Traditional Christmas Celebrated but More Modest Festive Parties Rounded Off 2023

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A Traditional Family Christmas was Celebrated Across England

With a few exceptions the main theme across England this December was preparing for a relatively modest and traditional Christmas with (for those who are lucky enough) the nearest and dearest ones in our lives.

A cost-of-living crisis and political unrest internationally mean that there was an atmosphere of low-key thanksgiving for the blessings that this year has brought. These grateful sentiments have been embraced by millions of us adults who are fortunate enough to enjoy a relatively normal Christmas with our families and friends.

There have been Christmas parties, especially for the younger people in our communities. The shops have been optimistically full of sequined garments although it is unclear yet whether anything much more than a flock of fleecy onesies was eagerly purchased, in any great quantity, ready to dazzle with ‘strictly come dancing style’ during this winter’s social season.

In December The Guardian wrote that food and drinks “sales in London were up 3% in October versus last year, but fell 2.5% outside the capital.” (1) Radio 4’s news program interviewed hospitality sector leaders who have observed that Christmas parties involving meeting for drinks after work, instead of the traditional sit-down meal type of festive dining, have become the new normal as employers look to stick to their cautiously sized entertainment budgets.

Traditional Christmas room decoration, John Lewis, Chichester, West Sussex. Photo by A.Howse
Traditional Christmas room decoration, John Lewis, Chichester, West Sussex. Photo by A.Howse

It’s all about the Christmas trees

Festive trees symbolising the bringing of light and hope for future friendships and neighborhood harmony have been especially popular all over the United Kingdom and beyond. Natural materials are favored wherever possible as everyone looks to consider the environment. Trees have often been large and given center stage in public places and just dressed with white or gold lights. Simple baubles in classic colours of red or silver and gold have been ideal for making trees glow with festive spirit.

In England real Christmas trees reflected the simplicity of a traditional Winterfest and were pride of place in millions of houses that could afford to choose this fragrant treat. However, there is a debate to be considered about the carbon footprint of real trees especially when you consider transportation and recycling costs.

Old, handblown glass and artisan made special Christmas tree decorations are particularly treasured by many in Great Britain. Unique decorations are perfect as a small token gift to mark the holiday and thank loved ones for their support during the year.

English country houses and visitor attractions like Petworth House in Sussex magically transform into Christmas palaces to the enthrallment of local and international visitors alike. Twenty-four different traditionally decorated grand festive firs transformed rooms covered in antique furnishings and some of the country’s finest artworks into royally picturesque interiors of breathtaking beauty. (2)

Lights and trees reach across all the cultures and religions in the UK and make inclusive displays that positively improve rural and city environments for everyone, during the long dark nights and grey days in England.

Petworth House, National Trust, kitchen ready for Christmas, West Sussex. Photo by A. Howse
Petworth House, National Trust, kitchen ready for Christmas, West Sussex. Photo by A. Howse

Traditional seasonal activities and pastimes

A focus on providing a magical traditional Christmas for children during these difficult times for many has inspired creativity and seen a reemergence of handmade crafts, vintage games and activities such as ice-skating.  Booking online to visit Father Christmas was easy in most neighborhoods and Santa’s grotto popped up in visitor attractions, shopping malls and garden centers all across the United Kingdom.

‘Make Your Own’ activities are popular this year as people look for activities to do at home that amuse children and adults alike without spending very much money. Paper decorations and origami figures easily add joy to any inside space. Wreath making classes were available in the runup to the big day, all over the British Ilses, for friends to enjoy making memories and something special together.

Shopping online is as busy and thriving for all types of retailers as ever. However, this year hundreds of Christmas markets around the country tempted locals and visitors alike to shop local and support businesses and makers in their counties economic area whilst simultaneously gaining a wonderful festive experience.

There was a lovely atmosphere at many of the Christmas markets with folk using the opportunity to spend quality time with friends and enjoy some mulled wine or hot chocolate while listening to live buskers sing and play festive tunes. Carol services and community singing events are still really popular across the UK and the school nativity is an important fixture on any primary school parent’s schedule. (3)

Christmas pop and rock music classics from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are essential listening for everyone in England and the shops and radio stations mean that it is almost impossible to get halfway through December without hearing George Micheal’s iconic ‘Last Christmas’ playing out soulfully somewhere.

