For 2009 in the UK there were more Christmas displays than ever. It was estimated that approximately one house in four had some sort of decoration and in some streets it was more like one in two. That may not sound like much but when you realise that in parts of the UK Christmas had been banned for over 400 years then it makes the whole thing all the more remarkable.
Christmas banned for four hundred years… It doesn’t seem possible. Yet it is perfectly true.
During the reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, Christmas became an ordinary day for the masses. In 1583 bakers who made Yule Breads would be punished by being fined or imprisoned. Their punishment could be lessened if they divulged who their customers were. English soldiers were recruited for their long noses as this was supposed to make it easier to sniff out the baking spices. During 1638 the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh tried to ban all yuletide celebrations.
While the same things were going on south of the border in England, the Restoration of the Monarchy saw the restoration of Christmas. In Scotland however, the rigid laws of the new church (or Kirk) still frowned upon Christmas celebration, so it stayed underground. Only the High church and the Catholics kept the old traditions going. In England much of the symbolism and earlier religious elements were lost and it was not until the Victorians came along that Christmas was re-established, an effort which was helped by the strongly Christmas orientated Royal family with its German Prince Consort. The Reformation in Germany had hardly touched Christmas at all, and Prince Albert brought it all once again to the public eye.
As you can imagine English customs were not particularly welcomed by the Scottish. As a result Scots celebrations hardly changed at all. Old Christmas comprised three days of solemn tribune, church services, fasting and hard work. People were expected to attend church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This was followed by a day of charitable works on the Feast of Stephen, which we now call Boxing Day. There were no parties or celebrations until these religious days were over. Then the solemnity gave way to joyous and often rowdy celebration and holiday under the name of ‘Homme est né’ or Hogmanay.
In fact Christmas day was not recognised as a public holiday until 1958 and as late as 2001 bank workers went on strike to keep the New Years holidays in Scotland.
So if Christmas was banned for so long how have we got to the situation today where almost every town has at least one big display and we are even beginning to see animated displays?
The answer is quite simple… America. We have, like most of the world, been subject to the influence of American culture. And I for one think this is a fabulous thing.
It has been said that the UK is between three and five years behind the US in terms of mass market commercialisation. Something that happens in the US takes between three and five years to catch on over in the UK.
So where are we now? I would say that we are in the BC stage (Before Carson). We never got the beer commercial that catapulted Carson Williams in the spotlight here in the UK. Although there are a large number of big static displays. Almost every town has at least one big display of about 5,000+ lights and some wireframes. However, there are only a small number of animators, but we are attracting attention.
Of the main newspapers, seven had major features on large Christmas displays. All of the national television channels had at least one news item or broadcast from the displays and there was a lot of radio coverage as well. All we need is for someone to go viral and we will see an explosion of new large displays, animators, DIYers, blow moulders etc.
This last year saw a significant rise in the number of residential outdoor displays. It might have something to do with the recession and people wanting to brighten up the doom and gloom of winter. But I like to think it is because more people are interested in decorating. In my own street for example there are 153 houses. This past year almost 100 were decorated, three of which had significant displays.
As for the future, I believe we will continue to see an increase in the number of big displays and animations. Obtaining large and different display design pieces has always been difficult. But, that is gradually changing and we are seeing significant investment by many lighting companies. We now have a number of dedicated Christmas lighting suppliers and even have a few trade fairs were the serious enthusiast can get hold of the latest pieces. LED lights have made a huge impact over the last couple of years and we will probably see the demise of the traditional incandescent light.
ulticoloured and white lights are still by far the most popular. However, solid colours are making significant inroads and that trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Wireframes (usually with ropelights) continue to be the dominant outdoor display piece with icicle lights the main outlining item.
Over the next few columns we will look more closely at how the UK Christmas scene is developing. We’ll introduce some of the significant players in the market and have a look at what is coming up for the UK decorator.
In the meantime if you have any views or opinions on the UK Christmas decorators scene please drop me a line.
www.TheChristmasLightsInstallers.com or David@TheChristmasLightsInstallers.Com
This article was included in the March 2010 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By David Grant