When I met Lauren from Motherhood and Beyond in December 2013 during our Disney Parks Moms Panel training trip I knew straight away that I’d found a friend for life; after all we had our love of Mickey Mouse in common straight away!
Only very recently when Lauren and I were chatting we also discovered a shared love of all things Christmas and that Americans and Brits have many differing customs and ways in which to celebrate the season.
So Lauren and I wanted to share our combined Mid-Atlantic Christmases with you!
As I’m sat here in Cornwall dreaming of a mythical white Christmas, Lauren is sat in a snowy Colorado wondering how on earth do you pull a Christmas cracker!
These are some of my families quintessentially British Christmas traditions…
Nothing says Yuletide more than our beloved Father Christmas who duly visits all good little boys and girls each Christmas Eve.
The fun begins sometime in late November when children carefully write letters to Father Christmas containing pleas of “I’ve been good all year” these precious communications are sent to the North Pole via the Royal Mail at ~
Santa’s Grotto, Reindeerland, XM4 5HQ or perhaps the old fashioned way by posting the letter up the chimney!
And for many kids, Christmas just isn’t Christmas unless you’ve visited jolly old St Nick in his grotto, sat on his knee and told him yourself exactly what’s on your wish list!
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there… Clement Clark Moore
At bedtime on Christmas Eve we leave the man in the big red suit a delicious mince pie and a glass of sherry for sustenance and also perhaps a nice juicy carrot for Rudolph!
Every hopeful child carefully places at the foot of their bed or perhaps beside the fireplace in the front room a stocking or pillow-case in anticipation of it being filled to the brim by Father Christmas with toys and sweets; traditionally children’s stockings will contain amongst other treats a chocolate selection box or a net bag filled with chocolate coins.
Children who made the naughty list run the risk of being left with only a single lump of coal or a bag full of sticks…
On the 1st of December most children will open the first window of their chocolate filled Advent calendars.
The month of December is filled with Christmas Fairs, Nativity plays, school carol concerts and church services. Yet more British December pastimes are endless shopping trips with possibly a visit to a traditional Christmas market thrown in for good measure! Families love to watch Christmas lantern parades or attend a town centre Christmas light ‘switch-on’ and the most traditional of all – a trip to the theatre to see a Pantomime!
And a Pantomime is…?!
Explaining a pantomime is a tough one – firstly and fore mostly it’s an ageless family friendly comedy, set in a nursery rhyme world, where good always triumphs over evil and the boy always wins the girl’s heart in the end!
Pay close attention because this is where it gets quirky; the villain is quite often behind you, most things happen at the chime of midnight, the pantomime dame is actually a man dressed in a series of ever more outrageous outfits and the heroic and dashingly good-looking prince is a girl who slaps her thigh a lot.
Sounds confusing? Well, it has to be seen to be appreciated and tens of thousands of panto goers each year can’t possibility be wrong can they?…oh no they can’t!
In my family most of us trod the boards and performed in local charity pantomimes; currently my nephew and all round funny guy Jack Glanville is receiving rave reviews as Mr Smee in the professional production of Peter Pan at The Octagon Theatre in Yeovil, Somerset.
Deck The Halls…
Most British families don’t reach for the tinsel until after the 1st window of the Advent calendar is opened & the chocolate devoured. Real traditionalists hold out until the week before Christmas; for me I like somewhere in the middle so I look neither too hohoho or a tad bah humbug!
Gradually the practice of lighting your house up to rival Blackpool’s Illuminations is becoming more and more common here in the UK, but I can remember a time when nobody had fairy lights other than those found adorning the Christmas tree and they certainly didn’t dance! Fairy lights I recall were my Dad’s worst nightmare before Christmas – if just one solitary bulb blew he’d be sorting it out for hours! I love that these days most towns in the UK have a ‘Christmas house’ in them a la Clarke Griswold.
Many British homes will have a Poinsettia on the window sill, a wreath hung on the front door and stockings placed by the fire-side with care and every home will boast a Christmas tree – some fake, some real, some even covered in fake snow and most topped with an angel who is usually an ancient family heirloom.
I like to add a hint of Victorian decor taking inspiration from the Pagan Winter Solstice held on December 21st by bringing in some holly and ivy from my garden and I usually have a bunch of mistletoe hung where you can see; after all Christmas kisses are considered lucky!
Eat, Drink and Be Merry…
Christmas ought to be renamed Eatmas because every where you look there’s food!
During December like most British Mums I turn into TV cook Delia Smith by baking for England and stocking up on things I never normally buy like cranberries, red cabbage and pickled gherkins.
