The Sipsmith Blog

The History of British Christmas Traditions

in Gin Culture December 19, 2016
British Christmas Traditions

It simply isn’t Christmas without the tree, the gifts, and the mince pies. But while these rituals feel like they’ve been with us forever, in truth, they’re more modern than you might think.

To get into the holiday spirit, we’re taking a step back in time to examine the origins of popular British Christmas traditions, from what we indulge in to how we decorate. (It turns out we owe the Victorians quite a debt of gratitude, and not only because of their gin palace-related innovations.)

The Tree

As with many British Christmas traditions, the Christmas tree is actually a more recent phenomenon than you might imagine—and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert get the credit for popularising it in the UK.

In 1848, a drawing in the Illustrated London News depicted the royals and their children celebrating the holiday with a spangled, decorated tree (Christmas trees as we know them today first appeared in Germany in the 16th century; this tree in question was installed to honour Albert’s German heritage). Quickly, the Christmas tree became all the rage around the country, and its popularity hasn’t waned since.

British Christmas Traditions

If Christmas trees are a relatively recent festive addition, Christmas feasting is something we’ve excelled at for centuries.

The Feast

If Christmas trees are a relatively recent festive addition, Christmas feasting is something we’ve excelled at for centuries. The origin of the Christmas dinner goes all the way back to the Elizabethan era, when wealthy households hosted elaborate banquets with dazzling spreads. Sugar was a luxury good in those days, so the pudding course was especially indulgent, full of all kinds of artfully prepared delicacies.

This was also the era that the mince pie first made its appearance in our fair land, though not quite as we know it today (read about the mince pie history that inspired our own Mince Pie Gin here.)

The turkey, however, can be credited to the Victorians: roast goose or beef were favoured previously, but turkey became the first feasting choice in the 19th century, thanks to its ability to feed large families.

Christmas Gift Guide

What better way to celebrate than with a gin tipple (or several)?

The Gifts

In centuries past, winter gift giving took place during the New Year, not during Christmas. We have the Victorians to thank once again for popularising the idea of Christmas presents.

As Christmas grew into a more prominent, family-centric holiday throughout the 19th century, it also became the time to exchange small trinkets. Festive gifting began humbly, with most exchanging fruits, sweets, and handmade gifts. Gradually, presents became more elaborate—and celebrating loved ones with generous tokens of affection became the norm.

That brings us up to today. Speaking of gifting, we like to think that our newly launched online shop celebrates the spirit of Christmas past, present, and future. Find a range of gins and boxed sets, alongside other tempting treats. For those who are feeling especially generous, you could even gift your favourite sippers a subscription to our Sipping Society. After all, if gin is an old British tradition, then gin at Christmas is one we can’t wait to celebrate.

Feature image © DNY59/iStock

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