Reading of all varieties has been the chosen way to spend nights by the fire or inside a cozy home for English residents of all ages. and we are happy to report that bookshops such as Waterstones are featuring as prominently as ever on our high streets, despite the emergence of competitive online retail giants like Amazon.

Watching classic family entertainment on TV is still a well-loved ritual in most houses over the winter holidays. In millions of houses the Christmas Day afternoon tradition of watching the 3 o ’clock Queen’s speech now stars King Charles III but still resonates with those who support a traditional way of life in Britain and are fans of the monarchy.

Christmas specials are still essential for any series with lots of fans that is worth its salt. Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry and many other famous chefs show the country how to ace their festive spreads and impress the guests. Streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and channels such as Disney as well as original broadcasters like the BBC have shown an amazing selection of movies of all varieties to keep even the hardiest binge watchers of TV series, enthusiastically enthralled. (3)

Gyles Brandeth jumpers at Petersfield Museum, Hampshire. Photo by A.Howse
Gyles Brandeth jumpers at Petersfield Museum, Hampshire. Photo by A.Howse

Clothing gifts and gifts for the home

A key trend is hand knitting and crochet items and handmade gifts such as painted ceramics were also popular. Indoor and winter flowering plants in simple pots are everywhere as uplifting yuletide gifts as well.

Gyles Brandeth is known as a writer, artist, broadcaster and sometimes member of British parliament. His collection of bright eccentric handmade jumpers captured the imagination of the general public during the 1980’s when they were worn on television and celebrities also ordered copies of these original pieces. (4)

This season the Petersfield Museum in Hampshire exhibited a jolly selection of these wooly treasures to the delight of the cultural attraction’s visitors. The event finished on the 23rd of December but many jumpers can be viewed and purchased at the brands website Gyles and George. (5)

Knitted and crocheted dresses and sweaters are set to be trendy throughout 2024 so there is still time to pick up those needles and get ready for next Christmas too.

Hillier Garden Centre Christmas display, West Sussex. Photo by A.Howse
Hillier Garden Centre Christmas display, West Sussex. Photo by A.Howse

Food and drink gifts

Special bottles of alcoholic drinks (or spicy non-alcoholic alternatives) and even pretty hampers of Christmas goodies have been in widely creatively curated, or ordered and whisked off the supermarket shelves. These simple gifts for close family also make more luxurious gifts for friends and business partners and are always eagerly accepted as donations towards a jolly holiday week or two.

Gingerbread houses and baking festive decorations (that are sometimes edible) are both good examples of this idea. (6)

Home cooking and handmade food gifts were the focus of many families annual get togethers as people use their time creatively to make the most of the simple pleasures of sharing special meals and entertaining times with their nearest and dearest. Cookbooks are still really in fashion as there are always more recipes to try in the new energy efficient air fryers recently purchased around the country. Even vintage cook books are reappearing in many homes as rediscovered treasures.

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas was held at Kensington Olympia in November to make the most of the trend for meeting friends and buying treats earlier in the winter season. Hundreds of small businesses showcased their fun, practical and often delicious product selections. There was a real buzz as ‘experts’ on stage advised how to prepare an English home for guests complete with professional hosting tips. Hundreds of visiting folks enjoyed sampling all the flavoursome treats available in the Ideal Home Show at Christmas food hall. (7)

Toy Soldiers at Christmas Ideal Home Exhibition 2023 Olympia, London. Photo by A.Howse
Toy Soldiers at Christmas Ideal Home Exhibition 2023 Olympia, London. Photo by A.Howse

Pets and animal themed characters keep Christmas fun

A stunning white scene of many furry white reindeer complete with snowflake caked antlers and ‘snowy’ Christmas trees greeted lucky show visitors to London’s Christmas Ideal Home Exhibition. A perfectly traditional Father Christmas happily chatted with exhibition attendees from the luxury of his big red sleigh. (7)

Animals and pets are really special to almost everyone in this rather unreliable and often overwhelming world we live in at the moment. Therefore, products and services that are animal themed or aimed at pet owners are in all the events, high streets and markets in England at the moment.

