Puddings, pennies and pantomimes: Are Christmas traditions on the wane?

Press release
Children performing a pantomime at Chirk Castle in the 1920s.
Published : 01 Dec 2019 Last update : 03 Dec 2019

On 1st December, the National Trust launched a social media survey to discover which traditions are losing their sparkle this Christmas.

A sample of 240 National Trust members has already been asked what traditions they no longer took part in. 32% said they no longer put a penny in their pudding, 31% no longer hang mistletoe and more than half (52%) said they’ve stopped putting up a real Christmas tree.

However, almost a quarter (23%) of Trust members asked have recently started making a seasonal donation to charity and 42% say they have recently begun to visit Christmas markets.

After these initial findings from members, the conservation charity wants a wider snapshot of Christmas traditions around the UK and is using social media to find out which are strong, which are in decline, and which traditions people would like to adopt.

The Trust is interested in any Christmas traditions, and especially unusual, historic traditions or new habits people are forming for the time of year with their friends and families. How many people are putting out sherry and a mince pie for Santa or kissing under the mistletoe, while others opt for a cold Boxing Day swim?

Sarah Kinnersley, Seasonal Programming Manager, says: “We know from what our visitors tell us, that the personal traditions they share with family and friends are really important at this special time of year. One of the traditions we see is people coming together from their often far-flung homes to meet at National Trust places.

“When our houses have ‘tradition’ or ‘wish’ trees, it’s very touching to see the breadth of experiences that visitors write and hang on them. People love this opportunity to add their traditions, and to read about those of others.”

One of the charity’s most popular festive traditions is the great Christmas garland hung in the Tudor hall at Cotehele in Cornwall. For 63 years, staff and volunteers have grown and dried tens of thousands of flowers to make the garland, the longest of any National Trust place.

And Chirk Castle in Wrexham draws on the festive tradition of the de Walden family, who wrote and performed a series of pantomimes for their guests from 1923 to 1931. Today, pantomime-themed decorations, costumes and props bring a touch of make-believe to the castle’s state rooms as Christmas approaches.

In feedback, some members also told the charity they were interested in starting new traditions, such as having an alternative Christmas dinner or taking a family walk.

Sarah says: “That interest in reimagining Christmas is reflected in some of our newer festive events. At some Trust places families can find ‘reverse grottoes’ where they can give, rather than receive, gifts, and meet a green Father Christmas, instead of the better known red one.

“We’re looking forward to hearing from people and we hope that by joining this conversation, people can help create a kind of ‘virtual’ tradition tree.”

People are invited to share their Christmas traditions on the charity’s social media channels @NationalTrust from 1st December.