Celebrating Christmas means different things to different people. For some, it means getting dressed up and attending lots of parties; for others, it means a lot of shopping; for yet more, it involves seeing relatives and going on holiday. Christmas was once all about rituals, and reviving some of these could mean a more traditional and enjoyable festive season.
To be thoroughly retro, start your Christmas a few weeks early by sending cards – yes, cards made from paper that need envelopes and stamps and are delivered in the post. Sending Christmas cards began in 1843 as a way of encouraging people to use a new public service that eventually became the Post Office. Thanks to the internet, many people have stopped sending cards, but lots of cards always look cheerful and it is lovely to receive them.
As the war on carbs continues, mince pies may be phased out of many celebrations; certainly, few people will be consuming the truly traditional mince pie, which was made out of fruit, spice and meat. The recipe was influenced by Middle Eastern cooking and brought back to the UK by those who took part in the Crusades. Religion was a bit part of the Crusades and the very early mince pie would contain 13 ingredients, to symbolise Jesus and his apostles, and would be oval in shape to represent the manger.
Mistletoe is a plant that used to be a popular feature of the traditional Christmas. A sprig, possibly featuring some of its white berries, would be hung somewhere so that people hovering beneath it were expected to kiss – an expectation that should perhaps be handled with some delicacy. The original practice, which was part of Norse mythology, was later adopted by the early Christians. During the Middle Ages, mistletoe was believed to bring luck, although the plant is actually a parasite that takes over its host and kills it. To be thoroughly retro, each kiss means that a berry should be picked until none remain.
Take your guests back in time and serve them frumenty! Do not be surprised if no one knows what it is, however, as this is the medieval precursor to the modern plum pudding. While yuletide revellers today may pick up a plum pud in the supermarket, even just a few decades ago the Christmas pudding was crafted with care and might be boiled for hours or prepared even months ahead of time and fed a steady diet of alcohol to make sure all who ate it really got into the festive spirit. Frumenty was a kind of pottage – a thick soup or stew – made from boiling wheat. It may not sound that appealing, but frumenty had improved with the addition of dried fruit, eggs and alcohol by the 17th century.
Gathering everyone together to attend a church service and sing carols on Christmas Eve can be considered a retro yuletide activity as the festive season becomes increasingly commercial. Whether you consider yourself a believer or an atheist, the communal experience can be uplifting and really make you feel you have earned that meaty mince pie and a big helping of frumenty.