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StephenT [userpic]

A traditional British Christmas

28th December 2009 (23:10)
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A big thank you to all the people who replied to my 'happy Christmas' post; thanks to woman_of, petzipellepingo, darkestboy, pamsblau, lavastar, crossreactivity, frogfarm, gabrielleabelle, alexeia_drae, angearia, tessarin and maharet83. Et aussi, merci beaucoup à frenchani et candleanfeather pour m'avoir souhaité un joyeux Noël en français. And if you're reading, special thanks to mr_waterproof for the hospitality. :-)

Apparently my use of the word 'happy' instead of 'merry' in my post caused quite a stir. In my experience, I'd say that people in Britain write 'Merry Christmas' more often, but when they're speaking, 'Happy Christmas' is significantly more common. 'Merry' just sounds archaic and old-fashioned. (Which is possibly why Americans still say it; love you, but you're all really tradition-bound and olde-worlde sometimes compared to us in the UK. :-))

Anyway, since I'm on the subject here are seventeen features of a traditional UK Christmas. I'd be interested to know which ones are common to other nations too and which are unique. (And British people on my flist can feel free to chime in to say "That's not a British tradition at all, that's just you being weird.")


1. The run-up to Christmas begins when shops put their Christmas stock on the shelves and put up Christmas decorations. Maybe in the dim and distant past this was done at the start of December; nowadays, it's more like October.

2. On 1 December it's time to start the Advent Calendar. This is a printed cardboard calendar with lots of little windows numbered 1 - 25. (Or 1-24 if you have a cheap calendar, or 1-31 if you have a peculiar one.) You open one each day to reveal a cute little picture behind it. Or even better, a chocolate. Or if you have mean workmates/family members, an empty hole where there used to be a chocolate until someone came along and opened all the doors in advance and scoffed all the chocolates.

3. At the same time or slightly later, the Christmas decorations go up. The centrepiece of these is always a Christmas tree; either a real fir or spruce or whatever, or an artificial tree. Tastes differ. There's a huge (real) tree erected in London every year that's a gift from the people of Norway to Britain for us helping them out during the Second World War. Thanks, Norwegians! :-) The tree can be decorated with tinsel, baubles, fairy lights, and may have an angel or a star on the top. Other house decorations can include streamers, wreaths of holly, bunches of mistletoe (for kissing under), more fairy lights, and so forth. The occasional nutters will convert their entire house into a festive lights display, thereby annoying their neighbours and getting in the local newspaper.

3a. The local council (city government) will usually put up Christmas lights as well in the streets, and get some minor celebrity to turn them on. Large stores or shopping malls will build a Santa's Grotto. Piped music will play Christmas tunes, which leads me to...

4. Certain songs will be played every single Christmas on the radio and over public sound systems. The first time you hear them, you might even smile to hear the old familiar tune. By the tenth time, you're ready to commit murder. Why more shop assistants who have to listen to the same piped music every single hour of the day don't flip out in homicidal killing rages is a total mystery. For the record, these are the most-played Christmas songs in Britain in the '00s, according to the Performing Rights Society:

1. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU Mariah Carey (1994)
2. FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK The Pogues (1987)
3. MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY Slade (1973)
4. STOP THE CAVALRY Jona Lewie (1980)
5. DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS? Band Aid (1984)
6. DRIVING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS Chris Rea (1988)
7. LAST CHRISTMAS Wham (1984)
8. I BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS Greg Lake (1975)
9. STEP INTO CHRISTMAS Elton John (1973)
10. WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS TIME Paul McCartney (1979)

5. Children are encouraged to believe in Father Christmas and send him a letter describing what presents they want, which of course is very useful for the child's parents and relatives. 'Father Christmas' is more common than 'Santa Claus' as a name for him, though the second term is known as well. He looks just like the traditional image from the 1930s Coca Cola advert : a fat old man with a white beard, dressed in a traditional Siberian shaman's costume of red trimmed with white fur, carrying a sack of toys and riding in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.

