Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The new rituals of a modern-day Christmas

Somerset House, London

By Emily Purser

Mince pies, stockings and singing carols are Christmas traditions that have been around for as long as we can remember. But are there new festive rituals that in years to come could be spoken of in the same way?

Christmas celebrations have a long and varied history in the UK.

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From 5th Century nativity carols to the first Christmas tree brought over to England by Prince Albert in 1841, to the banning of the festival altogether under Oliver Cromwell in 1647.

But new Christmas rituals that reflect contemporary life are slowly becoming a familiar part of the season.

OPEN-AIR SKATING

There's Ice Cube in Leeds, The Ice Factor in York, Skating@Life in Newcastle, Spinningfields in Manchester, Winter Wonderland in Edinburgh and Somerset House in London, to name just a few.

Suddenly, every major city in the UK seems to have an outdoor skating rink for a season that can last for more than three months.

It's got that romance that you associate with Central Park in New York
Vicky Pepys
Skating@Life

"We've been open for nine years now, and numbers seem to be increasing," says Vicky Pepys of Skating@Life, which has 70,000 visitors over 15 weeks. "It's become a yearly tradition so that people ask 'when is it opening?'

"Like the Christmas window at Fenwick [department store] and the Christmas tree at the civic centre, skating is now one of the city's Christmas traditions."

There's a nostalgia about skating that evokes American movies, she says, at a time of year when people are happy to escape the stresses of the season.

"It's got that romance that you associate with Central Park in New York, especially at night, when there's sparkling lights and music playing, and hot chocolate in the cafe downstairs."

Central Park, New York
New York, New York

But before people try and re-enact scenes from When Harry Met Sally, there is a note of caution.

With more skaters, there are more injuries. Chelsea and Westminster NHS hospital reports a substantial increase in the number of broken bones, fractures and lacerations that come from the Natural History Museum rink just a mile down the road.

Dr Ed Abrahamson, consultant in children's accident and emergency, notes that there is a "seasonal difference" in this type of injury.

The hospital is launching an audit into skating injuries across A&E to look into the rising numbers.

GERMAN CHRISTMAS MARKETS

German markets can now be found across the UK, where visitors can find all manner of crafts and sip on festive "Glühwein" (mulled wine) to fend off the cold.

It's seen as something wholesome in an otherwise increasingly consumerist world
Simon Green, Aston Centre for Europe

Christmas markets have become a popular holiday pastime, creating a festive shopping experience.

The Frankfurt Christmas market in Birmingham is the biggest of its kind outside of Germany and Austria.

The city knows it's Christmas when the Germans come, according to Emily Malcolm of Birmingham City Council. This is reflected in the visitor numbers, which reached 2.8 million last year, with 94 German-owned stalls flown in from Frankfurt.

As British people increasingly look for an escape from a nakedly commercial Christmas, these German markets offer something more wholesome, says Simon Green, co-director of the Aston Centre for Europe.

German markets in Birmingham
Birmingham hosts one of the biggest German markets

"It appeals to our romanticism. If you are outside with the lights, the smell and warmth of the food, it's an appealing environment which we react to.

"It's seen as something wholesome in an otherwise increasingly consumerist world. It allows them to engage with Christmas but not in a religious way."

Although they are commercial enterprises - and some are very expensive - they don't seem like they are profiteering.

"If you go into a department store, it seems like it's about making profits but here we are kidding ourselves it's an environment of reflection and chance to enjoy the spirit of Christmas."

X FACTOR SINGLE

It may not have taken top spot, for the first time since 2005, but it still provides the focus for the battle to be Christmas number one.

Joe McElderry
X Factor winner McElderry missed out on top spot this year

Simon Cowell's domination of the charts at this time of the year was eclipsed by a hugely popular Facebook campaign, which saw the 1992 Rage Against The Machine hit, Killing in the Name, reach the top of the charts.

But it took an extraordinary number - 500,000 - to beat the X Factor single, The Climb by Joe McElderry, which was only 50,000 copies behind.

In the past four years, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson, Alexandra Burke and Ward have all found considerable success with their winner's singles, selling on average 540,000 copies to take the prize.

Burke's cover of the Leonard Cohen classic, Hallelujah, was last year's biggest selling single, clocking up 576,000 sales.

Cowell's supremacy may have been thwarted this year, but only with the help of a vast social networking campaign. The X Factor single will remain the one to beat.

HAVING PRESENTS GIFT-WRAPPED

Fans of the romantic comedy Love Actually may chuckle at the memory of Rowan Atkinson's character performing the most extraordinary feat of gift wrapping, complete with dried roses and lavender stems.

Having someone wrap your presents for you is an ever more popular option and it befits our "increasingly demanding lifestyles", according to Malcolm Pinkerton, a senior retail analyst at Datamonitor.

