Christmas is Britain's most popular holiday
and is characterized by traditions which date back
hundreds of years. Many Christmas customs which originated
in Britain have been adopted in the United States.
The first ever Christmas card was posted in England
in the 1840s, and the practice soon became an established
part of the build-up to Christmas. Over a billion Christmas
cards are now sent every year in the United Kingdom,
many of them sold in aid of charities.
Christmas decorations in general have even earlier
origins. Holly, ivy and mistletoe are associated with
rituals going back beyond the Dark Ages. (The custom
of kissing beneath a sprig of mistletoe is derived
from an ancient pagan tradition.) The Christmas tree
was popularised by Prince Albert, husband of Queen
Victoria, who introduced one to the Royal Household
in 1840. Since 1947, the country of Norway has presented
Britain annually with a large Christmas tree which
stands in Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian
cooperation during the Second World War.
Popular among children at Christmas time are pantomimes:
song and dance dramatisations of well-known fairy tales
which encourage audience participation.
Carols are often sung on Christmas Eve by groups of
singers to their neighbours, and children hang a stocking
on the fireplace or at the foot of their bed for Santa
Claus (also named Father Christmas) to fill. Presents
for the family are placed beneath the Christmas tree.