The ten best things about Christmas

Ten best things about Christmas“The ten best things about Christmas” is entirely subjective; everyone has their own, unique, perception of an event.  Even if you took a poll, the results would depend on who and how many participated and, anyway, ‘best’ is not something that can be determined by a majority vote.  All that said, it is a good question to ask yourself: what are the best things about Christmas? What does Christmas mean to you?

If you’re not a fan of Christmas, please stop reading this immediately and instead read some of the hundreds of non-seasonal content on A Bit About Britain. Browse the menu, or go to the home page for inspiration.

First, some research.  If you put the query “ten best things about Christmas” into a search engine and hit ‘enter’, you will find most things you would expect to see, variously ranked.  You will also find a few things that may surprise you.  For example, ‘ice skating’ and ‘hot chocolate’, neither of which is particularly seasonal, popped up more than once when I did this.  I was especially surprised to see ‘dress up your pet’ appear on at least one list and wondered whether I had inadvertently ventured into a dark corner of the web; but I hadn’t – apparently, people really do dress their pets for Christmas.  Intrigued, and a little concerned, I could not resist searching “dress your pet for Christmas” and was amazed by the number and range of results. Despite giving me some ideas for my pet crab, Claws, surely, this kind of thing demonstrates a complete disrespect for animals, verging on objectification. I would point out that if you simply search for “dress for Christmas”, the results are much more pleasant. I look forward to any comments arising from this exercise.

Birth of JesusSo, in no particular order, among the other attributes that turn up in a web search for the best things about Christmas are: the birth of Jesus; presents (giving and receiving); being with family; Christmas Eve; snow; eggnog (whatever that is); Christmas Day; Christmas Music; lights and decorations; Christmas movies; Christmas Dinner; decorating the Christmas Tree; Santa Claus; Christmas markets; chocolate; parties; mistletoe; games; a Christmas walk; carols; ghost stories; pantomime; the Queen’s speech and Christmas pullovers.

Moving on, this article can only offer some personal suggestions:

1     Christmas Magic

Putting aside the pre-Christian origins of this midwinter feast, Christmas is – the clue is in the name – a celebration of the birth of Jesus, Christ’s mass.  After Easter, this is an enormously important date in the Christian calendar.  However, Christmas is also marked and celebrated by people of different faiths, and none.  Even if you do not believe in the Christian message, the story of the Nativity is a marvellous, mystical, legend that has endured for two thousand years.  The visit of the angel, the journey to Bethlehem, the inn that is full, the birth in a cowshed, the arrival of the shepherds, the wise men following the star – these things are such a familiar part of our culture.  Overlaying it all is a message of peace, love and hope.  Add in other ingredients, like holly, mistletoe, Yule logs, carols, decorations and Father Christmas and you end up with an extremely powerful, wondrous, brew.  What’s not to like?  It is intangible; it is Christmas magic.

Best things about Christmas

Click or tap here for more about Christmas Magic.

2     Christmas Eve

I realise that in many ways I have often preferred Christmas Eve and Boxing Day to the Day itself, which can get a little busy.  Christmas Eve, though, is rather special.  In my head, there is a decorated, slightly spicy-smelling home, carols playing softly in the background, a flickering fire in the grate and a sense of timeless enchantment in the air.  As a child, I remember listening for Father Christmas, watching for him among twinkling stars, and waking in the darkness with strange lumps on the floor where there had previously just been a large, empty, grey sock.  When my children were small, Father Christmas usually visited the lounge or dining room where, next to the cooled fireplace, there would be scattered twigs and leaves, blown in from the outside with his arrival. The furniture had been disturbed slightly; someone had definitely been in the room. The mince pie and whisky was gone and just the stub end of a carrot remained, with large teeth marks on it. And there, next to the hearth were filled, misshapen, stockings. The looks on children’s faces.  How can this not be one of the best things about Christmas?

3     A Christmas Carol

I have loved Charles Dickens’ novella, ‘A Christmas Carol’, for most of my life.  The story, almost as well known as the Nativity, is a warming parable of the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” of Dickens’ wondrously skilful pen. But there is more to it than that.  For a start, it is cleverly composed.  It is witty.  It is also subtle.  Dickens gets across some enormously serious social and moral issues without losing the reader in a tub-thumping 19th century version of a Twitter rant.  He simultaneously weaves in elements of the frightening supernatural as a means of getting his messages across – not, as heavier-handed authors and scriptwriters would do, merely to crudely petrify and shock.  Quite frankly, anyone who doesn’t get this should be condemned to walk the earth for eternity because their spirit is not going forth in life, as every person’s should.