Most animals are good for our mental and physical health and we can’t get enough of them and their crazy antics cheering us up over the colder winter months. Thousands of Christmas cards and gifts feature animals of all sorts this year. Peace doves are understandably having a moment and cute cats and dogs are here to stay and are as celebrated as the reindeer and farmyard animals of any classic Christmas nativity.

Gluten free crumble top mince pies. Photo by A.Howse
Gluten free crumble top mince pies. Photo by A.Howse

Futuristic interpretations of more traditional Christmases to follow

2023 saw the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the somber funeral where the world paid their respects to an outstanding leader who was popular and respected across the Commonwealth and internationally. Shortly afterwards an elaborate coronation of King Charles III in London and the United Kingdom was also televised and watched all over the world by many millions of people.

During recent years developments in technology have expanded the possibilities of communicating large scale events to a global audience and this year welcomed wonderful enchanting exterior light shows into current vogue.

Beefeaters at Tower of London, Crown and Coronation. Phto by A.Howse
Beefeaters at Tower of London, Crown and Coronation. Phto by A.Howse

The Coronation and the Crown show at The Tower of London celebrated the history of the English monarchy and the coronation, telling the story through classical music and stunning ever changing projected colour visuals which used the famous monumental and ancient architecture as its striking backdrop. We will eagerly look out for more musical 3D lightshows next winter. (8)

Even if a traditional Christmas is here to stay the way we engage with businesses and each other has changed for most English residents. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are very much a major part of inspiring and communicating all the latest tips and tricks for experiencing maximum enjoyment over the holidays.

Companies of all sizes, often working in partnership with influencers who demonstrate their wares, can now bring their festive products and seasonal services directly to their customers. Fans of individual brands can relax and scroll through their feeds on their hand-held devices. Making purchases and home delivery orders is now as easy as a click of a button.

Photos and videos posted online share get-togethers and celebrations with neighbours and family located everywhere, in an instant. Online groups for everything you could ever think of provide companionship and support for those having a quieter festive week or two, for whatever reason. Influencers and experts give advice, recipes and tips for everything from cooking turkey safely to perfect outfit and present ideas when attending formal Christmas dinner parties at the in-laws.

Digital gifts are a growth area and provide a way of sending an experience that can be chosen by the receiver and scheduled at a later date that suits the individual. Digital greeting cards, Zoom and WhatsApp parties and homemade phone family videos are bound to continue to be shared between millions of people all over the world during the holidays next year too.

Artificial intelligence may not be able to write a Christmas number one anytime soon but virtual reality games are bound to introduce exciting nostalgic Christmas experiences in faraway Nordic lands without the need for even leaving the house. Fake Christmas is a term used to describe throwing a full Christmas event on days that do not conventionally follow the usual dates of a late December Christmas.

Families are increasingly diverse, divided and non-conventional than ever. As people are traveling more again and working life gets more demanding and businesses are increasingly expected to provide services around the clock every day of the year, we may find more fake Christmas or extra Christmas days become the norm. So, get used to feeling festive over the whole winter season as people look for creative ways to enjoy a traditional Christmas together, in whatever flexible ways work for them and their loved ones.

(1) ‘It’s pretty brutal out there’: Struggling UK pubs and restaurants pray spirit of Christmas past will reappear, Rob Davies, The Guardian, 4 December 2023 (1) ‘It’s pretty brutal out there’: Struggling UK pubs and restaurants pray spirit of Christmas past will reappear, Rob Davies, The Guardian

(2) Petworth, National Trust, 4 January 2024 Petworth, National Trust, 4 January 2024

(3) Christmas Markets, BBC News, 4 January 2024 Christmas Markets, BBC News

(4) Christmas on the BBC, 4 January 2024 Christmas on the BBC

(5) Petersfield Museum and Art Gallery, 4 January 2024 Petersfield Museum and Art Gallery,

(6) Gyles and George website for Gyles Brandeth’s jumper collection and online shop, 4 January 2024 Gyles and George website for Gyles Brandeth’s jumper collection and online shop

(7) Hillier traditional Christmas decorating, 4 January 2024 Hillier traditional Christmas decorating, 4 January 2024

(8) Ideal Home Show – Inspiration for your ideal Christmas, 4 January 2024 https://www.idealhomeshowchristmas.co.uk/

(9) ‘Crown and Coronation Tour’ Tower of London, 4 January 2024 ‘Crown and Coronation Tour’ Tower of London