Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas In The UK

I have always enjoyed Christmas no matter where we've been living at the time.   Every country celebrates differently, but of course, because I'm from the UK, the traditions from there are the ones I hold dearest.  I do enjoy how America does Christmas, but there are several things from home that I really miss.  I do get asked this question often, so without further ado, here are a few differences between the UK and the US.

No build up to Christmas in the UK is complete without attending your local pantomime.  If you live in or near a major city, then chances are there may be a celebrity (even some Americans) in the cast.  In 2013, Henry Winkler and Pamela Anderson were just two US panto stars in the UK.    It's basically a stage show of a Fairy Tale - Aladdin, Peter Pan etc with lots of laughs and innuendos.  One of the main characters is always a dame who is a man dressed as a woman, plastered in make up.  Pantomimes are supposed to be for children, but there are always smutty jokes aimed at the grown ups that a kid probably wouldn't and shouldn't understand.  They are always cheesy, loud and slightly inappropriate, but usually hilarious.  America should totally embrace the pantomime - it's a lot of fun and I really miss going to one before Christmas!  

A typical pantomime dame

In America, stockings are usually hung on the fireplace and the children come downstairs to find them filled on Christmas morning.  Not so back home.  On Christmas Eve, children put their stockings on the bottom of the bed so they can wake up and immediately get stuck in.  All the big gifts are downstairs under the tree, but I remember how exciting it was to wake up and see a stocking full of gifts on your bed.  It doesn't get better than that when you're a kiddo!  American Santa gets cookies and milk left out for him, in the UK, it's more likely to be a mince pie and a glass of sherry.  If I was Santa, I'd appreciate both offerings for sure.

Christmas Dinner in both countries is based around the turkey, but sides and desserts differ.  A staple in the UK is the chipolata - a tasty wee pork sausage, usually wrapped in bacon.  What's not to love about that!  Sausages over here are pretty tasteless in comparison (sorry America)!  In addition to the obligatory gravy, we also have bread sauce.  I love bread sauce, even though it's appearance isn't overly inspiring.  It's a thick, slightly lumpy, white sauce, seasoned and made with bread.  It looks like the American gravy that is served with biscuits, but tastes so much better with the roast potatoes and brussel sprouts that us Brits also love with our Christmas Dinner!  Yep, brussel sprouts - love them or hate them, we put them on our plate because our families have always done so over the years, so it's what we do too.

Which leads me onto Christmas dessert.  In America, the pie is king.  Pecan, pumpkin or sweet potato.  Not so in the UK.  We usually have trifle, Christmas pudding and mince pies.  Luckily for me, I can buy proper custard at Publix so I can make a decent trifle.  World Market also stocks mince pies and Christmas pudding for a ridiculous price, so I can thankfully obtain the goods, and my lovely Mum also brings over a pile of Mr Kipling's mince pies in her suitcase.  You can never have enough mince pies!   Christmas pudding is a dense, moist, dark, heavy cake full of fruit, nuts and booze.  When smothered in warm brandy butter, it's beyond heavenly.  When made properly, you start prepping the pudding months in advance, slowly adding the alcohol throughout the months until it's fully loaded.  A proper British Christmas cake is made similarly, but it isn't boiled like the pudding.  It's coated in marzipan and then iced to perfection.  To be honest, most British kids hate the pudding and cake, but as we grow up, we seem to embrace it more. Possibly because of the high alcohol content?!

On every British table on Christmas Day, you'll find crackers.  Not cheese crackers, Christmas crackers.  These are cardboard tubes, nicely decorated, containing a plastic toy, paper crown and a bad joke to be read out around the table.  Two people pull the cracker - it cracks loudly and the contents fall out.  If you don't immediately don your paper hat, you will be subjected to a barrage of abuse, so it really is in your best interest to suck it up and wear it, even though it will inevitably fall down around your eyes and make your head itch.  Ah, tradition!

The day after Christmas in the UK is called Boxing Day.  In the US, the day after Christmas is just a normal work day.  Our Boxing day is loosely the equivalent of Black Friday minus the crowds fighting in stores.  It's unknown exactly why the day is called Boxing Day, some people say it is because it's the day that presents are boxed back up to put away, others say it used to be a day when servants in big houses were given boxes by the families they worked for.  Regardless, it's a day to mostly chill out, eat leftovers, watch more crap TV and maybe visit a sale or two.

So that's it for now, I'm off to have a warm mince pie and reminisce about Christmases past.  I'll be taking a wee blogging break over the festive period, so Merry Christmas to you all and a Very Happy New Year!   Ooh, New Year in Scotland - that's a whole other blog post...!