Happy Xmas

Click or tap here for more about A Christmas Carol.  It is a lovely book. Read it aloud.

4     The sounds

The sounds of Christmas – carols, bells, naff music – are mostly unique to the time of year and that is what makes them special.  Collectively, they contribute to the season, which would not be the same without them.  I do accept that church bells are heard all year round, but sleigh bells generally are not.  Where would Christmas be without carols? I cannot listen to ‘Once In Royal David’s City’ and all the rest without being mentally transported back to a freezing cold church hall when I was in primary school; wonderful!  Most carol services in the UK are based on the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols created by Edward White Benson in 1880, which has been adapted and used all over the world.  Click or tap here to read more about this and Carols from King’s College.  Sadly, Christmas music is heard in places from October or earlier, which is depressing, because it diminishes its significance and is normally blasting out of rasping speakers for purely commercial reasons.  BBC Radio 2, to its credit, managed to contain itself until December this year.  Given the often juvenile level of political debate in the UK, I’m sure parliamentary time could easily be found for a small piece of legislation to ban Christmas music in public between January and late November.

Eleven million people watched the extraordinary Rose Ayling-Ellis win the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing 2021 competition this year.  Rose was born deaf and her beautiful performances and personality have raised awareness of deafness throughout the country like no campaign ever could. At one point, she and her partner, Giovanni Pernice, danced in absolute silence; it was astonishing to watch – both lovely and a stark insight into deafness.  The BBC said, “One moment of silence can help a community feel heard.” I could not mention that Christmas sounds are one of the best things about the season without also recognising that those of us who can hear them are lucky to be able to do so.

5     The smells

From one sensory experience to another, the smells of Christmas are special too, and I think collectively unique to the festive season.  You can probably experience them individually throughout the year – that Christmas tree smell by wandering through a pine forest, the smell of cakes baking, food roasting and even the scent of cinnamon and other spices (maybe not frankincense and myrrh), but they only come together at Christmas.  So Christmas smells are on my list of the ten best things about it – as long as you avoid those cheap chemically scented candles.

6     Trees and decorations

Minimally decorated or packed with baubles, it would not be Christmas without a tree of some sort.  When I was growing up, decorations were often home-made, often made of paper.  Baubles, though frequently beautiful, were manufactured of thin, highly fragile, glass that shattered easily.  Lights were unreliable – if a bulb went, it took an age to track down the offending item and woe betide you if you didn’t have some spares handy.  These days, lights are more reliable, safer, often battery-powered and far more plentiful.  They twinkle, not merely on Christmas trees, but outside houses, pubs and restaurants.  It is worth driving through residential areas just to look at them, even the tawdry over-the-top displays.  Decorations in general are better quality and altogether more sparkly than they used to be.  Somehow, this strikes me as more hopeful; evidence, perhaps, that we are a better-off society than hitherto.

Ten best things about Christmas

7     Buying and giving

Even as a kid, it was great buying things for people at Christmas: Gardenia talcum powder or bath salts for mum, a leather key ring or tobacco for my dad, Evening in Paris for gran.  As a teenager, I remember the thrill of being allowed to take the ‘bus into town on my own, and wandering through the shops and market stalls in search of things I thought people would like. The smells and sounds and bustle of Christmas were all around.  There was something liberating about it.  Even now, I actually enjoy a limited amount of Christmas shopping.  Wrapping is a chore, because I am so bad at it, but it is lovely seeing people open things.  I suspect most adults prefer giving to receiving, though of course I am grateful to receive gifts too.

Click or tap here for a bit about Christmas shopping – a visit to Liberty of London.  Did you know the timbers used in its construction came from two 19th century Royal Navy ships? You do now.

8     The paraphernalia

Christmas cards, crackers, silly hats, food you only get at Christmas.  It is only once a year; just sit back and enjoy it.

Click or tap here for more about Christmas cards (you may be surprised at how many we send) and here for a bit about the origins and custom of Christmas crackers. No, they weren’t introduced to Britain by US servicemen.