The groceries we always have plenty of in the pantry are both Christmas and Dundee cake, mince pies, brandy butter, Stilton cheese, Scottish shortbread, tins of Roses and Quality Street chocolates, chestnuts, clementine oranges and dried figs & dates…plus in more recent years with grateful thanks to our European cousins we now adore stollen and panettone cakes & lebkuchen biscuits.
British folk up and down the whole Country will be enjoying a Christmas luncheon menu similar to this –
Roasted Turkey with a sage and onion stuffing & Pigs in blankets (roasted little sausages wrapped in bacon)
Roast potatoes ~ Roast parsnips ~ Sprouts ~ Carrots and Peas
Cranberry sauce ~ Bread sauce ~ Gravy.
And for afters a choice of –
Christmas or Figgy Pudding (which sometimes comes with a lucky hidden silver sixpence) nicely served with lashings of either Brandy Sauce, Custard, Double Cream or as we do – Cornish Clotted Cream.
Trifle which is a delicious concoction of layered sponge soaked in sherry, fruit set in jelly and finally thick vanilla custard which in turn is smothered in whipped cream.
Tables will be adorned with Christmas Crackers containing a snap, a paper crown, a joke and a silly toy.
Two people pull a cracker between them and the winner gets the portion with the goodies in & everyone is expected to wear their crown for the duration of the meal!
I’ve made a new family tradition by placing Lottery scratch cards in everyones cracker – you never know, fingers crossed one of us might be millionaires by the end of dinner.
…and at 3pm everything stops to listen to the Queens speech on the telly; which actually is the cue for everyone over the age of 40 to promptly take a nap.
Our list of favourite festive tipples is endless…
On Christmas Eve we always enjoy a kitsch Snowball made with Warninks Advocaat & lemonade or a Baileys Irish Cream served over ice, breakfast on Christmas day is usually accompanied by a cheeky glass of Bucks Fizz made with Champagne and freshly squeezed orange juice and Christmas dinner is always rounded off with a glass of Port served with the cheese board.
Thankfully it’s considered acceptable to drink mulled wine or mulled cider at anytime of the day or night during December.
For some, the Yuletide hasn’t quite begun until they’ve popped into a pub for a glass of oh be joyful and they’ve seen the Coca Cola advert on TV and heard Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody‘ played at least once on the radio.
For me there are many things which go towards making me feel festive like penning my Christmas cards and popping them into our jolly red Royal Mail post boxes or even simple things like watching little Robin red breasts visiting the bird table in my garden.
Settling down with the family to watch the telly is a great British pastime over the Christmas period and how to plan your festive viewing? With the aid of a Radio or TV Times and a red marker pen of course! Every Brit awaits their favourite Christmas specials, be it a re-run of Only Fools and Horses or perhaps a modern classic like Downton Abbey. And in over in soapland...well let’s just say it’s always doom and gloom on December 25th!
When I was a child the films shown on television over the 2 week Christmas and New Year holidays used to be a big deal, I would sit eagerly awaiting my festive favourite while my parents snoozed in the chair, but now with all the modern conveniences of Sky+, DVD players and the like there’s just no excitement anymore about snuggling on the settee in front of the goggle-box with your Cadburys selection box on your lap.
A new tradition from across the pond which is definitely gaining in popularity over here is the purchase of tacky Christmas jumpers. The charity Save the Children has had the marvellous idea of holding nationwide fundraisers called ‘Christmas Jumper Days’ on the run up to December 25th where folks can wear their best festive jumper to work or school for a small donation to charity.
and the fun spills over into Boxing Day…
The origin of our Boxing Day is said to derive from a long ago era when servants of wealthy landowners would return home to their families with boxed-up left overs from their masters Christmas feasting.
Nowadays December 26th is one of the United Kingdom’s several national Bank Holidays. Primarily it’s our nations day to recover, go shopping (again) at the Boxing Day sales or perhaps even to do Christmas all over again with extended family!
Sports fans are well catered for on Boxing Day as it’s popular for many rival club football and rugby matches and horse racing fixtures, also for mad-cap sports maniacs who like taking a very invigorating dip in the sea at events such as the popular Tenby Boxing Day Swim.
So dear Lauren, that about wraps up Jane’s Traditional British Christmas & now all you need do is watch this short video on how to pull a Christmas cracker.
If you haven’t done so already, please pop over and visit Lauren at Motherhood and Beyond to learn about her all American Christmas Holiday.
“I wish a very Merry Mid Atlantic Christmas to one and all wherever you may be!”