6. Sickeningly smug and well-prepared people do all their Christmas shopping in, like, September. More people do it in early December. Some people do it late on Christmas Eve. I decline to comment on which group I fall into. :-) Presents are bought for family, friends, and occasionally work colleagues. Secret Santa is a tradition at some workplaces (you're given the name of an randomly chosen colleague and buy them a gift anonymously, instead of buying presents for everyone or causing drama by leaving some people out.)

7. You also send out Christmas cards. Two years ago someone at work was handing out cards to everyone there, and hesitated when he came to my (Pakistani Muslim) friend N. and asked in some confusion "Is it okay to give you one too?" She replied in tones of genuine puzzlement "Why wouldn't it be?" Last year she sidestepped the issue by making a point of handing out her own cards to people early. (On discussing it with her later, she said that as far as her family is concerned, "We don't really think of Christmas as a Christian thing, it's just a British thing.")

8. Another long-established tradition is that at some point a bishop will be wheeled out to make a speech lamenting that we've "Forgotten the true meaning of Christmas". Right-wing and conservative media will quote this as an excuse to complain that the country is collapsing into anarchy because of political correctness and multi-culturalism. Sometimes they try to whip up an American-style War On Christmas frenzy about a school that's banned the singing of Christmas carols or a council that's put up non-denominational decorations - most such examples turn out to be exaggerated or taken out of context, and few people care.

9. However, lots of people enjoy listening to traditional Christmas carol singing (Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, While Shepherds Watched, Little Town of Bethlehem, We Three Kings, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, etc) as opposed to the playing of Christmas pop songs (see 4. above). In the old days carol singers used to go around the streets singing carols on doorsteps and collecting money for charity. These days they'd probably get mugged, or people wouldn't dare go to the door in case the carol singers mugged them.

10. The week of Christmas arrives, and half the population gets in their car or on a train to go and stay with family over Christmas. Travelling is, of course, a nightmare - especially since this is late December which in Britain means freezing rain or sleet, black ice on the roads, and occasionally your actual snow.  However, note that if it does snow the week before Christmas, all the snow will have melted by the 25th, and no new snow will fall until after Christmas. This is Traditional.

11. Some people go to church, either on the night of Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning. In 2007 the Church of England recorded 2.7 million people attending its services. Out of a population of 50 million in England, that's one person in 20 who attends church. You can probably add on a similar number or slightly less from all the other denominations - Catholics, evangelicals, etc.

12. Children normally leave out a stocking on Christmas Eve, in the hope that Father Christmas will come in the night and fill it full of presents. In many households this "stocking" is more like a sack. It's also traditional to leave a small snack out in front of the fireplace for Father Christmas - for example a mince pie and a glass of sherry or whiskey. A carrot for his reindeer is also included. These will, of course, actually be consumed by the children's parents once they're in bed, leaving some crumbs to sustain the illusion. Also, how Santa gets down the chimney when most houses these days have central heating and the chimney is blocked off is one of life's eternal mysteries. Presents for adults are most often left beneath the Christmas tree.

13. On Christmas Day, children will often be up at the crack of dawn, over-excited and hyper and demanding to open their presents. Sometimes this is done individually, other times it's a formal family ceremony as each present is opened and oohed and aahed over in turn.

13a. The classic "boring present for a male relative you don't really know all that well" is a pair of socks. Another traditional present is an orange, dating back to the days when fruit imported from overseas was exotic and special. These days Terry's Chocolate Oranges are probably more popular and equally traditional. Also, it's a rule that young children will have more fun playing with the wrapping paper and boxes than the actual expensive presents they were given; and that at least one thing will be broken or have no batteries.

14. Christmas dinner is probably the single largest meal most people will eat all year. The traditional centrepiece is a roast turkey. Back before America was colonised goose rather than turkey was used, and some families prefer to serve this instead. Along with the turkey comes stuffing and cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, probably some other form of potato too, and various vegetables. Brussels sprouts are always served, which is a mystery because almost nobody likes them. Small pork sausages wrapped in bacon and roasted alongside the turkey are also essential, though I suspect those Jewish and Muslim households who cook Christmas dinner (see 7. above) leave them out.  Vegetarian households doubtless omit them too, along with the turkey itself.

