Friday, December 19, 2014

A Good Old English Christmas

There’s nothing better than the run up to Christmas in England…. The weather is cold (usually raining), the lights go up around town and the radio is filled with Christmas songs.  Bliss… and I may be fantasizing a bit about how nice it is, having been here over 20 years, but there are still things I miss.

This on the radio:

Or this

I haven’t actually heard these songs in years.  They are never, ever played in the US.  Instead we get stuff like Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and Frosty the Snowman.  Every now and then, I hear George Michael’s Last Christmas.  But you really only hear them if you are listening to a station that plays continuous Christmas music.

Christmas Specials on the Telly
I used to love to sit down at Christmas and watch the specials.  Only Fools & Horses was always particularly brilliant.  Blimey, even the soaps have a special on Christmas Day – you can always guarantee a shocker in Eastenders.  But here? Not a chance.  There may be a little mention of Christmas and perhaps some snow, but that’s about it.  And most of the programmes shown on Christmas day are repeats.

The Queen’s Speech
Yeah, nobody ever watches it but it’s more than likely on in the background.  I’m not saying I want to watch it, but it’s an English tradition, isn’t it?  I’m sure if I wanted to, I could find it on the internet somewhere, but really, I’m not that fussed.


Cadbury’s Selection Box was always a favourite for Christmas.  Could you imagine opening a present on Christmas morning and finding a bag of six or seven chocolate bars?  It would be a bit disappointing, not to say a bit lazy - but put them in a fancy box with a picture of Father Christmas on the front and they become extra special and the present everyone wants.

And what about Quality Street?  Do they even sell those big tins at any other time of the year?  They are a total necessity at Christmas and who doesn’t argue over the hazelnut in caramel (aka the purple one) or the gold toffee stick or toffee penny?  Nobody ever wanted the orange or strawberry crème and they would always be in the bottom of the tin until Easter when they were finally thrown away.

Mince Pies and Christmas Cake
What would it be like to have no mince pies?  Just ask me – bloody awful, that’s what.  There were a few years there when I couldn’t find them.  They are not a thing here.  Ask someone for a mince pie and the likely response is “Oh that pie with the kidneys you Brits eat? Eew”  (Yes, the eew is always at the end of that sentence.)   Um, nooo, that would be those scrummy fruit pies you eat with custard.  I have actually found a couple of specialist shops that sell them now, and I think last year they sold them at Fresh & Easy.

Christmas cake, to an American, is a dry, fruit concoction that gets passed around family and friends for years and nobody will eat it.  I’m not surprised, I wouldn’t eat a cake that’s years old either.  But when I tell them “our” Christmas cake is soft, moist and fruity with lots and lots of alcohol it gets a good reaction, especially when I tell them it stays in the cupboard for months after baking and Brandy is added every week or so.  What’s not to like about that?
American Fruitcake - Nope!
Boxing Day
Oh dear me.  This one is a killer.  Every year for the last 20 years I have had to beg and plead for the day off. Nobody cares [*sad face*].  Boxing Day (or as its known here, the day after Christmas) is when everyone says “well, that’s Christmas done and dusted, lets throw out the tree.”  (When they come home from work, that is).  A pretty sorry state of affairs.  Oh how I miss that day.  Even though I have actually managed to never work on the day, it’s just not the same.  You don’t get any more presents and you certainly don’t have cold turkey and piccalilli, mainly because you can’t get piccalilli anywhere. (Isn’t that a wonderful word… piccalilli – mainly pronounced here as Piccadilly by anyone with the slightest idea of what I’m talking about).

Oh and then there's the footie.  What would Boxing Day be like without a football match to go to, or at least watch on the telly?

If you don’t sit around the table, pulling crackers, wearing a paper crown and telling silly jokes, you are not doing Christmas right.  And there’s an unwritten rule (in my family anyway) that you don’t pull the crackers until after the turkey, but before pudding.  That’s just how it is.

Not like the first time I cooked Christmas dinner for only my American friends.  I was devastated to realize nobody knew what a cracker was or what to do with them.  Can you imagine the look on my face when I realized people were shaking them, trying to look inside and actually pulling them on their own!  I’ve got to say, it wasn’t the best Christmas I’ve ever had and there may have been a moment when I lost my temper and I “might” have actually slapped someone for doing it wrong. Christmas officially ruined!

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