What really lies behind our Christmas customs?


Whether it’s prettifying our house with tinsel, eating an inordinate amount of food or reciting some really bad jokes, Christmas is unlike any other time of year. Here we take a look at 10 customs associated with the festive season and ask: what do they really mean?   


1. Exchanging gifts

Christmas is not about the getting; it’s all about the giving. Fact. Psychologists have found that spending money on others promotes our own happiness better than spending money on ourselves. Christmas comes but once a year. And it’s the one time of the year we can give someone we love an extremely unfashionable jumper or pair of socks, committing sartorial sins of all kinds along the way, and still be thanked for it! 


2. Decorations

Somehow watching repeats of all the old Christmas favourites – It’s A Wonderful Life, the Wizard of Oz et al – just seems different with tinsel everywhere and a well-lit tree in the room. Now, decorations on the outside of the house, this is a whole other story and is very much down to the individual. Research suggests decorations on our home’s exterior make some of us feel more integrated with our community. But for others, well it’s all a little too much. 


3. Santa Claus

Dressing up as Santa Claus, leaving notes for him, even possibly a mince pie and a drink of something. It’s all for the kids. Right? Well… not necessarily. It’s the children who get the presents certainly, but if we delve beyond the material aspect, the man with the red hat and sliver beard represents the magic and myth of Christmas that many adults would like to re-create from their own childhoods.  


4. Christmas cracker jokes

We all know that Christmas cracker jokes are terrible. But every year we look forward to putting on the silly hat that emerges from the crumbled cardboard after the bang, and locating the witticism within. So why do we do it? Bad jokes are a great leveller. It’s Christmas, and so it’s time for the Great Wits among us to descend to the level of the rest of us. These jokes are humbling for us all. And anyway, there’s always someone who thinks the jokes are actually funny.  


5. Tunes

Now we’re into difficult terrain here. Does White Christmas conjure up a yearning to be with loved ones beside a roaring fire celebrating the beauty and the majesty of the festive season or a crowded Tesco aisle? It’s very subjective. But whether a tune has out-lived it’s sell-by date or not, one cannot deny the beauty of Carols at this time of year and how they bring out that special feeling at Christmas. 


6. Chocolates

From sometime in early December, it’s officially chocolate season. But is there anything in them beyond their obvious sensual delight? It’s interesting how something we all enjoy unadorned for most of the year, comes in all kinds of bright, decorative packaging at Christmas. So, it could be that it is the actual choice of chocolates which is the real thrill and once again we are back to seasons from the past and the magic of finding out what’s behind the wrapping paper. 


7. Office parties

No Christmas would be complete without the office party. We’ve worked alongside each other all year, we’ve helped each other with spreadsheets and IT issues, now this is our chance to spend time with each other just for the sheer hell of it. It’s time to see sides of Sally from Logistics and Phil form IT we never knew existed…no spreadsheets involved! Although this year we’ll probably have some Zoom issues to resolve along the way.  


8. Christmas dinner

What we all love more than anything at Christmas is eating. We all do a lot of eating over the Christmas period. It might seem logical during the colder months to eat a lot. But so many chocolates and cakes and sweets and…well you get my point. It would seem our ravenous appetites are less to do with the cold weather and more about our need to connect with others. Sharing food is a great way for us to feel we belong and if the conversation is running a bit dry, what better way to break the ice than: fancy another mince pie? 


9. Mistletoe

The tradition of kissing beneath the mistletoe is believed to come from a Norse legend in which Balder, the god of Peace, is killed with an arrow made of mistletoe. As the story goes, the gods bring Balder back to life by giving mistletoe to Freya, the goddess of Love, who makes the plant a symbol of love. Well, it’s a good excuse anyway. Although not recommended right now! 


10. Lights

And finally…lights. Where would we be without the lights? In our houses, on our streets, in our public buildings and our green spaces, everywhere seems truly lit up during this time of year. In terms of our mental wellbeing, it makes sense in the darkest days of the year, to ramp up the lighting. But lights have always had a metaphorical presence in our life as well. And this year more than ever. Let the lights lead us to a post-Covid world.