After the main course comes the Christmas pudding, a kind of incredibly rich, sticky fruit cakey thing. (I have to confess, I'm not a fan myself.) Traditionally, silver sixpences are baked into the pudding and belong to the person who finds them in his or her dish; the age of this tradition can be deduced from the fact that the last silver sixpence was minted in 1946. While other coins might be substituted, generally this isn't done due to, among other reasons, Health and Safety fears and the fact that puddings are often heated in the microwave now, and filling them with metal coins could be spectacular. However, one tradition which is upheld is soaking the pudding in brandy then setting fire to it as it's brought to the table, so it arrives covered in sheets of blue flame. White sauce (made from the finest-quality white), brandy butter, ice cream and so forth can be served too. After the pudding comes Christmas cake (like Christmas pudding but drier, less crumbly, and with marzipan and icing), cheese and biscuits, coffee, mints, and anything else you like. All washed down with lots of alcohol, of course.

15. Christmas dinner is usually in its closing stages by 3.00 pm when the Queen's Speech is broadcast. This is another old British tradition dating back - actually only to 1932, since it would have been impractical before TV and radio were invented. In the old days the entire family would gather around in hushed and respectful silence as Her Maj talks about what sort of year she's had and gives us some uplifting homilies on being nice to each other and keeping a stiff upper lip when things look dodgy. These days not as many people bother to watch, but it's one of those things that's nice to know still happens even if it doesn't actually affect you directly.

However, there are other television programmes which have themselves become part of the traditional Christmas. There's almost always a James Bond film being broadcast, for instance, and various old chestnuts like The Sound of Music pop up year after year. Soap operas like Corrie and Eastenders usually broadcast special Christmas episodes with twice the usual amount of melodrama, and other 'family' shows do the same. In recent years the Doctor Who Christmas special has become a particular focal point with 10 million people watching it in 2009 (one person in six of the population - or to put it another way, nearly four times more people watched Doctor Who as went to CofE church services this year).

16. The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day for obscure reasons that have nothing to do with the concept of people punching each other for entertainment. Rather, it seems that in bygone days servants were given the day off, and wealthy families would hand out boxes containing gifts, leftover food from the Christmas dinner, etc, to both their servants and people like their butcher, milkman and plumber. This tradition hasn't been followed for at least a century, but the name remains. Boxing Day is a public holiday in Britain, but these days many shops open and hold sales, and expect to do a significant percentage of their entire year's turnover in this one day. Boxing Day also features many sporting events, like football and horse-racing, and traditionally was also a time for fox hunting - a little tricky now since fox hunting was banned on grounds of animal cruelty, so the hunts chase after men dragging bags of Essence of Fox instead. People also visit relatives (the ones they didn't see on Christmas Day itself). The traditional Boxing Day meal is cold leftovers from Christmas dinner the previous day (especially turkey), since nobody wants to cook.

17. Almost nobody in Britain goes to work between Christmas and New Year, apart from retail and transport workers and those in essential services. Everybody else is on holiday.

Special British English terminology note, mostly for Americans:
Christmas Day is a religious festival or holy day, and is also a Bank Holiday - a term of art that means that banks are legally obliged to close down, and most other businesses do too. The "Christmas holiday" means the period from late December to early January that children are off school, students are not at university, and most people don't work. A 'holiday' is when you go away somewhere nice for a week or two, such as to the seaside, or skiing. The correct response to the term "Happy Holidays" is "But I'm not going away this year" or "When did you turn into an American?" Most people are vaguely aware of Eid, Diwali and Hannukah, but nobody's heard of Kwanzaa or Festivus, and besides, Christmas is generally considered a secular festival, which was originally pagan, then stolen by the Christians, then stolen in turn by the rest of us.

 


Comments

Posted by: leseparatist (novin_ha)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 00:28 (UTC)
[misc] icon

In Poland our presents are under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and a large portion of Poles goes to church on 24th/25th and fewer also on 26th.