Up-market stores, in particular, need to differentiate themselves from the competitors and create a "premium shopping experience", he says.

The option is now available in most department stores and some consumers have come to expect this level of service, says Mr Pinkerton, so shops have little choice.

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A professional gift-wrapper explains how it's done

FESTIVE COFFEE

It wasn't so long ago that when someone asked "How do you like your coffee?" there were two possible answers. Black or white.

Now there are cappuccinos, machiatos, flat whites and long blacks, among others.

And to further complicate things, coffee shops now adopt Christmas flavours.

Lattes are flavoured gingerbread at Coffee Republic, and roasted hazelnut or creme brulee at Costa. And at Starbucks there is a special "Christmas blend".

"We know that as soon as the red cups come to Starbucks, Christmas is here," says a spokesman for retail analysts Allegra Strategies.


Here is a selection of your suggestions.

The concept of having a new sofa for Christmas - bizarre! And long forgotten singers/bands albums that are "an ideal Christmas present" - to those that like the music maybe, but total nightmare to those who don't! I wonder how many every get played? Then there's the god-awful workout videos......
Richard Watson, Staffordshire

Agreeing that this year we will save our money and not buy each other presents. Then the bad feeling when somebody gives you a present anyway and you haven't got them anything...!
Rob L, London

Renaming Christmas to "Winterfest" and "Festival of Light" etc etc because we are afraid of offending other people, the sheer thought of a Christian country celebrating Christmas as we have done for centuries seems simply absurd in this day and age.
Richard Szenk, Sheffield

Christmas edition magazines and circulars. It seems that winter and/or December editions are not good enough these days and an extra print is of paramount importance to the publishers during the holiday season. Another money-making scam courtesy of Christmas.
Will Simpson, Cardiff, Wales, UK

At our office we put up an "angel tree" where we donate children's toys to our local shelter. This year we donated 70 unwrapped gifts
James, Ontario, Canada

These self-aggrandising 'Round Robin' letters sent out with Christmas cards by people who seriously think that related but otherwise totally unfamiliar recipients could care less about a three-year-old's academic achievements, a five-year-old's list of (expertly mastered) hobbies, their partner's latest promotion/job change, their own latest consumer goods acquisitions and their family's latest exotic holiday.
Aitchbee, Hertfordshire

The contest to see who can send out the first texts saying Happy Christmas to as many of their mobile phone address book as possible! Same at New Year.
Louise Macaulay, South Queensferry

Watching Doctor Who on Christmas Day has become a Christmas ritual in our house, and I suspect that the same is true for houses all over the country. It brings the whole family together.
Lucy McGough, Northwich, England

Decorating your house on the outside. There were always one or two who did it, but they at least had the good grace to wait until everyone thought they were crazy for some other reason before springing these displays on us. Now you can be talking to someone who appears sane and sensible and suddenly Kapow! They say, "Oh well, must go and put Santa and all eight reindeer on my roof and get the three metre inflatable snowman ready" Merry Christmas, crazy house-decorators: one more thing to keep the children amused!
Jason, Herts, UK

The Christmas Coca Cola advert signals the start of the festive season for me! "Holidays are coming, holidays are coming..."
Rebecca Taylor, Edinburgh, Scotland

One thing that's rapidly becoming a tradition here is the Tyneside Cinema, our only independent cinema, showing It's A Wonderful Life in the run up to Christmas. A truly festive film, it really does put you in the Christmas mood. Now all we need is The Great Escape on Boxing Day and it'll be perfection!
James, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Young people dressing up in fairy wings / Santa hats / Christmas related costumes for pub-going in the couple of weeks before Christmas. (In Sheffield anyway, and I should imagine everywhere else too.) I'm sure this wasn't so common 10 years ago.
L Prescott, Sheffield

There's the recent tradition of bulk buying the most popular present of the year and selling them on eBay for a huge profit.
Dave, Wellingborough

The Secret Santa present giving idea where you are randomly assigned the name of a colleague at work and then have the trauma of deciding what to get someone you don't really know that well for a certain amount of money. Although every one gets a present that has signed up for the scheme the conditions attached to it make it all seem rather too much like hard work and gone is the fun of exchanging presents because we want to as anyone who doesn't participate is seen like a bit of a Scrooge.
Laura, Stockport

The pre-Christmas sales. A few years ago the shops would start their sales on Boxing Day, now they start on the 1st December. And delivery rage. Back in the day, we'd only get annoyed with Royal Mail for not delivering our cards and parcels on time. Now we get annoyed with them twice over, as we wait for our presents to arrive from Amazon, then we post them off again.
Emily, Edinburgh

At work, instead of bringing in an ornament for the tree, we were asked to bring in hats, gloves and scarves to decorate it, along with canned goods for under the tree that will be donated to the needy.
Candace, New Jersey, US

Annoying electronic cards circulated around offices.
Josh, Manchester UK



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