment

Boxing Day is also a major day for sports in the UK. Football matches, horse racing, and other sporting events are held, attracting large audiences both in person and on television. Many families take the opportunity to go for a walk or engage in outdoor activities, making the most of the extended holiday period.

Boxing Day Sales

The Boxing Day sales are a significant event in the UK retail calendar. Shoppers flock to stores and online platforms to take advantage of the discounts and special offers. It is a time for bargain hunting and post-Christmas shopping sprees, with many people using gift vouchers they received as presents.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day

As the holiday season continues, attention shifts to the celebration of the New Year. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are marked by festivities, fireworks, and reflections on the year gone by.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is a time for parties and gatherings, with people coming together to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. In cities and towns across the UK, public events and fireworks displays light up the night sky. London hosts one of the most famous New Year’s Eve celebrations, with fireworks launched from the London Eye and along the River Thames.

At the stroke of midnight, people often sing “Auld Lang Syne,” a traditional Scottish song that reflects on the passage of time and the importance of friendship. The song’s lyrics, penned by Robert Burns, are a staple of New Year’s Eve celebrations in the UK and around the world.

New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is a public holiday in the UK, and it is often a quieter, more reflective day compared to the exuberance of New Year’s Eve. Many people spend the day relaxing at home, recovering from the previous night’s festivities.

For some, New Year’s Day is also a time to take part in traditional activities. In Scotland, the New Year is celebrated with “First Footing,” a custom where the first person to enter a home after midnight brings good luck for the coming year. This person, known as the “first-footer,” often carries symbolic gifts such as coal, shortbread, or whisky.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The holiday season in the UK does not end with New Year’s Day. The Twelve Days of Christmas, which begin on December 25th and end on January 5th, are an extended period of celebration that encompasses various traditions and observances.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night, which falls on January 5th, marks the end of the Christmas season. In some parts of the UK, it is celebrated with parties, music, and dancing. One of the traditional customs associated with Twelfth Night is the baking of a Twelfth Night cake, a rich fruitcake that often contains a hidden bean or coin. The person who finds the bean or coin is crowned the “king” or “queen” of the festivities.


Epiphany, observed on January 6th, is a Christian feast day that commemorates the visit of the Magi, or Three Wise Men, to the baby Jesus. In some parts of the UK, Epiphany is marked with church services and special meals.

See also: How Many Stat Holidays in BC 2024


The holiday season in the UK is a time of warmth, joy, and tradition. It is a period when families come together, communities celebrate, and the nation embraces a spirit of generosity and goodwill. From the preparations and excitement of Christmas to the reflections and resolutions of New Year’s Day, the UK holiday season is a rich tapestry of customs and celebrations that bring people together and create lasting memories. Whether through the sharing of festive foods, the exchange of gifts, or the singing of carols, the holiday season in the UK is a cherished time that captures the essence of what it means to be British.


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