The history of Christmas in Britain is a story of considerable change over the centuries as civilisation developed and cultural practices evolved in new directions. From prehistoric celebrations around the midwinter solstice, to boisterous Medieval festivities, to the Victorian Christmas which shaped the festival we know today.
But are you finding the prospect of spending another Christmas slumped in front of the TV with the relations less than exciting?
Does the excessive present giving and pressure to over-eat fill you with dread? Don’t worry. A lot of people feel the same. And, these days, many are looking for alternative ways to celebrate Christmas.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can do it differently this year.
Go on, take a hike
If the endless entertaining has taken its toll, then this is your chance to get outdoors, enjoy the winter landscape and blow away the cobwebs. Walking through some woodland, along a coastal path, over a hill, listening to the crunch of the frosty ground underfoot, helps us reconnect with nature. It puts worldly engagements in perspective. And reminds us of what really matters in life: friendship, community, simplicity.
Ordnance Survey has put together a lovely set of Christmas walks to get you started.
Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or church
Contact your local night shelter or church to see if they need volunteers on Christmas Day. Many provide Christmas lunches for homeless and vulnerable or elderly people. They always need an extra pair of hands, whether it’s helping out in the kitchen or talking to the guests. It’s a nice way of connecting with your community on this special day.
Make a donation to a local food bank
Many people are finding it hard to keep their heads above water and afford essential groceries as the cost-of-living crisis gets worse. Foodbanks are also struggling to meet rising demand as donations fall as a result of the crisis. Donating food (or money) will help them give people a Christmas they would otherwise not have been able to afford. Drop the food off at a supermarket collection point or take it directly to your nearest foodbank, which you can find on the Trussell Trust website.
Try a reverse advent calendar
This is a lovely way to give back during the festive season. Instead of eating a piece of chocolate each day to mark the period leading up to Christmas (or opening an alcoholic miniature!), why not try a reverse advent calendar? The idea is to put aside a daily donation to a local charity for 24 days, based on a particular theme that you choose. This could be children’s toys, books or clothes. So, find a suitable box or make a festively decorated container. And then, on the final day, take it down to your charity of choice. After all, Christmas is all about giving!
A lot of people find the increasingly frenetic commercialisation of Christmas very stressful. One solution is to escape the Christmas madness by booking yourself into a retreat. There’s a growing number of wellness, yoga and meditation retreats which help you to slow down, get off the treadmill and recharge your batteries.
The downside is that they can be quite expensive! An alternative is to book a cosy cottage getaway with your partner or a few friends. Relax outdoors and enjoy the peace and quiet. Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District anyone?
Just say no
Growing numbers of people have stopped giving each other presents at Christmas (at least between adults). They’ve come to the sensible conclusion that this particular form of gift-giving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Placing unnecessary pressure on people ‘to buy, buy, buy’ things that the recipients often don’t want or need.
Instead, they gift each other time, cut out the anxiety of buying for long lists of relatives, and free money up that you can use instead for special events or family adventures. At a time of acute financial pressure, for many people, I can see the benefits!
Go to church
Yes, I know I said earlier that we’re looking at alternative ways of celebrating Christmas. But as levels of belief in the Christian faith decline in Britain (only around a third of Britons now identify as Christian) discovering, or rediscovering, the religious character of the festival can be a neat way of engaging deeper with your community whilst also tackling the materialism that mars society. Using the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the spirit of Christmas and how it manifests itself in the positive feelings that we experience collectively, including greater altruism and goodwill.
Christmas Day is traditionally the busiest day of the year for churches. Special services are offered over the festive season, including carol services, Christmas masses, nativity services and bible readings. If you can’t get along to your local church, you can still enjoy Carols from King’s, the traditional candlelit celebration of Christmas broadcast on BBC2 from the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.
Other faiths and no faith
Of course, it goes without saying in a multi-cultural country like Britain that non-Christians will have different perspectives on the tradition of Christmas. What’s interesting is how, for many, it’s gradually become a traditional British holiday, with a largely secular character, as people of other faiths and no faith take part in the festivities. Using it as an opportunity to celebrate family, community – and good food!
So, let’s reclaim Christmas and make it less about ‘getting’ and more about ‘giving’. Refocusing on relationships and spending time with the people who are dear to us.
Do you like to do Christmas differently? Let us know how in the comments below!