Spirit of England - English Christmas

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

please note that we DO NOT refer to this occasion as a 'Winter Festival' or 'Christmas Trees' as 'Winter Festival Trees' -for those who may be offended by the mention of 'Christmas', and particularly a 'White Christmas' - we suggest that they go (or return) and live in a place where 'Christmas' is not celebrated.
So - Christmas is coming again - and so it is time to update this post - so keep watching as images and text relating to Christmas 2016 appear !

The Season of Advent, which begins on a Sunday about four weeks before Christmas Day, is celebrated by the Catholic and Anglican Churches, as well as some others.
It is a time for people to prepare themselves for two different things: for the coming of the baby Jesus and Christmas, and for the second coming of Jesus, when he shall rule over all the Earth in peace. 
Not all Christian people remember Advent.
Some people use it as a time of fasting, study, meditation and prayer.
Special Advent Calendars are made for children, with pictures, or treats, for each day of Advent.
Generally, Advent is a time when many people are very busy in preparation for Christmas Day, cleaning and decorating, buying food and presents, writing cards and letters, and cooking the Christmas feast.

Charles Dickens - 'A Christmas Carol'

Charles Dickens - 'A Christmas Carol'

A Christmas Carol is a famous book by the English writer Charles Dickens.
It was first published on December 17, 1843.
The pictures inside were drawn by John Leech.
The story has a strong moral message against greed, among other things.
It is usually read at Christmas time and has been adapted to theatre, movies, radio, and television many times.

The story is about Ebenezer Scrooge.
At the beginning of the book he is a mean old man who runs a business lending people money.
These people are poor and often cannot pay him back.
He pays his clerk Bob Cratchit badly.
On Christmas Eve, Scrooge refuses an invitation to his nephew's house for Christmas dinner, telling him he hates it (he calls it a "Humbug").
He then refuses to give money to two men who are collecting for charity.
Later that evening, he is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner Jacob Marley, who went to Hell because of his bad life.
He tells Scrooge that the same future will happen to him unless he changes and that during the night he will be visited by three more ghosts.
These will show him where he went wrong in his life, and how to be a better person in the future.
The first ghost is the Ghost of Christmas Past.
This ghost shows him where he went wrong in the past, showing him his unhappy childhood and how he did not get married.
The second ghost is the Ghost of Christmas Present. This ghost shows him things which are happening now, such as how his clerk, Bob Cratchit, is having a nice Christmas despite not having much money.
He also shows him Bob's youngest son, Tiny Tim, who is crippled.
Later, the ghost shows him how his nephew is having a good Christmas, and how Scrooge is missing out.
The third ghost is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
This ghost shows Scrooge what Christmas will be like in the future if he does not change.
Firstly, people are shown celebrating a man's death and robbing from his house.
The ghost also shows him that Tiny Tim has died.
Scrooge is then shown his own grave, and realizes that the celebrations were for his death.
On Christmas morning, Scrooge wakes up and realizes that he has to change.
He decides to celebrate Christmas, and help Tiny Tim get better.
Through the ghosts' help he becomes a better man.

Christmas in the Trenches - 1914

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during World War I.
Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into "no man's land", where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs.
As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.

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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016


Before the 4th century AD, Christians could only worship and celebrate in secret.
The feast of Christmas probably began while Constantine was the Emperor of Rome, because it was he who made Christianity a legal religion and built some of Rome's oldest churches.
Some old stone coffins or sarcophagi from this time are carved with pictures of Mary and baby Jesus and the Wise Men.
Through the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated with feasting, singing and plays.
The plays were held in churches, and also in castles and in market places, where a big hay wagon was sometimes used as a stage.
Because Advent was a time of prayer and preparation, most parties were held after Christmas, rather than before it.
The main pre-Christmas celebration was the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6.
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

