A Festive Favourite
People’s Friend Specials|Issue 149

How did Britain’s favourite bird become associated with Christmas? Nina Hoole finds out.

WITH its easily recognisable colouring and its tame habits, the robin is a firm favourite with the British public. In unofficial polls it was voted Britain’s national bird in 1960 and again in 2015.

We call it the robin redbreast, or the gardener’s friend. In mediaeval times it was known as the ruddock or robinet. It’s been depicted on Christmas cards since the Victorian era, but not everything we think we know about this well-loved bird is true.

Just look at its most obvious feature – its red breast. Then look again. It’s actually orange. This comes from Old English, when the word “red” was used to describe any colour in the red spectrum from pink through to orangey-brown.

Think of the words red-haired, red deer and even Red Leicester cheese – they are all shades of orange. It was only when the fruit arrived on our shores in Tudor times that the word orange was used to describe its colour, too.

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