Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Around the World - the UK Part 1

And now for the final Christmas post - all about Christmas here in the UK. This was written by the lovely Bee whose blog Hello Bee is one of my favourites.

I can’t exactly say that my Christmas is representative of all UK Christmases, but I’ll do my best to include a few classically British traditions as I describe my day!

I adore Christmas because it is the only time of year I get to see my entire family together in one place, as we are quite large and sprawling so I usually see one or two family members at a time but organising and gathering en masse is a struggle! We all arrive usually the night before Christmas and generally have a chaotic evening, munching roast chestnuts and drinking mulled wine and doing the classic last minute racing around wrapping presents, collecting them under the tree, shaking items and trying to guess what everything is (it’s.... a book! being a very popular line in my family) and classic disagreements and pouting about who sleeps in which room/on which made-up bed and what time is reasonable to wake up in the morning. It’s incredible how my normally quiet family home can within minutes turn into a rabble of noise and suitcases and commotion!

We decorate the Christmas tree at this point too – a massive British tradition. I’m sure many families buy fancy new decorations each year and have some sort of theme or colour scheme. However for ours, it’s all about retrieving a hefty bin liner of weird and wonderful decorations from the attic, some of which pre-date me even being BORN! But that makes for hilarious stories and memories as we decorate the tree and try to figure where and how most of them came to exist. Although we stick to the traditional UK decorations of tinsel, baubles, fairy lights and a star on top; there are some other frights that make an annual appearance like this chap for example... scariest Christmas decoration ever?

We might watch a festive movie on Christmas Eve night that gets the seal approval from all family members so a Harry Potter or Home Alone or It’s A Wonderful Life. We have a big open fire in my family living room so a classic pre-Christmas evening is 8 humans and 3 cats laid out over the sofas and floor inching closer to the roaring fire, eating my mum’s amazing homemade mince pies and dozing.

On Christmas day when I was a child we wake up early to find a sock filled with presents on our beds. I think this is a nation-wide tradition, and is how you receive your presents from Father Christmas/Santa Claus; rather than the presents from your parents. My parents were fantastic at going to great lengths to convince us that Santa existed. On Christmas Eve night we would leave out some whisky and a mince pie for Santa, and some carrots for Rudolf (the reindeer who leads Santa’s present delivering sleigh).

When we woke up on Christmas day, the whisky, pie and carrots would be gone, with just crumbs remaining and there would be soot all around the fire place and a few sooty footprints across the floor for good measure (Santa traditionally delivers presents down the chimney which luckily we had – not sure what the poor kids who live in flat or apartments are meant to do!) we would also receive a letter from Santa on airmail paper. Why we never questioned that Santa shared the exact same handwriting as my dad... well I guess that’s all part of the Christmas magic!

There is then a huge cooked breakfast where everyone pitches in making bacon, eggs of all description and a production line of toast! We then open all our presents from the family, before the family is divided into two; half heading out for a huge walk in the woods close to my house and the lazier half (err, me) staying to read new shiny books or listen to new CDs etc.

I suppose the real centre of any UK Christmas day is two things. 1) DRINK. Booze of all kinds is readily available all day and it is certainly the only day of the year where it is encouraged... heck it’s expected... that you will be merry by 3pm. Then 2) FOOD. We have our meal late afternoon and it classically consists of turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, veg, sausages wrapped in bacon (called Pigs in Blankets!) bread sauce, gravy and sprouts; which are an acquired taste. I’m a huge roast dinner fan anyway, but Christmas dinner somehow tastes 100% more amazing.

With the food there are also Christmas Crackers. The tradition is to cross arms and pull a cracker with each person sitting next to you. When the crackers snaps in two; the person left with the larger half wins the toy inside, the point Christmas hat and the joke which they then have to read to the table. It is then compulsory to wear your pointy paper Christmas hat for the rest of the meal at least.

The meal ends with a bang! In the UK we serve Christmas pudding which is an alcoholic, fruit pudding. The server of the pudding pours brandy over the pudding and then sets fire to it before eating. I have hunted high and low (well, Googled it) and I can’t seem to find a sensible reason for why this tradition started! So sorry for the lack of historical information, but it looks awfully pretty.

Thank you Bee! I'll be posting Part 2 up tomorrow! Merry Christmas!

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