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It’s December which means the UK is in full Christmas mode!

As an international student, you may be a bit confused by various out of the ordinary traditions which are observed over the festive season. In this blog, we’ll explain what you can expect in the coming weeks and how to embrace the most wonderful time of the year right here in Chester.


As you’re probably already aware, Christmas in the UK is celebrated on 25th December every year and is classed as a public holiday. This means all businesses are closed and there is no public transport. Some restaurants and pubs remain open however. Students usually have three weeks off from lectures over the Christmas period so it’s a chance to have a well-earned break.

The UK typically gets into the Christmas spirit towards the end of November although many start their preparation as early as October!

Preparations for Christmas

Christmas trees: A Christmas tree is a quintessential emblem of the festive season here in the UK. Virtually every family who celebrates the occasion will have a tree in their living room and trees can often be found in business premises too. Trees come in all shapes and sizes- real and artificial. You can buy a smaller tree for your house/flat/room for as little as £10.

Christmas cards: While there has been a huge growth in social media and emailing in recent years, sending Christmas cards remains a well-practised tradition. Many people choose to buy their cards from charity shops on the high street.

Christmas presents: In December, the high streets become A LOT busier and this is predominantly due to people doing their Christmas shopping. Many prefer to do their shopping online to save time and effort.

Christmas songs: Step into any major retail store in December and you’ll probably here the same songs on continuous loop (probably these ones). You may have seen large groups of people singing more traditional songs in public- these are known as carol singers.

Advent calendars: People of all ages purchase calendars as the perfect way to count down to the big day. Traditionally, a mini chocolate would be hidden behind numbers 1 to 25. These days, there are gin, wine and cheese themed calendars!

Pantomimes: A favourite amongst families during December. They are stage productions which involve music, comedy and are based on a fairy tale or story.

Food and drink

Overindulgence and Christmas go hand-in-hand for many. It’s hardly surprising given the array of delights which are served up over the festive season. Mince pies are a classic UK favourite. They are small pies or tarts filled with spiced fruits known as mincemeat and are traditionally served with cream. Other Christmas favourites include: Yule log, mulled wine, and eggnog.

The Christmas period sees a peak in socialising and this means many people will increase their alcohol intake making the pubs and clubs particularly busy.

Christmas dinner: The highlight of many people’s day. Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon), cranberry sauce and Christmas pudding are all usually on the menu!

It is tradition to pull a Christmas cracker before the meal. A cracker usually consists of a hat, joke and small toy.

Christmas Day

The day is usually spent at home with family and friends. A typical ritual will include: attending church, opening presents, eating Christmas dinner and playing games.

After Christmas Day

The day after Christmas (26th December) is known as Boxing Day. This is also a public holiday although most retail outlets will re-open and limited public transport services are provided. There is a full schedule of professional football matches on Boxing Day too.

The name ‘Boxing Day’ derives from the tradition of employers giving staff boxes of food, clothing and money on their day off after Christmas.

Attention then switches to New Year’s Eve (31st) December. It is tradition for friends and family to get together and celebrate the countdown to the New Year.  Just before midnight, many people hold hands and sing a traditional song called Auld Lang Syne.

Christmas in Chester

The beautiful city of Chester becomes even more magical over the festive period with so many Christmas events taking place - there is something for everyone to enjoy.

The Chester Christmas Market always proves a popular destination for students. With more than 70 traditional wooden chalets serving a variety of exciting food, drink and gifts, the market is a must-visit.

Animal lovers can enjoy a lantern show at Chester Zoo and there is plenty going on at Storyhouse.

For those keen on baking, you can get involved with Chester’s Great Christmas Cake Off and shopaholics can pick up some Christmas gifts at Grosvenor Shopping Centre which offers late night shopping every Thursday in the run up to Christmas.

Spending Christmas Day Here?

A lot of people leave campus for the festive season but some students stay in Chester. Use our International Facebook page and starters group to find other students in Chester who you could share Christmas with.

We know some of our students volunteer at local charities over Christmas and this can be a really rewarding way to spend Christmas Day.

Chester Cathedral has services on Christmas Day which international students are warmly invited to.   

White Christmas?

There is nothing more special than snow on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, conditions in the north of England are forecast to be too mild for Christmas 2018.

We’d love to see how you are spending Christmas in Chester! Please send your pictures/stories to our Facebook page.

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