A Christmas tree is a decorated tree, ideally an evergreen conifer such as pine or fir, traditionally associated with the celebration of Christmas.
The tree was traditionally decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts or dates. In the 18th century, it began to be illuminated by candles, which with electrification could also be replaced by Christmas lights.
Today, there are a wide variety of traditional ornaments, such as garland, tinsel, and candy canes.
An angel or star may be placed at the top of the tree, to represent the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.
The custom of the Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany with predecessors that can be traced to the 16th and possibly the 15th century, in which "devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.".
It acquired popularity beyond Germany during the second half of the 19th century.
The Christmas tree has also been known as the "Yule-tree", especially in discussions of its folk-loristic origins.
Both setting up and taking down a Christmas tree are associated with specific dates.
Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve (24 December) or, in the traditions celebrating Christmas Eve rather than on the first of day of Christmas, 23 December, and then removed the day after Twelfth Night (5 January); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck.
Tinsel and several types of garland or ribbon are commonly used to decorate a Christmas tree. Silvered saran-based tinsel was introduced later.
Delicate mould-blown and painted coloured glass Christmas ornaments were a speciality of the glass factories in the Thuringian Forest especially in Lauscha in the late 19th century, and have since become a large industry, complete with famous-name designers.
Baubles are another common decoration, consisting of small hollow glass or plastic spheres coated with a thin metallic layer to make them reflective, with a further coating of a thin pigmented polymer in order to provide colouration. Lighting with electric lights (fairy lights) is commonly done.
A tree topper, traditionally either an angel or a star, completes the ensemble.

1950s Christmas Baubles


For many centuries, the celebration of Christmas often began with a church service or mass, which lasted from late at night to after midnight on Christmas morning.
Christmas Day was a time of feasting.
On the following day, the Feast of St Stephen, people from rich households would carry boxes of food out to the street for the poor and hungry.
Many people would go back to work but employers would give gifts of money to their workers.
The Holy Days continued with the feast of St John and Holy Innocents' Day.
The feasting and parties ended on the Feast of the Epiphany, the day of the Three Wise Men, often called the "Three Kings".
The season is nowadays remembered by the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
William Shakespeare wrote a play to be performed as part of the celebration, called "Twelfth Night".

1950s Christmas Baubles
Christmas Decorations

In most homes when Christmas is celebrated, people set up a Christmas tree in the house.
This old Yuletide custom began in Germany as the "Tannenbaum" (German for Fir Tree).
These are traditionally evergreens, the best type being the Fir Tree which does not shed its needles or lose its fragrance.
The tree may be a cut tree that is bought from a plantation or taken from the forest.
Artificial trees are sometimes preferred to real trees.
The Christmas tree is decorated with lights, shiny coloured balls, sparkly tinsel and other ornaments.
A wreath of leaves or pine is often put on the front door of a house as a sign of welcome.
Other plants that have special significance at Christmas are holly which is used as decoration and mistletoe which is hung in the centre of a room.
The tradition is that people who meet under the mistletoe must kiss.
Many people decorate their homes at Christmas time.
These decorations and the Christmas tree are generally inside, but may be put where they can also be seen through a window by people passing by.
In the mid 20th century there grew up a custom for decorating the outside of houses as well.
These decorations may be just a few lights around the porch, or hundreds of lights and colourful Christmas figures decorating the whole house and garden.

1950s Christmas Baubles


For many, Christmas has become a time when having parties, sending messages to family and friends and giving presents has become more important than the celebration of Jesus' birth.
Manufacturers and stores have responded to the feasting and present-giving with lots of advertising, decorations and displays.
Given that Jesus himself called people making money in the Jewish Temple 'robbers' (Matthew 21:13) many Christians are uneasy about profit instead of prophets at Christmas.
Town councils celebrate by decorating streets and squares, and providing Christmas entertainment for shoppers.
Many Christians celebrate Christmas by attending church, and with prayers and singing.
Many people are worried that the "true meaning of Christmas" has been lost, because of the emphasis on presents.
However, for many, talk about the "true meaning of Christmas", means they are thinking of the words that the angels spoke to the shepherds: "Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all people !

Westminster Bridge - London

The Crib

It is the custom in many churches to set up a Crib scene of the Nativity or birth of Jesus.
The first scene of this type was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.
They have been very popular in Italy ever since then, and the custom has spread to other countries.
Nativity scenes can be large with life-sized statues, or they can be tiny enough to fit in a matchbox.
They are made of many different things including carved and painted wood, brightly coloured ceramics (pottery), painted paper glued to boards, and mixtures of material with clay, wood, cloth, straw and metal used for different parts.

