Christmas All Up In Ye Face

The basics of Christmas are similar in London and New York. Christmas trees, Santa, gifts, lights. The intensity is different however. The holiday season seems to last forever. Without the buffer of Thanksgiving, the celebration begins in November, ushering in almost two full months of events and activities. No Thanksgiving also means no Black Friday, so no one gets killed here by crazed shoppers while fighting over the last furby, which is nice.

There are a large number of Christmas markets, the biggest of which in London runs daily starting in mid-November, selling mulled wine (which you can drink in the open; I love lax open container laws) along with holiday related crafts and ridiculously good sausages. Christmas concerts, musicals and plays are in full swing all over the city. There are 6 pop up ice skating rinks. Christmas lights are strung up all over the city core, which are much more impressive than any street in NYC and we are now closing in on two months of holiday specials on Food Network, which is just as painful as it sounds.

The difference is always in the details, so I wanted to highlight a few minor differences. Things that make celebrating Christmas in London unique compared to the NYC. We are after all enjoying this holiday in a new city/country/continent. Here are six relatively random observations:

1) From my overexposure to holiday cooking specials, I can inform you that the British love dried fruit in dessert more than any people. Mincemeat pies (dried fruit mix, no meat involved) and Christmas pudding (steamed dried fruit cake, four horrible sounding words when put in that order) are all the rage. The only response I can muster is, why?

2) No one works hard during the Christmas season. Julie is taking two full weeks off, which is short compared to all of her colleagues. Corporate offices really wind down for the month of December. It’s like the how the US government operates 12 months out of the year.

3) Crowns and crackers. This is a bit hard to explain, but they sell party crackers here, which are basically toilet paper tubes that are wrapped and tied together. You pull them apart with the person next to you at Christmas dinner, and insides are stuffed with random plastic gifts and paper crowns, which people then wear during dinner. Seriously, every advertisement centred on Christmas dinner shows an entire family wearing paper crowns. Not sure how I feel about this yet. I haven’t worn a crown during a meal since I was in college and drunk at Burger King.

4) Roast turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, carrots. Sound familiar? What the US eats on Thanksgiving is on the table for Christmas Day in the UK. No mashed potatoes though; the Brits prefer roast potatoes. They take roast potatoes more seriously than the turkey.

5) Trivial but interesting. Santa rides on a sledge, not a sleigh. I was really caught off guard when is heard this at a play I saw recently. Sounds a little more harsh. I don’t want to ride a sledge, but a sleigh ride seems splendid. Santa is also commonly referred to as Father Christmas and the Brits say “happy Christmas” rather than “merry Christmas”.

6) The entire public transportation network is shut down on Christmas Day. No buses or subways. If this happened in NYC people would riot and set cop cars on fire. It might be the first sign of the end of days.

I have really enjoyed the holidays this year, especially with all of the free time that comes with not having a job currently. I am looking forward to spending Christmas with Julie’s entire family, cooking like a beast and enjoying the company. Happy holidays to all!