6 Old-Fashioned Christmas Traditions the RIFT Family Loves
10th December 2021
Christmas is all about keeping up family traditions, from arguing over party games to shaming each other into wearing those ghastly jumpers our least favourite aunt keeps knitting. Do those modern traditions really capture the true spirit of the season, though? We asked round the RIFT office for everyone’s favourite Christmas customs from the past. Here are a few we’d actually quite like to see revived:
1) Gemma says, “sending out family newsletters.”
The time-honoured Christmas family news round-up has a long history in Britain. Each year, the heads of the country’s households would dutifully hand-write a string of letters for family and friends, detailing the precise minutiae of the unfolding household politics of the past year.
Of course, news travels a lot faster these days, taking most of the drudgery out of it. We’ve all got really used to keeping each other up to speed throughout the year on social media. These days, I can do the whole thing live in a Zoom call. In fact, I could probably sum up the whole of 2021 in a 30-second Tik Tok dance...
2) Dean says, “telling ghost stories.”
Ever wonder why Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is such an absolute spook-show of a story? I looked into it a bit, and it turns out that the “festive season” used to be a much more haunting (and haunted) time of year in the UK.
Given that Halloween has become so big recently that we’ve start celebrating it the moment October begins, it’s only right to bring some of those spooky chills back to the winter holidays. If nothing else - and at the risk of Scrooging myself a bit here - it’d probably help balance out some of the over-sweetened “mushiness” you sometimes get at Christmas. Maybe a few thrilling fireside ghost stories are exactly what we need to freshen up the holiday.
3) Liam says, “Going to local meat shows.”
I have to say, I find supermarkets pretty stressful at Christmas. Looking back a hundred years or so, though, stuffing your festive larder was much more of a celebration in itself. Local butchers would gather on Christmas Eve to display their wares and compete for awards like “Best Fat Cow”.
Food fairs and farmers’ markets have been making a bit of a comeback in recent years, which is great when supermarket shelves tend to run dry at Christmas. A revival of the old-fashioned meat show would be an amazing thing to see now. Just imagine all the “Best Fat Cow/Pig” jokes flying across the Christmas dinner table!
4) Ben says, “drinking a Smoking Bishop.”
If there’s one thing a modern Christmas is really missing these days, it’s ridiculously named nonsense-drinks. The good old Smoking Bishop’s a classic example, and you almost never hear of it these days. Basically, you start by lightly baking a few oranges and a grapefruit (all unpeeled, of course). Stick cloves in them, then add red wine and enough sugar to choke a reindeer. Let that sit somewhere warm for a day, then heat the juice in a saucepan with some port.
That’s just an example, of course. If you’re adventurous, you could have a go at other traditional favourites like the Lambswool, the Egg-Hot or the Whipcoll. There are particular specialities, recipes and varieties from all over the country, and I reckon they could all do with a major comeback. Here's one if you want to try it: Smoking Bishop.
5) Jan says, “playing Shoe the Mare.”
Everyone knows it, but no one ever talks about it: Monopoly ruins Christmas. Everyone’s got their own idea of what the rules are, and the whole thing inevitably collapses into a decidedly non-festive screaming match.
The Elizabethans had the right idea about appropriate Christmas family games, and Shoe the Mare is an absolutely perfect example. The set-up for the game was very simple: find a space, pick someone to take their shoes off and you’re away. The barefooted “mare” prances off like an idiot and everyone else tries frantically to catch them. Repeat until everyone’s too exhausted to argue. Job done!
6) Nic says, “picking a Lord of Misrule.”
Britain’s often accused of being a very “class conscious” society, but Christmas used to be a time when those assumptions and attitudes could be challenged – if only briefly. Basically, one of the “lowlier” members of the household would be made the boss for Christmas Day, getting their own back a bit for having to prop up the bottom of the social ladder for the rest of the year.
The “Lord of Misrule” had one basic responsibility: to make sure fun was had by everyone. Back around the 17th century, that might have meant organising events or demanding the liberal application of figgy puddings or whatever. These days, the only real power struggle that matters is over control of the Netflix watchlist for the day. Either way, it’s a bit of inexpensive family fun.
So, what are your favourite family traditions at Christmas? Any old ones you’d like to see coming back? Let us know on our Facebook page, and best wishes for a magical Christmas from the RIFT family to yours.