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Things to Do in Cornwall at Christmas

Christmas in Cornwall is truly magical. This special corner of the UK holds a certain olde-worlde charm which attracts ‘in-the-know’ visitors who recognise how wonderfully festive some of the Cornish Christmas traditions can be. Harbourside villages festooned with colourful illuminations and stately homes dress to impress, decorating elaborately and opening their doors to invite guests to sample local seasonal fare. The beaches are quiet and beautiful, tempting visitors to fill their lungs with health-giving salty air as they stomp off the excesses of the season.

Cornwall is famed for its traditional celebrations and festivals, so the fact that Cornwall has its own bevvy of Christmas traditions comes as no surprise. Nadelik (Cornish for ‘Christmas’) here in Cornwall has influenced some of the Christmas traditions adopted around the UK so we thought we’d explore things to do in Cornwall at Christmas which celebrate those traditions. Enjoy!

The Cornish “Kissing” Bush

Like many traditions, the Cornish Christmas tradition of the Cornish Bush has its roots (pardon the pun) in winter solstice Pagan celebrations. Adapting the pagan meanings and symbolisms to fit Christian belief systems, the Cornish kissing bush now represents new life. This three-dimensional wreath is made by weaving holly, mistletoe and ivy around a circle of withy – in the centre of which is hung a “crown” of rosy apples and a generous sprig of mistletoe. The beautiful festive ringlet is then topped with a candle and hung indoors on December 20th. Cornish tradition states that dancing in rings underneath the Cornish Bush whilst the candle is lit welcomes in the God of Light. The old “kissing bunch” (as it was sometimes known due to the dancing and merriment which took place underneath it) is still hung from the central beam of the living-room in cottages and homes across Cornwall. The well-known tradition of kissing under the mistletoe evolved from the tradition of the Cornish Bush and is now practiced all over the country with people hanging sprigs of mistletoe in doorways and arches in the hope of attracting a Christmas kiss!


Christmas Day Swim in Cornwall

We do love a spot of wild swimming here in Cornwall, and this is certainly one of the wilder Cornish Christmas traditions! Whilst many are cosied up at home watching Christmas movies and scoffing chocolates, over the past few years Cornish seaside communities have begun to gather for a refreshing dip in the chilly Atlantic. Brrr. The Christmas Day swim has become a popular Cornish Christmas tradition and it is now commonplace to see hundreds of people congregate on beaches all over the county on 25th December, diving into the icy sea with only a swimming costume (or fancy-dress outfit) to keep them ‘warm’ (although that’s hardly the word for it!).  The Christmas Day swim in Bude is not far from Trevigue and is probably the biggest Christmas Day swim in Cornwall, attracting up to 500 people and growing in popularity every year. The swim (which takes place on Crooklets Beach) has a ‘no wetsuit’ rule and raises funds for the local lifeguard service.  As well as the feel-good factor of doing something uniquely fun on Christmas Day, a quick dip in the chilly sea is proven to be very good for you as it gets your blood pumping and boosts your immune system. This Cornwall tradition is now seen happening in numerous coastal places around the UK and brings invigorating Christmas joy to all those who partake!

Christmas mistletoe wreath

Gin and Cake

A Christmas tradition involving gin and cake sounds like a truly wonderful tradition to us! The old Cornish custom of taking gin and cake at Christmas time began when shop owners would give lower classes gin and cake to thank them for purchasing their Christmas goods there. Often the gin served would be ‘mahogany’; a traditional Cornish drink made from two parts gin and one part black treacle. To mix this unique drink, you warm the gin and the treacle and mix them together slowly, creating a drink which tastes a bit like alcoholic treacle toffee. Unfortunately this gin and cake tradition seems to have abated in recent years; we wonder if we can convince traders at this year’s Christmas markets in Cornwall to dish out gin and cake to people buying their wares?!

christmas markets in cornwall

If we have missed any Cornish Christmas traditions loved by you and your family, please share them over on Facebook and Twitter!

We look forward to offering a great big warm Cornish welcome to guests arriving at our B&B and holiday cottage over the festive period. If you would like to experience a slice of authentic Cornwall living at any time of the year get in touch to enquire about dates and availability.

(Photo credit: ADJ Brown)

What are your Cornish Christmas traditions? Let us know!