The Church usually talks about abortion (what if Mary had had one?!)

We have to listen to similar Christmas song line-up, although I don't think The Pogues are included.

Walnuts are typically eaten, and no meat (but lots of fish) on Christmas Eve. And those Home Alone movies on TV each year, I think.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 00:31 (UTC)

I was reading that the only reason church attendance in Britain didn't fall even lower than 1 in 20 in the past few years was because of all the staunchly Catholic Polish workers who came here after you joined the EU. :-) Fortunately, abortion isn't really a controversial political issue here these days.

No meat on Christmas Eve? That's not a tradition I'd ever heard of. I assume it's related to religious fasting/ Fridays?

Posted by: leseparatist (novin_ha)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 00:53 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:19 (UTC)

Posted by: leseparatist (novin_ha)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:35 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:33 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 14:26 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:47 (UTC)

Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 10:42 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 4th January 2010 00:39 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:31 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 00:42 (UTC)

However, there are other television programmes which have themselves become part of the traditional Christmas. There's almost always a James Bond film being broadcast, for instance, and various old chestnuts like The Sound of Music pop up year after year.

I can understand most of these traditions, but this one is just weird. Clearly, the only sane thing to do is what we do: the entire country sits down at 3 in the afternoon to watch an old Disney clip show from the 1960s. The same exact badly dubbed Disney clip show. Every year. Since the 1960s. EVERYONE.

nearly four times more people watched Doctor Who as went to CofE church services this year

That's eerily fitting, considering the Doctor's current story arc...

Oh, and belated happy Christmas and all that. <:-)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 00:59 (UTC)

Also, on the religion bit, you'd probably be forgiven for wondering if we were ever really Christianised in the first place. Apart from the odd religious programme on TV and a bunch of stars and nativity scenes used for decorative purposes, the most obvious religious symbol around is probably the goats. Tons of straw goats ranging in size from a few centimetres to 15 metres high. The most well-known one is usually burned before Midw... Christmas. It's a ritual sacrifice. With ham.

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:35 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 07:17 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:46 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:21 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:29 (UTC)

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:05 (UTC)

Christmas in Old Blighty always seemed so much more Christmasy. At least to this redneck yankee raised on childrens' books set in England or heavily influenced by classic anglo-saxony.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:23 (UTC)

Well, we copied most of our Christmas traditions from the Germans, and then the Americans copied them from us, and are now re-exporting them... But I think a lot of it is that here, it's considered a festival for everybody rather than a specifically religious thing, so everybody enters into the spirit of it.

Posted by: Nicki (peroxidepirate)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:11 (UTC)
Yule elves #1

Hm, that's mostly the same as here in the US, as far as I can tell. Just a few differences:

#4. You don't hear so many Christmas pop songs, just constant Christmas carols.

#5. He's almost always called Santa Claus, or occasionally St. Nick.

#8. It's more likely to be a right-wing politician or a televangelist than a bishop.

#10. We do the crazy travel thing, too -- including a bunch of true lunatics who fly during the Christmas season, which I would never, ever do because of winter weather in combination with the way everybody gets really high-strung during the holidays. As for snow, that really depends on where you are -- I live in southern Michigan, so it's usually snow north of here, rain south, and snow-melt-snow-melt-snow right here. But Christmas (like Easter and Halloween) it usually rains.

#11. I have no idea how many of us go to church for Christmas. More than on a typical Sunday, though.

#14. Your Christmas dinner is our Thanksgiving dinner, although the desserts are different. Christmas dinner is a lot more variable: a few years back, we started having stir-fry on Christmas Eve every year; my aunt's family has salmon; but a lot of people do reprise the turkey & potatoes.

#15. No Queen's Speech here, obviously... but yes on the stupid movies on TV. Along with sporting events, and also going to the movies, because movie theaters are usually open.

#16. Got it, Boxing Day is just like the day after Thanksgiving. :) Here, Dec. 26 is just another day.

