There is no British Christmas without the CHRISTMAS CRACKERS, and boxes of them start appearing in shops sometime in September. They're as essential to the Christmas lunch as turkey and Christmas pudding. Each person takes an end and pulls until there's a little pop like a New Year's Eve popper.
You don't want to end up with the short end because the person left with the cracker gets to keep whatever's inside. There's always a joke or riddle that's read aloud, a tissue paper crown that everyone wears as they gather around the table, and a small toy or a 'useful' (useless) item like plastic nail clippers. Every year I see more and more Christmas crackers appearing back in the U.S., and it's nice to see the tradition spreading--seeing a table full of people all wearing paper crowns is one of the joys of Christmas.
|The Christmas turkey with stuffng |
balls and 'pigs in a blanket'.
|The cornerstones of the British|
Christmas -- mince pies, Christmas
pudding and Christmas cake.
Christmas Pudding topped with a sprig of holly, in to her anxiously waiting family, just as people had done for centuries before. The Christmas pudding, sometimes called Figgy Pudding which is a lighter version, has been at the centre of Christmas celebrations in Britain since the 16th century. Stuart calls it a Christmas 'pud', but in our home when I was growing up it was called 'plum pudding'.
The English Christmas pudding tastes similar to what Americans know as fruitcake--something most Americans hate, is the butt of many jokes, and re-gifting tins of Christmas fruitcake is a long-standing tradition. Maybe it's because I grew up with my mom's lighter plum pudding, but I've grown to love the darker and richer English Christmas 'pud', warm with brandy butter.
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding
and a cup of good cheer.
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some,
so bring some out here!
~We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Stem the currants
Stone the raisins
Chop the peel as fine as fine
Eat the eggs and shred the sweet
Grate the crumbs (no flour in mine)
Freely shake, to make it nice,
All the virtue of the spice
Pour the brandy liberally
Stir and wish, then,
three times three.
English poet, 1881-1965
💚A pudding should be made with 13 ingredients
to represent Christ and His Disciples.
💚The sprig of holly on top is often used
as a reminder of the crown of thorns
worn by Christ on the cross.
💚Setting the brandy alight is said
to represent Christ’s passion.
💚A six-pence is traditionally stirred into the
batter for one lucky person to find on Christmas.
and heavy fruitcake with royal icing.
I sincerely doubt that this American
will ever develop a taste for it, but
it's the beloved focal point for many
One of the biggest differences between an American and a British Christmas, is that shops and businesses shut their doors on Christmas Eve and most don't reopen until the day after Boxing Day on the the 27th, something Americans haven't seen for decades. It's a perfect way to extend the time family and friends have to celebrate together and share leftovers (even if some of those left-overs are that old festive standby, 'Christmas turkey curry').
|Most shops and smaller stores|
close until after Boxing Day.
THE CHRISTMAS 'PANTO' is one of my favourite British Christmas traditions. A 'panto', or pantomime, is performed at Christmas and is something for the whole family--from the littlest ones to grandparents. It's a slapstick musical/comedy based on a fairy tale or a children's book, full of song, dance, men dressed as women, buffoonery and catch-phrases.
|This was us at the Oxford panto several|
years ago--it truly is for every age
in our family....from 8 to 80.
My final two very British Christmas traditions will make more sense if you've seen the movie Love Actually, which is usually the first Christmas movie we watch every year. It follows the stories of a dozen or so Londoners as they navigate the Christmas season, their lives overlapping and eventually connecting through love, actually.
| In 'Love Actually' Bill Nighy plays an aging|
rock star desperate for a Christmas Number One.
1963 - The Beatles I Want to Hold Your Hand
1971 - Benny Hill Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)
1975 - Queen Bohemian Rhapsody
1980 - St. Winifred's School Choir There's No One Quite Like Grandma
1984 - Band Aid Do They Know It's Christmas
1993 - Mr. Blobby Mr Blobby
2000 - Bob the Builder Can We Fix It
2003 - Michael Andrews & Gary Jules Mad World
2011 - Military Wives with Gareth Malone Wherever You Are
|The "works do" in 'Love Actually' when|
Alan Rickman was up to no good--boo, hiss.
We "hate Uncle Jamie" & we hate this girl!
It's the big, yearly office or workplace Christmas party and it seems that for some people at least, it's planned for and anticipated almost as much as Christmas Day. Magazines and catalogues are full of flirty dresses and shiny shoes by the end of November, as women strategically plan their outfits with military precision. Other than Stuart and I sharing a mince pie and some mulled wine in our kitchen, I'm forever grateful that I have no actual office or workplace to have a 'Works Do', so I'll never have to endure one.
|The quintessential American Christmas--|
the Christmas tree and ice skating at the
Rockefeller Center, New York City.
|Growing up the daughter of a Lutheran|
pastor meant that at Christmas our home
was full of gifts of krumkake (above),
butter cookies (spritz),
berlinerkranser, and sandbakelse.
|An American farmhouse, lit for Christmas. |
It's a scene duplicated from the
Atlantic to the Pacific and in all the cities,
small towns, and farmlands in between.
things, that while there is infection in disease
and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so
irresistibly contagious as laughter
and good humour.
~Charles Dickens, 'A Christmas Carol'