UK Christmas traditions
Christmas pudding, also called plum pudding although it contains no plums at all, is traditionally steamed-cooked in a cloth on "stir-up Sunday" at the beginning of advent.
The pudding is traditionally stirred from east to west in honour of the 3 wise men and each family member gives the pudding a stir and makes a secret wish.
Sometimes a clean shilling or six penny piece is stirred into the pudding bringing luck to the finder on Christmas day - as long as its not swallowed.
Mince pies were originally made from mince meat and were shaped like a crib and decorated into a tiny baby Jesus. Nowadays, mince pies are similar in shape but contain a sweet fruit filling.
The majority of families (90%) around the UK will serve up a succulent roast turkey as the centre piece of their festive meal this Christmas.
Turkey is a relative newcomer to the Yuletide table - it was a luxury right up until the 1950's when refrigerators and freezers became more widely available.
It was first brought over to the British Isles in 1526 by Yorkshirman William Strickland who acquired six birds from American Indian traders on his travels and sold them for a tuppence each in Bristol.
Prior to the turkey tradition Christmas fare included roast swan, pheasants and peacocks. A special treat was a roast boars head decorated with holly and fruit.
Christmas Cards & Stockings
The first known Christmas card was created by JC Horsley in 1843 in America but was not printed until 1946.
The concept of sending cards at Christmas only started to catch on in the 1860's.
The tradition of filling a stocking with presents was also started in America at about the same time and was first mentioned in the Oxford Dictionary in 1954.
Wassailing the apple tree is one of the oldest traditions at Christmas time and is still carried out in Hertfordshire and parts of the west country.
The word wassail is from the Anglo Saxon word "wes hal" meaning "good health" or "be whole".
The tradition generally takes place on the 12th night or sometimes on the 17th January, known as old twelfth night.
Farmers and their families feast on hot cakes and cider then go into the orchard where a cider soaked cake is laid in the fork of a tree and more cider is splashed on it.
A wassail bowl, often as big as a cauldron is filled with the mixture of cider, brandy, ale, spice and drunk hot. The menfolk then fire their guns into the trees and bang on pots and pans while the women and children bow their heads and sing a wassail song.
This is to ward off bad spirits from the orchard and encourage the good spirits to provide a lush crop for the following year.
The "Mari Lwyd "
Another form of wassailing was the South Wales custom of the Mari Lwyd.
It consisted of a horses skull covered with a white sheet and decorated with colourful ribbons, which was carried by a man concealed under the sheet who could operate the jaw and make it snap.
It was taken from door to door around the village with the party, normally dressed up as sergeant, Merryman, Punch and Judy, leading the Mari to the door of the house and engaging in poetic contest, often singing as many as fifteen versus before they were allowed to enter the home.
The Mari would then chase the girls of the house, snapping at them with its jaws and the party enjoyed the food and drink offered.
Culinary Christmas Traditions
Wales: Leek and onion sauce to accompany the turkey. Leeks, onion, cloves, breadcrumbs, milk, nutmeg and bay leaves blended to create a thick and creamy alternative to ordinary bread sauce.Scotland - Rich tatties and neeps - a traditional dish made with mashed potatoes, Swede, carrots, onion and butter, garnished with chives and black pepper.
Ireland: Turkey with whiskey glaze - whiskey and honey together with a splash of orange will give an impressive and great tasting twist to the traditional bird.
England: Red cabbage with apple - combining English Bramley apples, red cabbage, cinnamon and brown sugar with a splash of Port or Madeira.