#17. Unless you work in education, you only get Dec. 25 (and maybe the 24th) and Jan. 1 off. If you work in a movie theater, you don't even get those. But all the kids are off school, of course.

Finally, I like the notion of Christmas as a secular festival stolen from the Pagans. I like the twinkly lights (and OMG why don't we call them fairy lights!) from a Pagan viewpoint, bringing light to the darkest time of the year.

Posted by: Nicki (peroxidepirate)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:14 (UTC)
Yule elves #1

... belated realizes that "just a few differences" includes more than half the items on the list.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:37 (UTC)

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:40 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:50 (UTC)

Posted by: Desperately Random (crossoverman)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:16 (UTC)

Posted by: Nicki (peroxidepirate)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 01:55 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 02:43 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:38 (UTC)

Posted by: Peasant (peasant_)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 08:53 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 14:32 (UTC)

Posted by: Peasant (peasant_)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 19:43 (UTC)

Posted by: petzipellepingo (petzipellepingo)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 09:14 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 4th January 2010 00:48 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 02:37 (UTC)

Some of the British Christmas traditions that we don't really have at all in the U.S.:

1. The Christmas pudding
2. The "Christmas Number One" song
3. Special TV episodes aired on Christmas Day itself
4. The Pantomime
5. Christmas Crackers

And, of course, the Queen's speech.

By far the most over-played Christmas song in the U.S. is John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)". Most of the songs you listed we don't hear much, except maybe the Mariah Carey one and occasionally "Do They Know It's Christmas"... though Taylor Swift has a cover of "Last Christmas" that got a lot of airplay this year.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 02:45 (UTC)

Well, the 'Christmas Number One' isn't really a tradition anymore, since first CDs and then MP3s replaced the vinyl 45.

I missed out pantomime, mostly because I haven't been to one in about 35 years, but they probably should be on the list...

You don't have Christmas crackers? :-o

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:40 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 14:36 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:48 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:48 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 4th January 2010 00:51 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 4th January 2010 15:31 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:30 (UTC)

Aww, I get a thank you for commenting. It's like I did something special!

Et je peux avoir souhaiter-toi un joyeux Noël en français, mais ma talente de français est très terrible.

This was actually really interesting, and perfectly timed! I love talking about what I do for Christmas, for some reason, so hooray, I get a chance to tell someone! :)

2. Bah! Nonsense. Real advent calendars (meaning mine) are made of cloth, and are kept year after year to hang on the wall, and have pockets with plush representatives of all of the members of the nativity - like various animals, the angels, a wreath, a star, the wise men, presents, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus going in a little gold manger pocket - in them for each day, that you put up with velcro on a backdrop. Clearly.

3. We have a fake tree (since I always go to my parent's house that's who I'm talking about) because my brother's allergic to pine trees. (And octopus, and pine nuts, and dust and cats and pollen and dogs and tiger lilies. Silly.) It's so not fair that Brits get to call them "baubles" and "fairy lights", while we get "ornaments" and "Christmas tree lights". WHY ARE AMERICANS SO EFFING LAME.

Oh, and I just remembered that when I went to one of those historical reenactment colonial thingies, around Christmastime, the people all said "Happy Christmas", cause apparently that's what we said back in the day cause we were still trying to be like the Brits. So maybe it's just us being all stubborn and hating anything British? :P

3a. You have the gov do that?? Weird. I mean, I guess the city gov's put up light things in the shape of angels or holly branches or trumpets on the light posts, but they just end up there somehow. And of course all the stores put up wreathes and lights.

4. Luckily I never really listen to the radio, so I don't know many modern Christmas songs, and have no idea what any of those songs are.

5. Father Christmas totally sounds cooler. Yet again.

6. I got so behind this year on presents! It was totally nerve-wracking. I thought the stuff I ordered from amazon wasn't gonna arrive in time, but then it did. :)

My family simplifies things that admitting we have no clue what to get each other, and give each other wish lists of stuff we want, and coordinate in many secret meetings over who's getting what. Birthdays are like that too. Sometimes I feel bad and try to be creative and get something off the list, but I usually end up sticking to the safe thing.

