Christmas in Great Britain
Language Arts, Reading, Social Studies, World History
Grade 3- 5
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Students will learn about the Christmas customs in Great Britain.
Happy Christmas! is the traditional English Christmas greeting. Many of the most popular Christmas customs in the world today come from Great Britain. For example, the Christmas card originated in England, and some think that school children were the first to send them. Away from home attending school, they would make and send beautiful cards informing their parents of their progress and hinting that gift-giving season was near. The first Christmas card was printed in England in 1843, and its popularity grew.
“Wassailing” is also a British custom. Groups of people walk up and down the streets of their neighborhoods at Christmastime singing carols while sipping a hot punch-like drink. The children in the group hope to receive treats while they sing. Wassail means “be in good health,” and when a group of people drink wassail together, all quarreling is supposed to end. Wassailing takes place most commonly during the twelve days of Christmas (between Christmas and January 6). Traditionally, this whole period is a time of great revelry.
“Mumming” is another English tradition. People dress in costumes and masks to put on Christmas plays throughout the holiday season. Sometimes Father Christmas joins in the festivities, too.
Before the English have their Christmas feast, they pull open Christmas “crackers.” These are paper cylinders filled with small prizes and riddles. They make a noisy cracking sound when opened. Sometimes they include paper hats which are to be worn around the holiday dinner table.
After dinner, the family goes to a sitting room to tell ghost stories or “Christmas Tales.” The most famous tale is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There may be a Yule log in the fireplace, although this is not as large as it was many years ago. In many homes today, candles have replaced blazing fires to represent the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of the World.
Boxing Day in England is on December 26. In the past, people rewarded their good servants with gifts of money enclosed inside special boxes that were opened on the day after Christmas. Today, this public holiday is still celebrated, but the “Christmas boxes” are given to community workers such as mail carriers.
- Ghostly Christmas stories were popular in England. Share some of these with your students, and then ask them to write their own ghost stories with a Christmas theme. Illustrate them and put them in the school library to be shared with other classes.
- Practice the art of mumming. Write a Christmas play and perform it for parents, using costumes and masks.
- Make pomander balls. To do so, each child will need one whole orange, whole cloves, and ribbon or yarn. Push whole cloves into the orange peel until the entire orange is “studded.” Tie ribbon around the ball to make a sling and leave a length for hanging it. Set it aside for several weeks to dry. (Optional: Place it inside a nylon bag to dry more evenly.) Tighten the yarn hanger as necessary and hang in a room or closet for a wonderful scent.
- Some famous English Christmas carols are included with the activity sheets. Learn the songs, and then ask the students how they reflect English Christmas traditions.
Make Christmas Crackers
On a scraps of paper, have students write a riddle, joke, or lesson (moral) to be enclosed in the cracker.
Cut the construction paper into 7 in x 12 in (17.5 cm x 30 cm) pieces.
Roll the cardboard tube in tissue paper. Tape or glue if desired.
With yarn, tie a tight bow in one end and fan out the remaining paper.
Place the riddle and toys or candies inside the tube.
Use yarn to tie up the other end.
When the Christmas celebration begins, yank both ends to pull open the cylinders and discover the treats.
Make Gift Boxes
Duplicate the gift box pattern on a variety of colored paper.
Let students choose a color they like and add decorations before putting it together.
Cut and fold the box according to the steps listed on the pattern page.
After inserting a small gift item, tie the box closed with ribbon or yarn.
- cardboard toilet paper tube
- any color tissue paper
- small toys or wrapped candies
- small scraps of paper
- copies of gift box pattern
- markers or stickers for decoration
- copies of traditional English Christmas carols