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...!

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