In a very special blog, inspired by the festive season – and also by Clare A. Simmons’ wonderful Medievalist Traditions in Nineteenth-Century British Culture – members of the Boydell & Brewer team share some of their favourite annual festive traditions. It’s been fun to compile them and for many of us has brought back lots of memories (mostly good!). If any readers would like to share their own traditions we’d love to see them. Best wishes to you all for a very happy Christmas and New Year!
Each year on the run up to Christmas my family and I will sit down at least once (this often ends up being many more times) with a plate of my mum’s homemade sausage rolls to watch the 1989 Christmas film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Safe to say this film has acquired a cult status in my household and is probably the only film I could quote the entire script for. It’s very silly and really very funny, and we even have a set of the reindeer eggnog glasses that feature in the film (although we fill these instead with perhaps a slightly too generous serving of Baileys).
Christy Beale, Assistant Production Editor
Once upon a time I was given a small stuffed possum in my Christmas stocking. Having no real use for a small stuffed possum and a shortage of Christmas ornaments, I drafted my new friend into service as holiday décor. His Velcro tail made him very well suited to the purpose of hanging from a Christmas garland. I quickly became accustomed to his mildly threatening seasonal presence, but many holiday visitors were puzzled why he was dangling above their heads in a place of prominence, like the opposite of mistletoe. I found myself contending with impertinent questions such as, “What is that?” and “Why?” And so I started to tell these visitors it was my Christmas Possum, as if it was strange they’d never heard of such a thing. “The Christmas Possum wields great power,” I would say. “If you do not either play dead or bite someone at a party between Christmas and New Year’s, you will not receive its blessing for the following year, and may suffer such trials as A Hole on Your Catalytic Converter, Neighbor Acquires a Leaf-Blower, or An Increase in Taxes.” (The possum has a strangely municipal sense of vengeance.) Needless to say, this has made my holiday gatherings infinitely more interesting, although I will admit attendance has dwindled over the years. I have not yet heard of others taking up this tradition, but my possum and I press on in the hope of adding a much-needed undertone of drama and suspense to the holiday season.
Katie Kumler, Marketing Manager
As a German living in the UK I like to keep some traditions from the Vaterland alive – and my favourite is to serve Feuerzangenbowle for New Years Eve. It’s basically mulled wine with extra rum and sugar, and then you set the whole thing on fire. It makes for a great spectacle, and I gleefully enjoy making my British friends have to pronounce it before they can have a mug full. This gets funnier as people get tipsier (which happens quite quickly, due to the strong rum needed to catch fire). The sugar cones are hard to come by, so I bought a whole stash last time I was in Germany – they’ll last me for years to come (lots of fun to look forward to). For now: Prost und frohes Neues Jahr!” View a video of this tradition here.
Antje King, Group Sales & Marketing Director
For me the seemingly time-honoured tradition of opening presents on Christmas Day is actually an adopted one. Although we moved to England while I was still very young, I had already heartily embraced the Swedish approach to Christmas that makes Christmas Eve – Julafton – the main event. Now, suddenly, Christmas Eve was a day of preparation rather than celebration and your very young author was left looking longingly at the tree and its present pile. What had changed? Why has Christmas been moved? Were those naughty list threats more than mere words? As a sop to my bewildered sulk, I was allowed to open one token present that evening. But little did I know that the wait for the rest would last even longer: now Christmas morning was dominated by the best part of two hours at Mass. Why were they testing me?! The years passed and the 25th became the new normal, though as a nod to those early, happy days in Linghem we always got one present to open on Christmas Eve.
Sean Andersson, Sales & Marketing Manager
Each year at Christmas we name our turkey Horace and give thanks to him for providing him with our Christmas meal. This dates back to my mother doing this growing up in London and is something I do with my children. We often have long conversations with Horace about our Christmas wishes on Christmas Eve and gather to wave him into the oven. I never really new where this came from and my grandparents are no longer with us to ask and so I googled it and it seems like a bit of a morbid reference, and I don’t know if my grandparents were even aware of the providence of the reference (it may have been something they both picked up from comrades during their service in WW2 rather than my grandmother having picked something up in her own Yorkshire childhood) but it seems that this is an actual tradition to give thanks to Horace – as he was the White House supplier of premium Christmas turkeys! Some more information can be found here.
Rachel Reeder, Rights & Contracts Executive
A publisher’s favourite Christmas tradition surely has to be the Jólabókaflóðið, or ‘Christmas Book Flood’ in Iceland. The months before Christmas are a very active time in publishing (in both Iceland and the U. K.) with new titles ‘flooding’ shops ready for the festive period. New books are bought and carefully wrapped, before being gifted on Christmas Eve so that the recipient can stay up all night reading and drinking hot chocolate. The Jólabókaflóðið both reflects Iceland’s long literary tradition, and its more recent wartime history. Importing goods to the island was incredibly difficult in the second world war, but there were fewer restrictions on imported paper, making books an accessible gift. I love that this tradition makes buying new books a core part of the build-up to Christmas, and how a night of reading is a Christmas celebration akin to a brisk walk on Boxing Day or watching the Queen’s Speech. It’s definitely something I’ll be adopting with my family this year. If you would like to participate in a ‘book flood’ for yourself, you may be interested in this charity campaign by the Book Trust, click here for more information.
Lizzie Howard, Assistant Editor
On the 13th of December (today!) Sweden celebrates Lucia. Girls and boys dress in white full-length gowns and sing songs together carrying candles. The Lucia wears ‘light in her hair’ and leads her maidens down a dark room, whilst singing traditional Lucia songs. When I was really young my brother and I would bring my parents breakfast in bed, singing with (fake) candles in my hair. As I got older, I would participate in the annual school celebrations, and as I moved abroad, I always make sure to watch the yearly celebration on TV (this year it was broadcast from Tällberg). That’s the thing with traditions, you can keep celebrating them wherever you are in the world, it might be different, and you may have to adapt, but you can always find a way to celebrate them.
Sofie Samuelsson, Digital Marketing Executive