Christmas in Trafalgar Square - London

Advent Wreaths

The Advent wreath is a circle of leaves, usually pine boughs, ivy and holly, with five candles in it which is hung up in a church.
The candles are lit on each Sunday in Advent, and the central candle is lit on Christmas morning.
Churches are often decked with green branches and leaves, and many churches also have a Christmas tree.

Advent Wreath
Bible Readings

Each year at Christmas there are a series of Bible readings from the Gospels that tell the story of the birth of Jesus.
These are combined with other readings that tell about the sinfulness of humans, and how God promised to send the Messiah.
On Christmas morning the main Bible reading that is usually used in churches is not part of the story of Jesus' birth.
It is the part of the Gospel of John that says that Jesus is the "Word of God" (God's communication with people) who was with God before the world began, and who came to earth to teach all people to become the children of God.

Regents Street in the Snow - London



A popular tradition in many churches is the Carol Service which is often lit only by candles.
The carol service generally has lots of singing and Bible readings.
There is a tradition in England which began in the Temple Church in London and has now spread to many other places for a service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
The lessons are Bible readings. Some carols are sung by a choir and others by the choir and people (the congregation).
Every year one of these services is recorded in a large English Church, often King's College Chapel, Cambridge, and is broadcast on radio and television to be enjoyed by people who love good music and carol singing, but particularly for people who cannot go to a Christmas service.

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - King's College - Cambridge

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - King's College - Cambridge

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - Choir Boys
King's College - Cambridge

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - Choir Boys
King's College - Cambridge

The first Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge, was held on Christmas Eve in 1918. It was conceived by Eric Milner-White, the Dean of the College, whose experience as an army chaplain had led him to believe that more imaginative worship was needed by the Church of England.
The music at the first service at King's was directed by Arthur Henry Mann, who was the organist from 1876 to 1929.
The choir had 16 trebles as specified in statutes laid down by Henry VI, and until 1927 the men's voices were provided by choral scholars and lay clerks.
Today, 14 undergraduates from the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, sing the men's parts.

Christmas at Brompton Oratory

City of London in the Snow

Family Get-Togethers

Most families think of Christmas as a time to get together with other members of the family.
People often travel from far away to be with other family members at Christmas.
Those people who cannot travel often make long-distance phone calls on Christmas Day.
Many people also see Christmas as a time to reach out to others that they know might be lonely, and invite them to dinner on Christmas Day.
Christmas is seen as a time for people of all ages to have fun together, for cousins to get to know each other, for grandparents to see their grandchildren and for the family to admire the babies that have been born during the year.
Big family parties are usually a time of joy, but some families often talk about their disagreements and have big fights at Christmas time.
Family traditions are very different.
Some families might all go off to church together, to a Carol Service, a Midnight Mass, or a Christmas Morning service.
Some families are pulled out of bed very early by children who want to open their presents.
In other families, presents are given on St. Nicholas Day, on Christmas Eve or not until after church on Christmas morning.
The Christmas feast might start on Christmas Eve, with a special breakfast on Christmas morning, or at midday on Christmas Day.
Some families have a tradition of carol singing, and might go around the streets, to hospitals and other such places singing with members of their church.
Other families like to watch certain television programs together, which might include carol services and the Queen's Message.
Some families use Christmas as a time to play music and sing together, or to read a favourite book such as "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

Thames Embankment in the Snow

Cards and Presents

The giving of gifts at Christmas comes from several different ideas.
One is that God gave his son, Jesus, to the world at Christmas.
There is also the story of the Wise Men who came to the baby Jesus with three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
For many centuries it has been the custom for people to give small gifts at Christmas, and also to give generously to the poor and needy to help them through the winter.
Another tradition has become linked to this one, and the result is the tradition of Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as he is sometimes called, and who is nowadays thought by many children to be the bringer of presents.
In the 4th century, in a Greek village that is now part of Turkey, there was a good man who would secretly given presents to the poor to help them.
He became a bishop and is called Saint Nicholas.
His name was often shortened to Sante Claus, or Santa Claus in English.
Santa Claus, (or Father Christmas) is usually thought of as coming on Christmas Night, when his magic sleigh is pulled across the sky by reindeer, and he comes into houses through the chimney.
The English tradition is to hang up stockings (or long socks) in front of the fireplace.
Santa Claus would traditionally fill the socks or shoes with nuts, raisins, chocolates and an orange. Nowadays children usually get much more expensive presents, and hang up pillow cases or have the presents in a big pile under the Christmas tree.
Another Christmas tradition is the sending of cards to friends and relatives.
These contain warm greetings and may also have a letter telling all the things that have happened to the person or family during the year