7. Christmas totally isn't Christian. I'm certainly not Christian, but what's winter without some sort of present-food-family related celebration?

8. Oh, separation of church and state, you get so silly sometimes. I hate both the people who bitch about how we're too PC and the people who actually are way too PC.

Funny related story being when my uncle laughed at a decoration hanging outside our door, of a Christmas tree that said "Happy Holidays" on it, cause if it's a Christmas tree it should obviously just say "Merry Christmas." Then my mom told him he and his wife had bought it for us. :)

I actually hear more about how we're soooo commercial and materialistic and need to focus on family and we're too rich anyways and we don't need all these presents and it's so wasteful blah blah with the "forgetting the true meaning of Christmas" thing. Usually accompanied by some story about how people found the Christmas spirit without any presents. Like in The Grinch!

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 03:31 (UTC)

(I apparently got too excited about Christmas - part two...)

9. I LOVE CHRISTMAS CAROLS. So much. Singing them up to December is one of the best things about Christmas, and singing them at church, and then my family goes back to the house and turns off the lights so it's just the Christmas tree lights and sing all the carols we can remember. I generally only know parts of them or the first verse, cause I am a heathen who knew no Christian upbringing, but instead went to Unitarian churches that kind of say they're not Christian but basically are.

My friend once told me she loves to go caroling, and does so every year. This strikes me as completely strange, as I have never seen an actual live person doing this, and would probably freak out and slam the door if someone tried to do that at my house.

Or, maybe not slam it - but how awkward that must be, to have to just stand there, letting the cold into your house, listening to their songs, when you really probably have better things to do.

11. I absolutely hate my parent's church normally, but it's so lovely to go to on Christmas Eve. It just feels all traditional. We sing carols, and the children's choir murders some songs - this year it was "This Little Light of Mine" sung so slowly and dreadfully I was about ready to die, and some song about a little brown donkey - and there's a tree and off to the side a menorah and some Kwanzaa candles to be all Solidarity With Other Religions Since We're Not Actually A Christian Church, and they read the Christmas story from the Bible, and they list the babies born to the congregation this year and light candles for them, and we're all dressed up and have just gone out to eat and it's lovely.

But I hate church, normally.

12. For some reason my mother still insists on putting stockings out for all of us. I don't really mind, since I usually get a couple of pairs of tights or socks, some random little pens and such - one year she gave me a half-used pack of sticky notes, I have no idea why - and Hershey's Kisses out of it.

13. My family always does the long oohing and aahing. I'm usually the one to get the presents from under the tree to the couch, and it goes in upwards age order, one present per person. If it doesn't go this way, it's not really Christmas...which is actually true about a lot of things.

14. Christmas Day isn't really a big meal for me - well, kind of, but we usually just go out to a family friend's, kinda low-key. The big day is Boxing Day, or sometime soon thereafter, when all of my dad's relatives get together with us at someone's house for a big dinner and Secret Santa gift exchange.

My Welsh aunt usually makes Christmas cake, which is really rather good. And of course there's tea, and lots and lots of chatting - chatting before dinner with veggie plates and such, chatting during dinner, chatting after dinner, chatting during gifts, chatting after gifts, chatting during tea and dessert, chatting after that. Basically, chatting.

16. Really? I actually thought it was cause the clerks are boxing everything up with all the returns made, or something. Somehow I got the impression it had to do with stores and returns. :)


And so that's what a Bank Holiday is! I always saw them on my calendar and didn't know what that meant. Do most people actually get off work or school for them?

And, okay, this is possibly really racially insensitive, but who actually celebrates Kwanzaa?? I have never ever heard of an actual black person outside of special PC picture books and the Boondocks celebrating Kwanzaa.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 14:54 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:59 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 14:42 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:52 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 22:53 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 30th December 2009 01:45 (UTC)

Posted by: itsmrgordotoyou (itsmrgordotoyou)
Posted at: 9th January 2010 01:27 (UTC)

Posted by: Peasant (peasant_)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 08:56 (UTC)

I haven't seen an Advent calendar that went up to 25 for years now. I didn't realise they were priced by the door and I was just a cheapskate.

Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 10:56 (UTC)
K Baby pic

I made my daughter a fabric one when she was three - very simple version of an idea I saw somewhere (this being before they became fashionable!). Not being a very good sewer, I did the pockets in strips - 5x5 - so she has 25 pockets.

When she was about 8 she got really upset because her teacher at school did a 'Christmas themed' maths quiz and when D-d defended her answer to 'Add the number of Wise Men to the number of windows on an Advent calendar' by saying that hers has 25 the teacher told her off for lying...

She was the only poor teacher D-d had in all her primary education.

D-d also commented that she didn't even bother trying to point out that the bible doesn't actually say that there were three wise men, so any number of 26 or above could have been right. She was a very pedantic child - she will doubtless make a good lawyer!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 14:58 (UTC)

Posted by: Peasant (peasant_)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 19:44 (UTC)

Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 20:36 (UTC)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 10:27 (UTC)
Christmas TARDIS by daquien

This is a brilliant post! (Although - as others have pointed out - you missed out panto, which is *exceedingly* English.) Oh, and The Great Escape, although they don't actually show that anymore...

ETA: You forgot Christmas crackers, which are important because of the paper crowns. It's not a proper Christmas dinner if people aren't wearing paper crowns! Also you didn't mention that the 'Small pork sausages wrapped in bacon' are called 'pigs in blankets' - one of my alltime favourite monikers! :)

In Denmark, the big thing is Christmas Eve. Many (most?) people go to a Christmas service in the afternoon, even though it's a very secular country these days. Then in the evening you have a big meal (turkey, natch) and a sort of rice-pudding for dessert which will have a whole almond in it. The one who gets the almond gets a price. (This, of course, tends to be rigged in favour of the children...) After the meal everyone will join hands and 'dance' (=walk) around the Christmas tree (REAL candles!), singing traditional carols/songs. After that everyone opens their presents. (As you can imagine, the dinner is sheer torture for kids... in some evil families they even do the washing up before it's present time.)

Christmas Day there is a VERY LONG lunch with many many dishes (made whilst people sit around waiting) and MUCH alcohol. Not sure what people watch on TV as we didn't have one. (Yes, I was a DEPRIVED child. Making up for it now, though. Ahem.)

I think that's most of it.

Edited at 2009-12-29 10:43 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:03 (UTC)

Although - as others have pointed out - you missed out panto, which is *exceedingly* English

Oh no it isn't!

Sorry. Couldn't resist.


I've never actually used the term "pigs in blankets" myself; we just called them sausages. :-)


After the meal everyone will join hands and 'dance' (=walk) around the Christmas tree (REAL candles!), singing traditional carols/songs.

I'm trying to picture this. You must have had really large houses (or possibly, really small Christmas trees) because I can't remember ever seeing a tree in a British house that would have room for people to walk around it in a complete circle. Unless you dragged it into the middle of the room, which would mean shedding ornaments and needles all over the carpet...

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:13 (UTC)

Posted by: dipenates (dipenates)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 10:45 (UTC)

Mince pies!

And school nativity plays, wherein all parents of nursery or primary school age children have to sit through an interminable dramatic presentation of the nativity. Given that the number of players in the nativity story was quite small, and that there are quite a lot of children in a school, there are always speaking / singing / dancing parts for various legions of sheep / stars / shepherds.

There is usually some kind of work Christmas lunch / party, which involves much forced banter with work colleagues, the wearing of a paper party hat, and then considerable drunkenness.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:06 (UTC)

For years I was convinced that mince pies had actual minced meat in them, and refused to eat them. :-)


There is usually some kind of work Christmas lunch / party, which involves much forced banter with work colleagues, the wearing of a paper party hat, and then considerable drunkenness.

And at least one person of junior status getting drunk and telling their boss, or the managing director, exactly what's wrong with the company and its management. And a couple of people who normally hardly speak to each other snogging in the corner. Possibly someone photocopying their body parts, though I suspect that may be a myth.

