British Christmas Superstitions

Posted on May 15, 2020

Christmas is not only the most wonderful time of the year. It’s also the most superstitious. Not even Halloween can top Christmas for the number of strange superstitions associated with it. Here are just a few of the most interesting (and weird) Christmas superstitions from around the British Isles:


  • Bring your plough in and put it under the dining table. Nobody’s quite sure where this bizarre tradition comes from – but it probably has something to do with ensuring a bumper crop in the year to come. Maybe the plough feels motivated by all the festive cheer to do an extra good job come the ploughing season? Who knows. Anyway, given the size of modern ploughing equipment, it’s probably not practical to follow this one…but you could pop your gardening trowel under the table in the hope of a flourishing window box.


  • Don’t buy a loved one new shoes for Christmas. Or they’ll pop them on and walk out of your life.


  • Don’t light a new fire throughout the Christmas season. This is where the famed Yule Log comes in. It’s considered unlucky to light new fires from scratch during the twelve days of Christmas (nobody knows why. It just is). To get around this, the superstitious would drag home the very largest log they could possibly find and have it smouldering in a well-tended hearth throughout the season. Candles and other fires could be lit by holding tapers to the glowing heart of the Yule log.


  • An apple at midnight on Christmas Eve keeps the doctor away for the whole year. Admittedly not as catchy as the ‘An apple a day rhyme’. Or as scientifically sound.


  • Decorate your Christmas tree – or else! Surprisingly, there aren’t many British superstitions about Christmas trees. This may be because Christmas trees are a late addition to our Christmas tradition – they arrived with Prince Albert in the Victorian period. However, lots of Victorians believed that leaving a Christmas tree undecorated would attract negative energy. They did not specify the nature of this negative energy, though, so the whole thing could just mean that having a naked fir tree in your living room will earn you some strange looks.


  • Sweep your house on Christmas day. To sweep all your bad luck away.


  • Passive-aggressively banish unwanted guests (using chairs). Everyone has guests they’d rather not host at some point over the Christmas season. Superstitious folk have a very easy way to keep these nuisance guests away next year, though. Simply push their chairs against the wall when they get up to leave and they’ll never darken your door again.


  • Take your decorations down by Twelfth Night. Any Christmas decorations still up after Twelfth Night (5th Jan) will attract bad luck.


  • Go pagan with holly, ivy, and mistletoe. There are lots of very ancient superstitions around holly, ivy, and mistletoe. Holly is believed to keep away witches and other dark spirits (perhaps they are allergic to it?). Evil beings were supposed to be particularly active during the long, dark nights of winter, so people would hang holly around their doors to keep their homes safe. An ivy-covered house is similarly thought to be protected from evil influence – but beware if the ivy looks sickly! Sickly ivy on a house warns of a downturn in the fortunes of the family inside. Mistletoe has a lot of mysterious associations dating back many thousands of years. To cut a Yule log from a tree bearing mistletoe would bring dreadfully bad luck to everyone who warmed themselves at the log. However, cutting a sprig of mistletoe and bringing it into the house would ensure happiness and fertility for all the family (hence the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe).
  • Don’t sing Christmas carols before Advent or after Twelfth Night. Or (you guessed it) bad luck will ensue.

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