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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree Christmas 2017 > Christmas through the ages

Christmas through the ages

Christmas is loved for its familiar traditions and the fact that the songs, food and festive rituals which we enjoy nowadays have been experienced for generations, albeit sometimes in a different guise. Rachel Bellerby takes a look at how our forebears would have experienced this special season


Children decorate their home ready for Christmas. How did your ancestors celebrate?

Whether celebrating during the austerity of wartime, or making merry at a festive market on the streets of Victorian London, one thing is for sure, many of our British ancestors would have enjoyed a Christmas which would be recognisable to us nowadays. Part of the fun of the festive season is knowing that the carols we sing, the family traditions we follow and the food we prepare and share are part of a long link going back in time.

Of course, our Yuletide celebrations have changed over the years, as events such as politics, warfare and poverty have made their mark on the celebrations. Over the following pages, we’ll take a look at festive traditions – some familiar and others less so – and explore how Christmas is celebrated in England, Scotland and Wales.

Origins of the festive season

The feast of Christmas, with the nativity story and the birth of Christ, dates back 2,000 years, however the concept of a midwinter festival is much older. Pagan communities in Britain marked the coming of longer days and the start of a new year with feasting for the Roman sun god on 25 December, the bringing in of the yule log for good fortune, and the slaughtering of cattle for festive feasting.

The Christian Christmas retained many of the elements of Pagan celebrations, and over the centuries, the festival took on many of the traditions and stories which are familiar to us nowadays, including gift-giving, setting up a crib in church or at home, decorating the house with greenery and candles, and sharing a family meal with special food and drink.

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About Family Tree

Welcome to the Christmas issue of Family Tree – we’ve got festive family history treats galore in store for you. Dive into our delicious feast of digitised documents – rare historic collections for you to enjoy browsing and researching on your device. Enjoy some genealogy jollies: a family history crossword, quiz and memories of Christmas traditions from centuries past. And last but not least, this issue sees the launch of the Family Tree Academy – this is your opportunity to hone your family history skills. In part 1, this issue, we’ve got documents for you to decipher, old handwriting for you to transcribe and a research case study for you to pit your wits against. Join in with our learning experience today to become a better family historian!