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Christmas in the United Kingdom

In the UK (or Great Britain), families often celebrate Christmas together, so they can watch each other open their presents!

Most families have a Christmas Tree (or maybe even two!) in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping. Christmas Trees were first popularised the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was German, and thought that it would be good to use one of his ways of celebrating Christmas in to England.

Children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus leaves presents in stockings or pillow-cases. These are normally hung up by the fire or by the children's beds on Christmas Eve. Children sometimes leave out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas to eat and drink when he visits them. Now, some people say that a non-alcoholic drink should be left for Santa as he has to drive!

In Scotland, some people celebrate New Year's Eve (which is called Hogmanay) more than Christmas! The word Hogmanay comes from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. All across the UK, in cities and towns, there are fireworks to celebrate the New Year. Two of the most famous fireworks displays are in London, along the River Thames, and in Edinburgh at the Hogmanay celebrations.

Also in Scotland, the first person to set foot in a house in a New Year is thought to have a big effect on the fortunes of the people that live there! Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as 'first footing'. In England it is sometimes said that a stranger coming through the door carrying a lump of coal will bring good luck.

In Scots (a Scottish dialect) Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Blithe Yule'; in Gaelic it's 'Nollaig Chridheil'; in Welsh (which is spoken in some parts of Wales it's 'Nadolig Llawen' and Manx (spoken by some people on the Isle of Man) it's 'Nollick Ghennal'. The UK is also famous for Christmas Cake - some people love it and some people really don't like it! It's traditionally a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and icing - and often top with Christmas themed cake decorations like a spring of holly.

In the UK, it doesn't snow very often, but people always want to know if it will be a 'White Christmas'. The British definition, used by the UK Meteorological Office (who say if it has been a White Christmas in the UK or not!), is that a single snow flake has been seen falling in the 24 hours of Christmas Day! This doesn't happen a lot in the UK!!!

Christmas in France

In France, a Nativity crib is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them. During December some towns and cities, such as Marseilles, have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest.

In French Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Joyeux Noël'. In Breton (spoken by some people in Brittany, Northern France) it's 'Nedeleg Laouen' and in Corsican it's 'Bon Natale'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

Yule Logs made out of Cherry Wood are often burned in French homes. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom that the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.

In France, Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). In eastern France he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a man dressed in black. He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands.

The main Christmas meal, called Réveillon, is eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight Church Service. Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, lobster, venison and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.

Christmas in Germany

A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent. Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that are used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it. Each box or bag has a little present in it. Another type is called a 'Advent Kranz' and is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it. This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in Churches. One candle is lit at the beginning of each week in Advent.

Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas eve. In some parts of Germany, during the evening the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum, Ihr Kinderlein Kommet and Stille Nacht (Slient Night).

Sometimes wooden frames, covered with coloured plastic sheets and with electric candles inside, are put in windows to make the house look pretty from the outside.

Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families.

In German Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Frohe Weihnachten'. Germany is well known for its Christmas Markets where all sorts of Christmas foods and decorations are sold. Perhaps the most famous German decorations are glass ornaments. The glass ornaments were originally hand blown glass and were imported in the USA in 1880s by the Woolworth stores.