Albert Memorial in the Snow
Kensington Gardens - London
Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner, usually eaten in the middle of the day, is an important part of the family celebration.
The food differs from country to country and also from family to family.
Roasted meat and vegetables is generally the main course of the meal.
Often several types of meat are served, which may include turkey, ham, roast beef or lamb.
There are often several courses, with special treats that are usually only eaten at Christmas.
The traditional dessert is Christmas plum pudding.
Nowadays these are often bought from bakers, but many people make their own to a family recipe.
The tradition came from the Middle Ages when the pudding was used to preserve some of the fruit from the Autumn until the mid-winter.
A traditional pudding is baked six weeks before Christmas and is left tied up in a cloth, in a cool place. Stirring the pudding is sometimes a family tradition, with everyone making a wish as they stir.
Traditionally a silver coin would be stirred into the pudding, to bring luck to the person who found it. Nowadays most coins cannot be used because they taste horrible and may be poisonous.
Some families use old coins or silver charms.
On Christmas Day the pudding must be boiled in a pot for several hours.
When it is served, the cloth is cut off, brandy is poured onto the pudding, and is set on fire before it is carried to the table.
Many families have a Christmas Cake or a special bread instead of a pudding (or as well as a pudding).
Other Christmas food includes raisins, sultanas, ginger, Turkish delight, almonds, chocolates, caramel toffee, candy canes and oranges.
Many families also prepare mulled wine which is warmed with cinnamon and nutmeg or egg nogs, a sweet drink made of milk, sugar, eggs, nutmeg and sometimes alcohol.



Christmas Shopping - Harrods - Kensington

Harrods is an upmarket department store located in Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London.
The store occupies a 5-acre (20,000 m2) site and has over one million square feet (90,000 m2) of selling space in over 330 departments making it the biggest department store in Europe.
The Harrods motto is 'Omnia Omnibus Ubique—All Things for All People, Everywhere'.
Several of its departments, including the seasonal Christmas department and the Food Hall, are world famous.

Christmas Shopping - Harrods - Kensington

Christmas Shopping - Harrods - Harry Winston - Kensington

Christmas Shopping - Selfridges - Oxford Street

Selfridges is a high end department stores in Regent's Street, in the United Kingdom. It was founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge.
The flagship store in London's Oxford Street is the second largest shop in the UK (after Harrods) and opened 15 March 1909.
The London store was designed by Daniel Burnham.
The London store was built in phases, the first phase consisting only of the nine-and-a-half bays closest to the Duke Street corner.
A scheme to erect a massive tower above the store was never carried out.
Also involved in the design of the store were American architect Francis Swales, who worked on decorative details, and British architects R. Frank Atkinson and Thomas Smith Tait.
The distinctive polychrome sculpture above the Oxford Street entrance is the work of British sculptor Gilbert Bayes.
Selfridges in London was named world's best department store in 2010.

Christmas Shopping - Selfridges - Tom Ford - Oxford Street

Christmas Shopping - Selfridges - Wonder Room - Oxford Street

Christmas Shopping - Bond Street - London

Bond Street is a major shopping street in the West End of London that runs north-south through Mayfair between Oxford Street and Piccadilly.
It has been a fashionable shopping street since the 18th century and is currently the home of many high price fashion shops.
The southern section is known as Old Bond Street, and the northern section, which is rather more than half the total length, is known as New Bond Street.
This distinction, however, is not generally made in everyday usage.
It is one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world.

Christmas Shopping - Christmas in Regents Street - London

Regent Street is one of the major shopping streets in London's West End, well known to tourists and Londoners alike, and famous for its Christmas illuminations.
It is named after the Prince Regent (later George IV), and is commonly associated with the architect John Nash, whose street layout survives, although all his original buildings except All Souls Church have since been replaced.