Posted by: mr_waterproof (mr_waterproof)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 11:01 (UTC)

And thank you for being a guest.

3a: I think Christmas lights may in some cases be put up by a confederation of the retailers in the street rather than the council: hence the "traditional rivalry" between Oxford Street and Regents Street to have the best lights isn't Westminster Council competing with itself.

4: Some of the comments said that you don't really hear the Christmas pop songs as much in the US. Which surprises me because we noticed that American artists are much more likely to record Christmas Albums with covers of the seasonal standards than British ones. You want proof? search for any christmassy song titles on iTunes (other music download sites are available) and nearly all the cover versions will be by Americans. Even Bob Dylan did one this year. Although mostly they do old "Great American Song Book" standards rather than pop songs from the last 40 years.

8. "Right Wing and Conservative media", or as we usually say, "the Daily Mail".

I had to look up Festivus on Wikipedia. I never realised Seinfeld fans had a festival all of their own.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:09 (UTC)

"Right Wing and Conservative media", or as we usually say, "the Daily Mail".

Or the Telegraph, or Express, or Times... I actually put that "and" in there to distinguish between the traditional consevatives who just want to go back to the 50s (that's the 1850s...) and the radical Thatcherite and/or Libertarian and/or Fascist right.

Edited at 2009-12-29 15:13 (UTC)

Posted by: mr_waterproof (mr_waterproof)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 17:35 (UTC)

Posted by: goldenusagi (goldenusagi)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 11:26 (UTC)

which was originally pagan, then stolen by the Christians, then stolen in turn by the rest of us

This is sort of how I feel about Christmas. It's one big secular, fun holiday to me. But for a lot of the U.S., it's a religious holiday.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 15:13 (UTC)

Well, the name 'Christmas' is obviously Christian; just look at the first six letters. But 'Yuletide' is a good pagan name for the same thing. :-)

Christians claiming ownership of the big winter holiday is rather like those US Christians (presumbly the same people, most of the time) claiming ownership of the concept of marriage.

Posted by: Cal (caliente_uk)
Posted at: 29th December 2009 23:27 (UTC)

Yes, 'Happy Christmas' is what I always say to people, although I do write 'Merry Christmas' on occasion. :)

I love most of our Christmas traditions, but have to admit I can't stand Christmas pudding or mince pies.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 30th December 2009 13:00 (UTC)

Me neither. :-)

Posted by: Caroline (jamalov29)
Posted at: 30th December 2009 10:14 (UTC)

I never understood the difference between Merry and Happy anyway so thanks for that ;)

Wonderful post !
J'espère que tu as passé un Joyeux Noël.

And since it's nearly time : Bonne et heureuse Année !
Qu'elle t'apporte joie et santé , et qu'elle comble tes plus chers désirs. :)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 30th December 2009 13:05 (UTC)

'Merry' really isn't a word that's used very often in modern English; it feels old-fashioned. It sort of means 'happy', but it's the kind of happiness which comes from drinking large quantities of alcoholic beverages; where you think the person might start singing off-key any moment, or putting their arm around your shoulders and saying "I really, really love you, you know? you're my best friend."

:-)

Et Bonne Nouvelle Année à toi aussi! Merci beaucoup.

Posted by: sazza_jay (spikes_wish)
Posted at: 31st December 2009 16:42 (UTC)

Actually our use of Turkey as the christmas meal centerpiece isn't caused by the USAs traditional Thanksgiing Turkey- The Spanish introduced them in England in the victorian era and became very popular, thus becoming the preferred Christams bird.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st January 2010 02:57 (UTC)

The Spanish? Really? I didn't know that.

But my original point was more simply that the turkey is native to North America - so obviously there could be no turkeys eaten in Europe before America was colonised... :-)

Posted by: Halima (cartography)
Posted at: 17th April 2010 11:16 (UTC)
☀ london baby!

This is a great post, I'm adding it to my memories for future reference. Thank you! :)

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