Here are a few things we did this year, some of which might be a little different than we did in the US…
- A Lessons and Carols service with a brass band sometime during advent. I think more high church denominations in the US have lessons and carols services–readings through the nativity story (i.e., the lessons) and songs (i.e., carols), but the brass band is definitely local. Most pit villages (coal mining villages) had their own brass band. Most of the mines are now shut but the Pittington Brass Band is still holding on.
- You go to church on Christmas day (as well as Christmas eve), but our services were cancelled for Boxing Day (see next).
- The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, and it’s as much a holiday as Christmas–kinda like the day after Thanksgiving. If you spend Christmas with one side of the family, you are likely to spend Boxing Day with the other side.
- For our Christmas Eve service, we always do a Christingle service, though others do it other times during advent. It’s a craft-based and kid-focused service. (My wife filled in as the leader of this service this year and did a smashing job.)
- Christmas Carolling to home-bound members. Pretty much the same, but you’d be hard stretched to have a hay ride. Almost nobody has trucks here. Another tricky bit is that some of the famous carols here have different tunes, a problem you also face with various other hymns as well.
- There are two standard Christmas food items: Mince pies and Christmas Pudding. Now this gets tricky for the uninitiated. ‘Mince’ is typically the term here for ground meat, so minced beef, minced lamb, etc. However, when it comes to Christmas food, mince (or mincemeat) pies don’t have meat. They are very sweet with sultanas, raisins, and the like. Christmas Pudding is basically a fruit cake. The pink and green fluff that my wife makes and sweet potato casserole aren’t big hits as parts of the main meal because you are not supposed to mix sweet and savoury, so when we share our Christmas meal with our minister’s family who have adopted us for Christmas lunches, they always have to take the mick out of us about them.
- Treats for Santa. We left out ‘biscuits’ and milk. Our ‘biscuits’ (cookies/crackers) weren’t typical British because they were peanut butter on ritz with melted chocolate poured over. This is a no-no here because you aren’t supposed to mix sweet and savoury items. We normally do traditional Christmas cookies, but didn’t get around to making them this year. We learned this year that the traditional offering to Santa is a glass of sherry and mince pies.
- Christmas Crackers. These range from cheap to really spendy. You pull them apart with a friend, and they typically have a surprise, a joke, and a paper crown.
- At church, there is always a nativity play. Lots of kids come in who don’t normally come just for the day and are typically slotted as extra shepherds or animals.
- Speaking of plays, pantomimes (or pantos) are definitely popular. They are usually (humorous) adaptations of traditional children’s stories, with things like cross-gender roles, singing, etc.
- People are fanatics about Christmas cards. For instance, all the kids at school give them to everyone in the class (almost like kids in the US do for Valentines).
- Lots of key shows have a Christmas special. For instance the big one for our family to watch is the Dr Who special. And, let’s not forget the Queen’s speech every Christmas. She talked about the 400 year anniversary of the KJV coming up in 2011 and the importance for sport. Not sure the connection, but the speech is a piece of British tradition.
These are just a few things off the top of my head. Now that this is the fifth Christmas we’ve done here some things start to seem ‘normal’, but then we always learn other new things that stand out. I suppose one of the big things that is missing is the football games to fall asleep to after eating your big meal. The Ashes (‘the’ cricket competition between England and Australia) competition is going on right now, but that’s not anything to do with Christmas. It’s just summer there (Australia) this time of year. And it’s important to note that England have thrashed Australia on the first day of the 4 Test… but that’s a different blog post.