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Facts about Historical Holiday Traditions

Every family has traditions that are passed down from generation to generation - in our house, we have cheese fondue on Christmas Eve - a little out of the ordinary, but we love it. Traditions change and evolve over time, but sometimes it's nice to look back on past generations and look at how they celebrate. We'd love to hear about your family traditions, share them with us on Facebook


Winter Solstice

A Pagan tradition, Winter Solstice celebrates the shortest day (hours of light) of the year, sometimes called Yule and also the longest night. This event is celebrated around the world with festivals of light, and in some parts of the world, it symbolises the official start of winter.

The Winter Solstice falls on December 21st and we see only 7hrs and 49 minutes of daylight in UK. Some Christmas traditions are actually Winter Solstice traditions, such as the Christmas tree. It was seen as a symbol of continual life - being an evergreen tree.

Stockings and oranges

With the cost of Stocking fillers rising, this is a tradition that many families continue to do, or ought to introduce. During past recessions, when money was tight, sweet fruits were considered a treat, and segmented fruit could be shared with the whole family.

There are many thoughts as to the meaning behind the orange from it representing generosity and altruism, to being a substitute for gold. Whatever the original roots of this tradition, it's one that needs a revival!

Bringing in the Yule log- Christmas Eve

Long, long, ago, in Scandinavia, the tradition of Yule Logs began. Rumour has it that as long as the Yule og was burning, no one had to work - usually for 12 nights.

The word Yule came from the Viking Era and was their word for Christmas. The log was oversized, brought in from the forest, and thought to have magical properties. It was also meant to bring good luck to those who helped bring it to the hearth.

If the log burned out early, it was considered bad luck - today these are represented by a delicious chocolate sponge, rolled into a log and covered in chocolate icing and sugar dusted snow.


While you are unlikely to see this in practice, as Wassailing is a very ancient custom. The word 'wassail' comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase 'waes hael', which means 'good health'. Originally, the wassail was a creamy drink made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar.

Served piping hot in huge bowls, Wassailing was traditionally done on New Year's Eve and Twelfth Night, as it was indulgent. Some rich people drank Wassail in the 12 days leading up to Christmas! A more modern twist on Wassail is Jamaican Guinness Punch. The Guinness, a light ale, is mixed with milk, condensed milk and spices like vanilla and nutmeg, similar to wassail.


Another Pagan tradition, "Mumming" meaning to make a diversion in disguise, was a great excuse for a party. As part of the festive gather, people were known to swap clothes, wear masks, visit the neighbours and generally act silly.

Like Carollers, they would visit neighbours in the 12 days leading up to Christmas, performing impromptu displays of dance, music, jokes, or recitations. Part of the fun was guessing who the mummers were, and then partaking in food and drink. 

The light hearted fun came to an end in medieval times when Henry VII made a law saying that anyone caught mumming wearing a mask would be put in prison for three months because people were using it as a an opportunity to beg and steal.

Mumming did have a few different names depending on the area for example in Scotland it was known as 'Gusards' or 'Guising'; in Somerset, 'Mumping'; in Warwickshire, 'Thomasing'; and 'Corning' in Kent.

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