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

I went to the Post Office the other day to mail some Christmas gifts to the UK.  After waiting in line for a long time, which is normal for most Post Offices around the world, I handed over my packages along with the customs forms that I'd filled out in advance to save time.  Imagine my surprise when I was told that even though it was indeed a Post Office, they couldn't actually mail my international packages.  I thought the man was taking the piss, so I politely laughed, but then I realized he was being serious.  Apparently his Post Office is too small to do international packages!  C'mon America, even the smallest Post Office in the Highlands of Scotland can mail things overseas without blinking an eyelid.  Anyway, after wasting a good half hour, I then had to get back in my car to drive across town to the big Post Office that could handle my mail.  "Have a nice day" the man told me as I childishly stomped out of his too small Post Office!

I love, love, love the weeks leading up to Christmas, and because we have 3 smallish kiddos, it's an excuse to go all out.  Yep, the 7 trees are up, the Christmas music playlists are on the computers and the Christmas CDs are in the van despite the protests of my poor husband.  One of our traditions each year is to drive to the Chick Fil A drive thru, order peppermint chocolate shakes for us (so tasty but no doubt full of horrible chemicals) and then pay for the order of the car behind us.  We did it at the weekend.  The kids loved scoping out the people in the car as we drove away, watching them smile when they were told their food was already paid for.  A small gesture, yes, but also a part of the spirit of the Christmas season for our family.

Speaking of Christmas, it's just over 2 weeks away!  My parents arrive soon and we're all very excited to see them.  We are so thankful that they are happy to travel halfway across the world to see us.  No matter where we've lived, even in South Korea, they always visit at least twice a year, spending at least 3 weeks each trip, which really is quality time - making memories and just hanging out doing everyday things.  My parents have an amazing relationship with the kids.  It's always so hard for us all when they leave, but as soon as they get home, they are planning their next trip.  The kids are always getting wee parcels in the mail from them and they talk on the phone regularly which is awesome.  While I love our life and all the traveling that we've done, the hardest part is definitely being away from my family.

So on that sentimental note, I'm off to begin a busy week.  It's time to bake some Christmas crack, make some Christmas cocktails, and no doubt gain a few pounds.  I'll also be finding time to watch my favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually.  I know, it's over the top cheesy, but it reminds me of all things British and I LOVE it.  The tears start flowing as soon as Hugh Grant begins talking about the people at the airport, and it's funny seeing Rick from The Walking Dead all fresh faced and beardless.  I'm sure there's a suitable medication out there to help me with that crying...! 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Chives And Things

At the same time every year, the grass in our yard is suddenly full of patches of chives that grow ferociously throughout the winter.  It must be a Tennessee thing because I never noticed any in our yards anywhere else we've lived in the States.  The only chives in Scotland are in your herb garden (pronounced HERB in the UK, not URB), and every now and then you go snip some off to use in your soup or such.  I don't think I'd want to snip some from my yard here - dog pee and all that, but I do find it strange that chives are so rampant at this time of year.  Not even weedkiller seems to work.  The smell in the air after you cut your grass just now definitely isn't the most pleasant of aromas.

St Patricks Day is celebrated here in the States with much gusto.  But did you know that St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and that we celebrate St Andrews Day on the 30th of November each year as our official national day?   St Andrew is also the patron saint of Poland, Greece, Romania and Ukraine.  The saltire (St Andrews cross), the flag of Scotland is hung from all Scottish flagpoles on this day - the exception being Edinburgh Castle where the Union Jack is flown because of the presence of the British Army.  While we don't normally do too much to celebrate St Andrews Day, there are usually parades and ceilidhs, and Scottish food is eaten just to celebrate being Scottish - which is, of course, the best nationality in the world ;)  

I was surprised to see that the UK seems to have adopted the American Black Friday sales shopping frenzy.  I do embrace most things American, but have never EVER gone Black Friday shopping.  I'm not a fan of shopping on a normal day,  never mind having to fight my way into a store and then fight with someone over some deal on something I don't need.  I did, however, get some good deals online whilst sipping on a mimosa, which was rather more enjoyable, although mimosas do make most things enjoyable :) 

Going to the doctor here in the States is so different from back home.  When I was in recently for my annual physical, I joked that the change of season was making me permanently hungry for junk food.  While I do like my doctor, I was shocked that she immediately asked me if I wanted medication for that!  What??!!  I was just kidding, and anyway who knew there was medication for plain old lack of willpower?   

So, today is the 1st of December, and it's actually nice and warm here in Tennessee.  Long may this last, although I know the chances are pretty minimal.  Wishing you all a good week with temperatures as pleasant as they are here.  Perhaps there's a medication for that...!