Christmas shopping

9     Christmas ale

It is quite common to see ‘special’ Christmas ales at this time of year.  Most of them are OK, though many tend to be simply heavy on the alcohol – presumably aimed at those who just want to fall asleep, or hit someone.  However, every now and again you come across a pub serving a really lovely draught Christmas ale, or perhaps a good bottled one, dark and malty, with a hint of fruit and a mere whiff of spice.  There’s quite a good one on at The Olde Ruptured Duck at the moment – Blitzen from the Black Sheep Brewery at Masham.  Of course, it is a little deer. Like a good curry, the flavours should be subtle, not lift the top of your head off. Whilst on the subject of alcohol at Christmas, a Buck’s Fizz at breakfast on Christmas morning with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon is a wonderful luxury; Christmas is pretty much the only time I will have an alcoholic drink before the evening.

10  Christmas time

If you’re lucky enough not to be working over Christmas (and a huge thank you to all that do, in the emergency services and so forth), I find it is the one time of year when it is possible to relax without worrying about all the other things you should be doing. Can true believers have a guilt-free Christmas; I’m sure they can.  Anyway, this is a time of year to spend with people you really want to be with (if you’re able to choose!), watch a cheesy movie (without fretting over life slipping away),  play games, sing, or whatever.  Individuals and organisations often make Christmas into some kind of critical deadline.  “We must decorate by Christmas”; “the project will be completed before Christmas” – and so on.  Deadlines make sense and if there’s a good reason for one being the 25th December, fine; but there often is not and, often, insufficient planning has gone into achieving it anyway.  So, assuming the sky has not fallen and you are not overly concerned at your upset, over-promoted, over-paid boss, switch-off and take things easy.  Take some Christmas time.  It is one of the best things about Christmas.

Ten best things about ChristmasChristmas features prominently in A Bit About Britain’s High Days and Holidays, along with a dozen other notable annual occasions and an extensive list of events that normally form a part of Britain’s year.  Some of this information, including an A-Z of Christmas, is also available in some form on this website.

Click or tap here for an article about the legendary Christmas Truce of 1914.

I want to thank anyone who has popped into A Bit About Britain and stayed to read anything this year, particularly if they have left a complimentary comment.  It tickles me that people come back – even the anonymous ones (we know who some of you are) – and that A Bit About Britain is read in so many places around the world.  Apologies for not saying thank you, or visiting other blogs, as often as I would like.  See you again soon…

81 thoughts on “The ten best things about Christmas

  1. pollymacleod

    Late again! I hope you and Mrs ABAB are having a good Christmas. I’m not a huge fan of Christmas anymore, but I do enjoy some aspects of it.‘A Christmas Carol’ would be on my list; traditional Christmas carols; definitely a decorated real tree and outdoor decorations; the Queen’s speech.
    I’m not surprised by the “dress your pet for Christmas”. Ordinarily I wouldn’t entertain this, but back in December 2017 my daughter bought festive coats for the dogs, they only wore them on Christmas and Boxing days. I agree it is bordering on abuse.
    Wishing you a veyr happy healthy 2022.

  2. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – I’ve enjoyed Christmas since you wrote this … most of those things came true! I do enjoy the tradition … but am grateful if ringing the changes need to be made – i.e. cooking for a Care Home as my Ma used to do … we went home and had an evening of champers and smoked salmon! Now I’m away from the left overs I’m into easy Christmassy food … and will have a peaceful New Year.

    Your blog has a wonderful British feel about it – a good thing as it refers to the title! Love it and reading the posts, learning new bits of info etc … take care and here’s to 2022 – cheers Hilary

  3. Anne Clare

    I’ve been absent from ABAB for too long- so glad I made it back for this wonderful post. What a great list! On a side note, I realized from one of yours last year that I’d never actually read A Christmas Carol, and rectified that.

    Now I’m curious, though- is eggnog not around across the Pond?

    Christmas music is most definitely at the top of my own list, as is the Children’s Service my kids will be part of- I love listening to them recite Luke 2 and hearing them sing. Cookie baking is also part of our preperations- I’m making the 6th (and final) batch for the year today!

    Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      The Children’s Service sounds lovely, Anne. As do the cookies! No – eggnog isn’t ‘a thing’ over here – having just looked at a recipe, it must be very sweet! Glad you’ve read ‘Christmas Carol’ – and hope that you and the family had a wonderful Christmas. All the very best to you for ’22!

      1. Anne Clare

        It’s pretty sweet and very thick- besides me, my son is the only one in the house who will drink it (Though maybe I should clarify- I’m only sharing the non-alcoholic variety with him :))
        It was a lovely Christmas- thank you! I hope yours was too. Happy New Year!

