How Different Cultures in the UK Celebrate Winter Festivals

Christmas may be one of, if not the most well known holiday of the year in the UK because of its commercial front as well as religious ties and, however Christmas wasn’t always what it is today with its origins going back to Neolithic times and pagan festivities of the winter solstice. Christmas isn’t the only festivity celebrated in winter though and while Christmas is a Christian holiday it isn’t just celebrated by those of the Christian religion, it is also celebrated as more of an atheistic/non religious holiday as a time for family and encouraging good behavior from children.

Over the years more non religious elements have made their way into christmas festivities, this has allowed for more and more people to celebrate and  for the holiday’s popularity to grow. More atheistic traditions around christmas include activities like elf on a shelf where people place an elf in different christmas themed scenes around their home as a way to build up the christmas spirit in children. A second more atheistic Christmas tradition is centred around the more modern version of Santa, the version that lives in the north pole with all the elves, is leaving treats like cookies, biscuits, or mince pies and some milk out for Santa for his travels as well as some carrots for the reindeers. For non religious people Christmas isn’t a holiday for prayer, it’s a holiday to spend time with their families and encourage good behavior in children and can also be treated as a holiday for some rest before the New Year festivities start.

While Christmas is the main festivity of Christian winter holidays it isn’t the only celebration, there is also The Twelfth Night which celebrates the 12 days after Jesus’s birth that it took the 3 kings to get to him to give him the presents. For Christians the winter holidays are a time for church services, carol services and celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that came with his birth. Special carol and church services are held for Christmas as well as a midnight mass. Presents and cards are exchanged at Christmas as well as on The Twelfth Night too as a representation of the gifts given by the 3 kings.

While Hindus don’t celebrate Christmas they do celebrate Pancha Ganapati between December 21st and December 25th, a more modern winter holiday with its origins coming from the month long worship of Ganesha between December and January, called Markali Pillaiyar. Pancha Ganapati was created by hindu elders, scholars, and swamis as an alternative to christmas. Each day of Pancha Ganapati celebrates a different spiritual principle every day for the five day celebration. On the first day the shrine is decorated with yellow and the sadhana for that day is harmony among immediate family members, the second day blue with the sadhana of harmony among neighbours, relatives and close friends, third day is for red decorations on the shrine and is the day harmony with business associates and the general public, day four is green themed and is for harmony of culture, particularly art and music, and finally the fifth day which has the theme of orange and is the day of harmony among the worlds and is the day where the family feels Ganesha’s love and grace the most. Each day after the colour on the altar is changed children leave offerings of treats such as sweets, fruit, and incense for Ganesha and sign and chant at the altar. People often also share bowls of sweet treats and give gifts during the five day celebration.

Most Eastern European traditions for the winter holidays are based around either Yule or Christmas. Christmas traditions followed are usually either a mix of traditional celebrations and orthodox traditions including things from Eastern European folklore and church services, and saint and nativity based holidays in the weeks before and after December 25th.  More winter solstice based traditions would include festive drinks, tree decorating and the burning of a Yule log as well as decorating homes with decorations that represent the relevant mythological creatures, the mythological creatures and beings used for decorations during the winter solstice usually represent protection. 

While Kwanzaa was originally created by an American professor for African Americans to celebrate community there it has since been shared with other African communities in other countries so they too can celebrate community. Usual ways to celebrate Kwanzaa include songs, dance, storytelling, traditional meals and African drumming.

Caribbean traditions for Christmas include a lot of hybrid between old traditions and Christian based practices. Lot of traditional food is eaten during Christmas, Advent and the New Year especially with neighbours. Community is a large part of a Caribbean Christmas, from the start of Advent to the New Year people visit their neighbours and after eating everyone gathers to sing carols together, some carols having Creole verses mixed into the traditional Christmas carols.

Sources- 

“The History Of Christmas”. English Heritage, 2021, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/christmas/the-history-of-christmas/

 “Pancha Ganapati”. Himalayanacademy.Com, 2021, https://www.himalayanacademy.com/media/books/pancha-ganapati/web/Pancha.html 

“Pancha Ganapati | Saivite Tamil Foundation”. Saivite.Org, 2021, http://www.saivite.org/index.php/resources/pancha-ganapati/ 

“Christ Is Born?”. HISTORY, 2021, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/christ-is-born

Alleyne, Caleigh. “These Christmas Traditions From All Around The World May Surprise You”. Country Living, 2021, https://www.countryliving.com/entertaining/g4933/christmas-traditions-around-the-world/ 

“Kwanzaa”. HISTORY, 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/kwanzaa-history

“Ten European Christmas Traditions – CBBC Newsround”. Bbc.Co.Uk, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/15790210

“Why Do We Celebrate Yule, The Winter Solstice?”. Learn Religions, 2021, https://www.learnreligions.com/history-of-yule-2562997

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