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A mother and daughter pull a Christmas cracker at their home in Pinner, Middlesex in 1944
How did Britain celebrate Christmas during the Second World War?
Six years of war brought many changes to familiar festive rituals. Christmas celebrations during the war often had to be scaled down or adjusted as restrictions and shortages took their toll.
For many families, the most difficult part of a wartime Christmas was spending the festive season apart from loved ones. Many men were fighting abroad in the armed forces or being held as prisoners of war.
Women might also have been away in the services or carrying out war work. Many children spent Christmas away from home as evacuees. By the end of the war, thousands of families had suffered the death of a family member, either in action or from enemy bombing raids.
Christmas luxuries were especially hard to come by at a time when even basic foods were scarce. People were forced to find substitutes for key festive ingredients. Christmas cards were smaller and printed on flimsy paper.
In 1941, the Ministry of Supply decreed that 'no retailer shall provide any paper for the... wrapping of goods excepting food stuffs or articles which the shopkeeper has agreed to deliver'. This made it difficult to keep Christmas presents a surprise.
Until 28 May 2023, IWM London
Showcasing evocative installations, new acquisitions and expert perspectives, War Games is the UK's first exhibition to explore what video games can tell us about conflict.
Supported by lead sponsor Rebellion, this exhibition seeks to challenge perceptions of how video games interpret stories about war and conflict through 12 unique titles.
As in peacetime, singing songs and carols was an integral part of a wartime Christmas. Pantomimes and festive plays were also performed.
The BBC broadcast a special Christmas Day radio programme which, from 1939 onwards, featured a Christmas speech by the King. It was so popular with listeners that it became an annual ritual which is respected to this day.
Christmas 1940 took place in the middle of the Blitz. Between September and November, London had been bombed for 57 consecutive nights. The bombing campaign showed no signs of abating as Christmas Day approached, so many people spent Christmas Eve in an air-raid shelter.
In wartime, finding adequate numbers of postal workers to deal with the influx of extra letters and parcels also became a problem. There was also less space available to carry mail on the railways, which were needed for transport of troops and munitions.
Christmas decorations were also very difficult to come by, with very few available in shops. To brighten their surroundings, people would often make paper chains from scraps of old paper or painted newspapers.
War Games: Retro Gaming Zone
Until 8 January 2023, IWM London
Don't miss your last chance to visit our free, playable retro gaming zone, part of the War Games programme.
Visitors can play 13 iconic video game titles including Battlezone, Medal of Honour and Goldeneye on consoles ranging from the Atari 2600 to the Sega Saturn.
Wartime Christmas gifts were usually homemade and practical. Children’s toys were often made from recycled materials. In the weeks before Christmas, men in the armed services often put their practical skills to use by making presents for their families back home.
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) set up a scheme for delivering Christmas gifts to relatives of those serving overseas. According to the Ministry of Information, by 1944 around 20,000 gifts a year were being sent at a cost of about £35,000.
The British War Relief Society (BWRS) also helped to provide gifts, food, clothes and other non-military aid from the US to Britain. It functioned as a central administrative office and receiving depot for money and supplies. These were then distributed to charities in the US and the UK.
Despite the hardships faced by many during the war, the need to mark the holidays remained and, in some ways, became more important than ever.
People had to find resourceful means of celebrating without access to many of the traditional trappings of the season. Their efforts are a testament to the endurance of the festive spirit, even in the most desperate of times.
Princess Elizabeth in the ATS, 1945
Crown and Conflict
Until 8 January 2023, IWM London
Don't miss your last chance to see this poignant free exhibition exploring the breadth and scope of Queen Elizabeth II's role in times of war and conflict.
A series of remarkable photographs chart The Queen's experience of war, from serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War, to carrying out important public duties involving the armed forces.
It has not been an ordinary year. Through it all we remained guided by our vision to reveal and rethink the way we live, in order to live better together.
We are a registered Warm Bank, and from January, we will start our drop-in Free Tea Fridays to give those who need it a safe and warm place to meet other people. We also host Hackney Foodbank on Mondays and every Tuesday through the holidays and will continue to do so.
We do this because we are part of a community we love and want to support. Our home is your home.
For a pair of very special Christmas podcast episodes, host Angela Clutton wanders around the Market in the charming company of two of the country’s most engaging food experts. Cookery writer and ‘queen of leftovers’ Melissa Hemsley joins her to chat to traders at Raya, Food & Forest and The Tinned Fish Company, try Indonesian snake fruit and discuss her Christmas food fixations (including Christmas pudding with cheese). In part two, Angela follows Jeremy Lee, charismatic chef-proprietor of Quo Vadis and author of the hit cookbook Cooking, as he shops at Ginger Pig, Mons Cheesemongers and Neal’s Yard Dairy, and holds forth about his memories of the Market, his love of a good spud, and his predictably indulgent approach to Christmas cooking.
