London has been around for a very long time: specifically over 2,000 years. Today’s London Christmas traditions are well-known: Winter Wonderland, Christmas markets,the Christmas lights on Oxford and Regent Street, etc.
However, the past Christmas traditions are just as, if not, even more interesting.
Before global warming, the River Thames actually used to freeze over completely. During such cold winters, River Thames Frost Fairs were held, ever since the 7th century. This was an especially popular event during the Little Ice Age in the early 17th and 19th centuries. During these fairs vendors sold at their stalls, activities like dancing and bowling took place, and foods such as hot apples, roast mutton and gingerbread were sold. It was essentially Winter Wonderland but even more fitting to the theme thanks to being on top of a frozen river.
A Christmas tradition that still continues to this day is Norway donating a Christmas tree to be put in Trafalgar Square every year. Since 1947, as a thank you for the British people’s support during the Second World War, Norway donates a spruce that’s typically over 20 metres tall. The tree lighting ceremony takes place on the 1st of December, if you’d like to attend next year.
Christmas crackers were first made by a London sweetmaker, Tom Smith. Inspired by bonbons he saw on a trip to Paris in 1840, he tried selling something similar, focused on the packaging of the sweets. These weren’t so popular but his new range launched in 1861 called “Bangs of Explosion” took off. However, now crackers are typically filled with a paper crown, a joke and a little gift such as a mini puzzle or yo-yo.
The Royal Christmas Message, also known as the Queen’s Speech nowadays, is broadcasted to Commonwealth countries from Buckingham Palace each Christmas day. The theme of the message has varied widely ever since this yearly message started in 1932. Typically, the Royals talk about peace, progress, struggles experienced and the accomplishments Britain and its people have made.
The concept of sending Christmas cards was devised by Sir Henry Kohl, a civil servant from Bath who moved to London. They cost 1 shilling each, but when the Penny Postal service was established in 1840, this meant that even working class citizens could write and send Christmas cards.
There are several more Christmas traditions that started or became popular in the UK, these are simply the ones based in London! The UK and London is filled with so much history which some residents or visitors may not have otherwise learned about, so I encourage you to do further research if you’re interested!