How To... Master a British Christmas as an international student

Lily Martin
Lily Martin
Published on: Aug 2, 20212 min read
How To... Master a British Christmas as an international student

The art of a British Christmas has been fine-tuned over hundreds of years, and is now an idyllic combination of traditional festivities and new trends.

Families across the UK come together to celebrate this time of year, lights are hung, food is eaten and especially this year, we spend time with those we rarely see.

Many international students will be joining the festivities this year, so if that’s you, here’s a quick guide to what to expect and where all these quirky traditions began.


In the UK, Christmas has always been a time of celebration - historically it has also played an important role in uniting the nation. In 1066 William the Conqueror, the iconic English monarch, was crowned King on Christmas Day.

Furthermore, the tradition of the Christmas Tree was brought to the attention of the British public by Queen Victoria’s German husband Prince Albert in the 1800s.

Some families also sit down on Christmas Day to watch the Queen’s annual Christmas speech. It is pre-recorded and usually lasts about 10 minutes. This tradition has been happening since George V in 1932 gave his best wishes to the nation on the radio.

Many Brits also send and receive Christmas cards, with the first ones commissioned in 1843.

At dinner, many British families have Christmas crackers, developed in the 1840s by a London sweetmaker called Tom Smith. They’re cardboard bows with a small pocket in the middle, that when pulled apart make a bang and release their contents. 

This usually includes small toys and gifts, as well as a paper hat and a joke.

Christmas Day

The majority of Brits travel home for the Christmas holidays, usually Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It’s thought that up to 15 million car journeys are made to travel for Christmas over these days.

Many families wake up on Christmas morning and open presents, traditionally given by Santa Claus. They then sit down to a big roast dinner in the afternoon.

This often includes a turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, brussels sprouts, peas and a roast ham.

Although Christmas is traditionally a Christian festival, only around 9% of Britons actually attend church on Christmas day. 

The majority of shops are closed on Christmas day, with limited opening hours on Christmas Eve. Shops are now more often open on Boxing Day as sales draw people out to the shops.

Carol singing, more common in the countryside of the UK, is also often used to raise money for charities and important local causes around this time of year.

Want to learn more about international students and the Christmas break?

Check out how many students are being given COVID tests in the run up to Christmas here.

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Written By
Lily Martin

Lily is a Content Writer and Editor based in Manchester, UK. She is passionate about travel, literature and higher education.

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