Home   Calendar   Holidays   the United Kingdom   Christmas Day
Flag for United Kingdom

Christmas Day in the United Kingdom

Christmas Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom on December 25. It traditionally celebrates Jesus Christ's birth but many aspects of this holiday have pagan origins. Christmas is a time for many people to give and receive gifts and prepare special festive meals.

Is Christmas Day a Public Holiday?

Christmas Day is a public holiday. It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.

Christmas Day

Family dinners are a popular way of celebrating Christmas Day.

©iStockphoto.com/ Lisa Thornberg

What Do People Do?

Prior to Christmas Day, people decorate their homes and gardens prior to Christmas Day. These decorations may include:

  • Christmas trees.
  • Small colored fairy lights.
  • Leaves and berries from holly trees and mistletoe bushes.
  • Various other decorations with rich colors that spark the Christmas mood.

In many towns and cities, the shopping streets are also decorated with lights and large pine trees, often specially imported from Norway. In some places a Nativity scene is arranged. This illustrates the story of Jesus' birth using statues or actors and live animals. Many churches hold special services in the night before Christmas Day.

Many people spend Christmas Day with family members, with whom they exchange gifts and cards. Many children wake up to find a sock or stocking filled with small gifts on their bed or somewhere else in the house. These have supposedly been brought by a mythical figure called 'Father Christmas' or 'Santa Claus', who lives for most of the year at the North Pole. He travels in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and enters houses by climbing down the chimney. He hopes to enjoy a small snack of mince pies and brandy at each house. He supposedly travels so fast that he can deliver presents to all children in one night, although some in some stories elves help him with his work.

Later in the day, people may attend special church services, even if they do not usually go to church. Nearly everyone prepares and eats a special meal. This often includes roast turkey, potatoes and parsnips, and other vegetables. After the main course, Christmas pudding is often eaten. This is a heavy steamed, dense, cake-like pudding filled with dried fruit and nuts. Burning brandy is often poured over it as it is served, giving a spectacular effect. Mince pies are also popular on Christmas Day. They are sweet pastry cases filled with a mixture of dried fruit, fat and alcohol.

Public Life

Nearly all organizations, except hospitals and shelters for the homeless, are closed on Christmas Day. Some public houses and smaller stores selling food may open for a few hours in the middle of the day. Public transport services do not run to their normal timetables and may even not run at all. Public life closes down almost totally on Christmas Day.

Many churches hold special services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Some also organize shelter, company and food for the homeless or those who need help. Others hold events for people who wish to return to the spiritual aspects of Christmas and turn away from the commercial aspects of modern Christmas celebrations.

Background and symbols

Christmas Day is often seen as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. However, many aspects of the celebration have their origins in the Pagan traditions of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These include bringing pieces of evergreen trees into homes, lighting fires, holding parties and eating special foods. When missionaries converted the inhabitants of these countries to Christianity, many of these customs were included in the Christian celebrations.

There are many Christmas symbols. These include leaves and berries from the holly tree and mistletoe bush, pine trees, candles and small lights. Figures associated with the season are Father Christmas or Santa Claus, the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the other characters from the Nativity story. Presents and Christmas food, such as turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies also symbolize Christmas. A special mention should be reserved for the robin red breast. This small bird, with its red feathered breast, is at its most beautiful in the middle of the winter and is often seen as a decoration on Christmas cards, wrapping paper and cakes.

About Christmas Day in other countries

Read more about Christmas Day.

Christmas Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2010SatDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2010TueDec 28Christmas Day observedBank holiday 
2011SunDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2012TueDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2013WedDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2014ThuDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2015FriDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2016SunDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2017MonDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2018TueDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2019WedDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 
2020FriDec 25Christmas DayBank holiday 

You might also like

Look Up for Shooting Stars!

Look Up for Shooting Stars!

The Leonid meteor shower is active now and peaks on Nov 17/18. Use our Interactive Meteor Shower Sky Map to see when and where to best see these shooting stars. more

Commuters and tourists in Canary Wharf, London, United Kingdom.

Daylight Saving Time (DST)

Daylight Saving Time (DST) is the practice of setting the clocks forward 1 hour from standard time during the summer months, and back again in the fall, in order to make better use of natural daylight. more

Calendar with 12 months

12 Months of the Year

The 12 months of the year are linked to the Moon's orbit around Earth. Why are there 12 months? What do the month names mean? more