  4. Jill Morris

    Really enjoyed reading this. I love Christmas for the magic, the history, mythology and legends, the quiet time away from work, the happy time with family. My decorations are mainly fragile vintage ones and I am sad to see it start so early and be so commercialised. Great thoughts about the deaf lady on Strictly. I feel so lucky to have the gift of hearing to enjoy all those wonderful carols. As long as they are not played before December. Christmas is supposed to be a midwinter festival.

  5. marmeladegypsy

    I smiled at your opening paragraph — the list is subjective. Yes, it is. But when I read your post I thought, “Well, it may be subjective, but it’s MY subjective, too” – and I agree with every single one of those, although we don’t have a lot of Christmas ales here — at least, I haven’t discovered one I like. I guess I’m just a lager girl! Your section on getting presents for people reminded me of many that I bought for my parents (and how excited I was when I was old enough to buy them my favorite wine — which, looking back — was college kid swill, but they were most gracious about it! I love the cards — I can never go full-on e-card; I love getting mail without return envelopes for payment! And I couldn’t agree more about Christmas Eve. I love that you did the crushed leaves and slight furniture adjustment. Now THAT is magical! I’ll come back to this one more than once (as I have your terrific book!).

    Wishing you and Mrs. Britain a magical, Merry Christmas. My Christmas wish is that I’ll be in the UK sometime in 2022 (2020 and 2021 both fell through). And perhaps our paths will cross — but I know I’ll be referring to A Bit About Britain often! Merriest!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      That’s wonderful, Jeanie – and thank you for the comment about the book too. It would be great if our paths crossed when you’re next over. Meanwhile, have a magical Christmas yourself and here’s hoping that 2022 will be better behaved than 2021 has been.

  6. Helen Webberley

    I am not Christian and have never been to a Christmas party, but I know all about the joys of family togetherness on high holidays. We go to religious services together then meet in one house to eat, drink and catch up. No TV, no computer games, no mobile phones under the table. I love it.

  7. Andy

    Quite so ol’ chap.
    I am just surprised you didn’t single out Cliff Richard Christmas Songs as a favorite category in its own right.
    Needle Nydle Noo!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      How could I forget Sir Cliff!? But I do have ‘I’m Walking Backwards to Christmas’ on my Christmas playlist – so yah! 🙂 I hope our card arrived – I posted it in January, just to be sure.

  8. Paul

    Great post! I agree with your top ten but some of the ‘magic’ is the excitement that Christmas brings to children. So maybe children’s faces on Christmas morning would be a separate ‘thing’ for me. Have a Merry Christmas!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      See – it’s entirely subjective! To be fair, I did mention children as part of Christmas Eve, but didn’t major on them. I mean, I like children but couldn’t eat a whole one. Merry Christmas to you – and thanks for reading.

  9. Toonsarah

    PS how did you do those falling snowflakes? I’ve spent the last ten minutes writing my response while thinking there must be something wrong with my eyes, but when I looked more closely I realised what I was seeing 😆

  10. Toonsarah

    Firstly, Happy Christmas to you and yours Next, my own top ten in no particular order:
    Christmas carols (Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Once in Royal David’s City, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Hark the Herald Angels – all particular favourites but any will do!
    Christmas songs – not the same thing at all! Fairytale of New York, oldies from Slade and Wizard, Do they know it’s Christmas?, Christmas Wrapping, etc etc
    Christmas cake – I love it, especially the boozy fruit and marzipan
    Buying, wrapping and giving presents – I like to take my time over the wrapping in particular and make them look as pretty as possible!
    Christmas dinner – yes even (and in fact especially!) the sprouts 😆
    Social events in the run-up, like meals out with friends
    Decorations everywhere – I love the recent trend around our way for Christmas wreaths on the front door, and also the big street decorations in London (apart from Oxford St which has been feeble in recent years)
    Decorating our home – putting up a tree, getting out all the decorations we’ve had for years …
    Time with family, which will be a particular pleasure this year as we missed out last (just praying we all get negative lateral flow test results on Christmas Eve!)
    The fact that everyone seems just a bit nicer to each other – wish that one could last longer than the Christmas cake!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      And a very Happy Christmas an’ all to you too. A lovely list – though I have to tell you that sprouts are the Devil’s food and have unpleasant side effects. You probably know they’re very good for you – more vitamin C than an orange, apparently. It says that in ‘A Bit About Britain’s High Days and Holidays’ so it might be true! I do like your last point – “everyone seems just a bit nicer to each other” – lovely. Life seems so fractured these days – not just due to COVID.

