Disclaimer: I’m not actually spending Christmas in the U.K., I will be on holiday in Egypt (in fact, as you read this, I will be in route to Hurghada). Although I spent a good portion of the holiday season of 2015 in the U.K. on my year abroad, I really felt like this time around, I really got a feel for British traditions and how they compare to those stateside. I really enjoyed reflecting on differences between the U.S. and the U.K. (including stereotypes, student housing and university) and thought it would be interesting to be a mediator for those wondering what the holiday season is like on the other side of the pond, whether this foreign land lies to the east or to the west.
Food: Christmas dinner is by far a bigger deal in the U.K. than it is in the U.S. Mince pies, turkey, brussel sprouts, Christmas pudding… the lot! Personally, my family never made a big deal of Christmas dinner and the traditional Christmas dinner has less staple dishes. I think the British Christmas dinner is celebrated and anticipated similarly to the American Thanksgiving dinner.
Christmas crackers: Christmas crackers are small gifts pulled apart by two people and the prize inside (colored paper hat, a small toy or a joke on a piece of paper) is inherited by the person who pulls the larger side.
Christmas films: There are some films I’ve never heard of that seem to be really popular here including Love, Actually (I actually have seen this, but don’t understand the fuss), Arthur Christmas and The Holiday.
Christmas markets: My favorite part about Christmas in this part of the world! A lot of European countries have Christmas markets, a collection of decorative stalls with specialty products, food and mulled drinks (another thing uncommon in the United States, I can’t imagine a holiday season without mulled cider). They’re just the thing to get in the holiday spirit and a great way to shop.
Language barrier: Instead of “Merry Christmas,” it’s quite common to say “Happy Christmas.” Also, Santa Claus is called “Father Christmas.”
Less Christmas music: Thank goodness. Not to be a Scrooge, but it becomes repetitive after a while, especially when your mom starts playing carols in August. We play Christmas music in the pub I work at every couple hours for about half an hour, but if we did it all holiday season, we would all go mad. Similarly, I didn’t hear any Christmas music during any of my shopping trips.
Adverts: Holiday commercials or “adverts” are highly anticipated in the U.K., much like SuperBowl commercials stateside.
Less decorations: While I can’t speak for house interiors, the exteriors of flats in the U.K. are quite bare. There is exactly one exterior light decoration on my entire street. Granted, I reckon there are a lot of students as I live so close to my university, but there are also a good amount of families as I also live close to a school. However, a large portion of businesses decorate the inside of their stores and offices. Decorations in the pub I work at include a tree with lights and ornaments (they’re called “baubles” here), lights in the windows and tinsel around the fruit machine and taps.
Boxing Day: December 26th: the Black Friday of commonwealth nations!
Photo by: Rodion Kutsaev
Lovely to read about you picking up UK Christmas traditions.
We mainly call him Santa in the UK but I think this depends which region you live in.
I actually always say Merry Christmas not happy Christmas (urgh I hate that – it’s Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!)
When I lived in a highly student populated area you’re right you don’t see as many houses or flats decorated on the outside, I think because most people travel back home over the festive period so aren’t as invested. If you go to a more urban residential area with families you’ll see plenty of lights and decorations outside of the home.
We don’t tend to play Christmas music before mid to late November in the UK, we’re a moany bunch and we’d complain otherwise. Plus I used to work in retail and it drives you bonkers!
Rachael | https://rachaelstray.blog/