Borough Market is open every day until Christmas, including an extra hour on Sunday (10am – 4pm) and a bumper day of trading on 23 December (8am – 6pm). On Christmas Eve, we’ll be opening and closing early (8am – 3pm).
After Christmas, we reopen on 28 December so you can stock back up again. On New Year’s Eve, we’ll have another early start and finish (8am – 3pm) before closing for New Year. We then kick off 2023 on 4 January. Read full opening times
Borough Market Online has all the high-quality seasonal produce you need for Christmas, as well as a selection of spectacular hampers. Pre-Christmas delivery slots are still available, with a cut-off of 2pm on 21 December. Order now.
Christmas, Borough Market style
For a guide to making the perfect Borough Market Christmas dinner, as formulated by the peerless Ed Smith, head over to the digital edition of Market Life issue 51. Meanwhile, over on Instagram we’ve been rolling out a fantastic series of reels in which our expert traders offer their festive advice. Follow us to learn about oyster shucking, wreath making, the world’s best nut brittle and the art of the Italian aperitivo, with more to come as Christmas approaches!
Jerusalem artichoke soup with hazelnut oil & crispy skins
A perfect Christmas starter: a velvety soup rich with the earthy, sweet flavour of jerusalem artichokes, which can be made ahead of time and easily reheated. RECIPE BY ED SMITH
Cranberry crisp with toffee bourbon sauce
An easy Christmas dessert: cranberries and nuts with a sugary crumble and a creamy, boozy sauce. RECIPE BY CELIA BROOKS
Cartwright Brothers Vintners
Clearly, good wine is one of the essential pillars of Christmas. A cornerstone of the Market since its foundation by brothers Martin and David Cartwright, Cartwright Brothers Vintners Ltd is now run by Martin’s son Richard, who sources a wide range of wines from around the world, mostly from independent estates. The stall also has a growing range of English wines, spirits, mead and fruit wines.
A perfect source of cured meats for a Boxing Day spread, Thea Wunderer’s Alpine Deli offers a snapshot of the cuisine of South Tyrol, the most northerly region of Italy. The region’s defining foodstuff is Speck Alto Adige, a ham with Protected Geographical Indication status. Other products include mountain salami, alpine bresaola, pancetta, venison prosciutto, smoked sausages and biltong.
It's an exciting time at the Museum, where we're all wearing our Christmas jumpers from the Shop! Santa's sleigh has landed in our winter wonderland, and we're welcoming hundreds of families to enjoy our festive programming. Read on to discover some of our seasonal highlights this December - and how you could win The Trainspotter's Notebook by Francis Bourgeois!
Until 2 January
Christmas at the Museum
Santa's at the Museum until 23 December, and you can enjoy festive activities and play on his Routemaster-inspired interactive sleigh in our winter wonderland until January. Make a pop-out Christmas card, follow our family trail around the galleries, discover our winter poster parade, and step inside a giant festive transport poster for a seasonal selfie... and don't miss the orange spiced hot chocolate and Christmas crumble slices in our cafe. Kids go free!
London Transport Catering Christmas cracker, in box, 1992
This December, our Object of the Month is a London Transport Catering Christmas cracker from 1992. The cracker was part of the Christmas party catering on offer at the 10 Carvery rooftop restaurant located at 55 Broadway, the former headquarters of London Transport.
Click on the Christmas and winter-themed collection objects below to learn more about them!
More stories about catering for London's transport staff
Discover how canteens kept London's transport companies' workforce fed throughout most of the 20th century - even through the challenges of wartime.
TikTok trainspotting phenomenon Francis Bourgeois hosted his book launch at the Museum. Now we're offering one lucky person the chance to win a signed copy of his new book, The Trainspotter's Notebook.
The Trainspotter's Notebook takes you through historic terminals and backwater stations with Francis, with hilarious and heart-warming tales celebrating the places and people of the railway.
Looking for a completely unique experience for yourself, or to gift someone else this Christmas? With five in-person station tours, a walking tour and eight virtual tours, join us behind the scenes to explore secret and ‘forgotten’ parts of the London Underground network's history.
Order your Christmas gifts by Thursday 15 December!
Don't miss out on this chance to snap up unique presents ahead of Christmas: order by midnight on Thursday 15 December to make sure your gifts arrive for the big day! From pin badges to transport posters, games to embroidery kits, there's something to delight everyone.