  11. Tanja

    Oh yes, the smells and music and decorations and everything else. And magic. My kids are so excited about the whole festive season.My husband would enjoy a Christmas ale.My simple pleasure is tea,cookies,Christmas movie on and a lit up Christmas tree.

  12. mekslibrarian

    Thank you, Mike, for this very enjoyable Christmas-themed read this morning along with my first mug of coffee! Only today and tomorrow are left as working days for me this year, and then I will indeed have Christmas time to spend with both families (mine and O.K.’s) in two places (my parents’ and O.K.’s).
    I can relate to most of your ten best things about Christmas. Christmas cards would probably rank somewhat higher for me, as I really, really love receiving them from family and friends in different parts of the world, and they are an important part of my Christmas decoration.
    Also, I love the four Advent Sundays and the Advent wreath with the four candels, as well as the Advent calendar(s) I’ve been having for as long as I can remember.
    Christmas songs? Some of them easily manage to bring tears to my eyes, but in a good way.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Thanks for that. We had a Christmas singalong in the village the other day; that was bad enough to bring tears to your eyes! Jesting aside – I enjoy cards too; in fact I still have some to write!!

      Fröhliche Weihnachten, Meike!

  13. Judy Masrud

    Well this was really a fun post, Mike. This year I made 4 dozen mince pies as a tribute to my grandma whose delicious mince pies I enjoyed every Christmas for years. I do not drink eggnog, which sounds disgusting, but wish Christmas crackers and funny hats were sold in the stores here as well. The Nativity and lights have been up since the first Sunday of Advent, but no tree yet. Am looking forward to our annual tradition of the live broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s, which we listen to every December 24 at 9 AM CST. We probably won’t hear Her Majesty’s speech, however. Joy to the World. And the whole ABAB team. ♥️

  14. Jennie

    This is wonderful, Mike! I can’t pick a favorite category because each one is seems to be my favorite. Perhaps Christmas Magic is the best of all.

  15. Bill

    I know one thing we are not happy about and that is Covid but there are things to look forward to like Not having the Mother-in Law around to lunch but then I’ve not seen her in over a year so double bliss. Still hoping I won’t see her.

  16. Gayle

    Merry Christmas to ABAB. Christmas in the US is different from your memories in some respects but we all share some of the same joy I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts this year

  17. Darlene

    A wonderful, uplifting post. I love all of these things as well. My dogs would not be happy if we tried to dress them up for Christmas. we put reindeer antlers on Dot one year and she was not happy at all. Merry Christmas to you and yoru family, Mike.

  18. petsheltalktalknet

    You have reminded me of so many of the sights, smells and sounds of my chilhood. Remember making coloured paper chains in the junior school classroom. The silver-paper covered bells we hung on the real Christmas tree along with the real lighted candles. The King ( and later Queen) radio message broadcast at 3 pm to the Nation and the Salvation Army band playing carols in Church Street, West London. Happy times.
    Thanks Mike,
    Peter.

  19. cat9984

    I know you aren’t a particular fan of cats, but Snoops and Kommando Kitty are definitely fans of yours. They agree completely on the stupidity of dressing up cats

  20. Helen Devries

    That was a super round up of the best things about Christmas, bringing back happy memories of making paper chains, having a tree with real candles, and going out to choose presents.
    So Blitzen is a little deer…nomatter, it is Christmas!
    Wishing you and your family a merry Christmas and a New Year a damned sight better than this one turned out to be!

  21. exploRVistas

    My wife would certainly include Hallmark movies in that list, which I also get a kick out of. Not sure if those make it over to the UK. Beats watching the news!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      I confess to having seen the odd Hallmark Christmas movie. When I say ‘odd’ – aren’t they all fundamentally the same plot? We saw a dreadful movie the other day, ‘A Castle for Christmas’ – it was so bad I actually enjoyed it!

      1. exploRVistas

        That’s too funny! They are all the same…two people are attracted, there is a misunderstanding that splits them up, only to make up at the end and kiss in the final 5 minutes. We saw one the other day where a NYC Italian girl meets up with a prince of some made up country (he had a British accent) and they hit it off. When he reveals that he is a prince, it falls apart…only to have him abdicate the throne for her. They kiss and live happily ever after. Here is a funny for you: https://YouTube.be/Fa7baSCfl4U

  22. Monica Morris

    I’ve been reading this for about a year. Wonderful writing! Always look forward to receiving your articles. Thank you

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