The British have been
celebrating Christmas for over one thousand years. According to
legend, King Arthur spent Christmas in York in 521 in mirth, jollity
and drinking. Since then, the English have spent the holiday feasting
The word "Christmas"
comes from Christes, meaning Christ, and Masse, meaning feast or
festival. Many American families have incorporated British customs
into their observance of Christmas, adopting traditions from the
times of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens.
A custom immortalized
by Washington Irving and Dickens is the boar's head ceremony. It
is one of England's feudal customs still cherished at Queen's College
at Oxford. A boar's head is gaily festooned and an orange is placed
in its mouth and it becomes the centerpiece of a rite which has
been observed for centuries.
Burning the yule log
is a very old English custom. A huge log is carried in and burned
in the fireplace. It must burn for at least twelve hours. Ashes
from this log are saved and used to start the fire the following
year. It is believed this will bring good luck.
Another holiday tradition
that comes from Britain is the Christmas card. This popular form
of correspondence was invented around 1841 by Sir Henry Cole, who
hoped to avoid writing personal greetings to his many friends at
Father Christmas is Santa
Claus to the English. Long ago in England, Father Christmas was
depicted as a merry figure with a wreath of mistletoe or holly upon
his head; his gown was sometimes red, but often green, white or
even brown. The contemporary Father Christmas was imported from
America a little more than 100 years ago and is a mixture of American
and British traditions. He is usually tall and thin with a white
beard, and wearing a long crimson robe with a hood or cap trimmed
in white fur.