Favourite Presents from Christmas Past

Images © Copyright Peter Crawford 2014



A 1950s Christmas
(excerpt from the biography of Peter Craword
'So Long Ago So Clear')

During the war (1939-1945) Christmas was very much 'on hold'.

For those were serving abroad, Christmas could be a very miserable affair.

Shepherd's Hotel - Cairo
For John Crawford, in Egypt, Christmas had plenty of alcholic cheer at Shepherd's Hotel in Cairo, but little of the atmosphere of an English Christmas.

For Jane, it was a very much a series of 'Utility Christmases', as London limped along, first with the 'Blitz', and then with the VI's and VII's.
And, of course, rationing and shortages made Christmas very much a matter of 'make do and mend'.
When the war ended, however, things began to get back to normal.
Much to everyon'e disapointment, though, rationing continued, with even bread (which had not been rationed during the war) being strictly rationed.
It was only in the early fifties that Christmas, at last, things began to return to normal.
Even the relatively wealthy middle and upper-middle classes, however, didn't indulge in the uncontrolled extravagance that is now, in the twenty-first century, considered normal.
This was partly because people could not obtain a Christmas on credit, as people do now, but was also because years of privation had tempered people's appetites.
With sales of alchol a tiny fraction, nationwide, compared to now, most people had a relatively 'sober' Christmas.
In addition, preparations for Christmas only began in the second half of December, and most Christmas shopping took place on the last few days before Christmas Day, with much of it centering on Christmas Eve.
There was also a strong religious element to Christmas celebrations, with large attendances at Anglican and Catholic Churches for Midnight Mass, and Christmas Morning Services.

Baker Street
For Peter, Christmas began in early December (not in November or earlier, as now) with a number of trips to Poulton's Toy Shop.
Although the trips were supposedly to buy one or two 'Britain's' toy soldiers, in reality Jane was checking to see which toys Peter was really interested in.
In addition, there would be at least one trip to Baker Street, and then to the shops in Oxford Street - Selfridges, in Oxford Street, and Hamley's in Regents 

Street to further detirmine the toys that Peter might like.  
Later, of course, unknown to Peter, Jane and John whoul make their own trip to buy the toys that Peter wanted.

'Cussons' Talcum Powder
On Christmas Eve, while Jane got on with preparing the Christmas meal, John would take Peter to the carol singing outside Murfits, on the Broadway, and then to Boots the Chemist (nothing like today's apalling self service stores), and Peter would be given a special Christmas allowance that he was allowed (and expected) to spend on a present for Jane - which was usually some 'Yardley' or 'Cussons' soap and talcum powder.
With the sound of Carols under the Christmas tree in the highstreet, and the briliantly lit shops, with their sparkling displays of Christmas goods, Christmas Eve was always a magical time for Peter.

Christmas Turkey
And, of course, there would be meetings with neighbours, and friendly shopkeepers, because in the early fifties everyone knew one another (and many, of course, had been together through the dangers and privations of the war).
John would also by the Christmas turkey.
Turkeys, in the early fifties, were more popular than chicken because, surprisingly, chicken was extremely expensive.
And the turkey was not frozen, but hanging from the outside of the butcher's shop, which had sawdust on the floor.
John usually bought the Christmas tree a few days before Christmas eve.
Later, in the fifties, as Jane was always complaining about the 'fallen needles' they decided to buy and artificial tree (they were not common at that time).
However, the tree was never decorated until Christmas eve.
Unlike today, most people would never think of extending Christmas for weeks.
The tree would be decorated by Peter on Christmas eve, and after Jane and John had checked that it had been done properly, (after all, Peter was only little), the decorated tree would stay up until Twelfth Night (a tradition largely forgotten now).

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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016 
'Feasts and Festivals'


London Christmas 2012

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012


England in the Snow

Formal Gardens - Regents Park in the Snow

Formal Gardens - Regents Park in the Snow

Japanese Garden - Regents Park in the Snow

Windsor Castle in the Snow

Worcester Cathedral in the Snow

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