In September, we started work, school, and life in England. One of the first things discussed in ALL settings was Christmas Parties. This was a very early sign that English Christmas and I would be best of friends! I have not been disappointed.
As always, I was the first to decorate in our little queue of houses. My neighbour's children noticed the tell tale glow of a Christmas tree in our front room in mid November. A couple of weeks later the outdoor lights went up. I am happy to report that now, 5 sleeps before Christmas, all of our neighbours have followed suit with beautiful trees twinkling in windows and flashing lights around doors and windows. There are wreaths and lights on houses and in windows, trees, baubles, it's all very pretty.
There is a real feeling of celebration here. My son's school calendar for the last week of school was so full with Christmas activities that I sent copies to friends and family in Canada because I didn't think that they would believe me. There were choir competitions, pageants, Christmas Concerts, church services, Christmas lunch, Festive Jumper Days, Christmas Fayres, Discos... I don't know how the teachers manage with so many overexcited children to organize! It is also interesting to note how schools are very free with having Christmas Concerts, religious themed pageants, even taking the children to carol service in a church. It has been my experience in Canada that we are very concerned with political correctness, as well as separation of church and state. The cities that I have lived in, in Canada, have a more multicultural society, and I don't think that having a specific religious affiliation would be accepted in a public (state) school. Perhaps, what we are really missing in Canadian schools, is not religion, but cake. Mr. K gets a lot of cake at school. Also, chocolate. One of Mr. K's classmates wrapped a single chocolate coin and presented it to Mr. K as a gift. Cutest. Gift. Ever.
There are parties for everything. Do you sing in a choir? They will most certainly host a Christmas Party. Do you work for the government? Multiple Christmas Parties. Do you go to school? Volunteer? Go to Zumba classes? Parties for everyone. My Zumba class had a party at our local (pub). It was great fun and I hardly recognized everyone without workout clothes and sweaty faces. We drank, I ate sticky toffee pudding, and a choir (which was also having a Christmas party at the same pub), sang some of my favourite Christmas carols whilst wearing Santa hats. It was so close to my house that I could walk home. Such a fun British night! British parties almost always involve alcohol. There is a bar for the parents at school parties, Primary (elementary) school parties!
English food at Christmas is all about mulled wine and what would taste good with mulled wine (which is everything). I think the traditional Christmas dinner here would be a turkey, the same as in Canada, which makes my little family tradition of prime rib dinner just as strange here as at home. We do like our yorkshire pudding, so I feel that we fit in that way. It's also popular to serve pigs in blankets, which is sausage wrapped in bacon. Growing up in Canada, pigs wrapped in blankets were sausages wrapped in bread I think? Dessert is called pudding, don't get me started on how confusing this is. Actual conversation, "if you call dessert pudding, what do you call pudding?" Answer, "pudding!" Popular Christmas Pudding would be trifle, or mince pies. Santa gets mince pie and brandy left out for him in England!
One of the best things about the holidays in Europe is Christmas Markets! All major cities have their own market, and everyone will tell you that their market is the best. I have friends who have travelled to various different markets in Germany, France, Austria, Estonia, and other places that I forget (so many). I had the chance to peruse the Christmas Market in Cardiff, Wales, last weekend. It was quite spectacular! There were over 80 wooden, outdoor, decorated stalls selling food, crafts, and art. There was also Santa's Grotto, once again spectacularly decorated, various food and drink huts, also decorated. There were rides for children, complete with "snow"(bubbles). Lot's of music and happy people, and once again, mulled wine. It really broke my heart to hear about the incident in the Berlin Market, such a tragedy. Let us all continue to live life without fear and enjoy each other at this festive season and always. This is how we win!
My new favourite family Christmas Activity is attending a Panto (short for Pantomime). A Panto is a musical comedy, with loads of audience participation, written and performed for families at Christmastime. Most cities in England put on their own Panto every year. I noticed that in Cardiff they have David Hasselhoff in the lead this year, which would explain his sightings in Cheltenham a few months ago (front page news around here). In Cheltenham we were not privileged to have Hasselhoff, but we did have Tweedy the Clown, and that might be even better. The theatre we saw the show in was old and beautiful, the show was wonderful. Such fun, laughs, and very impressive production value! Our boys were so enraptured with the show that they didn't want to leave their seats at intermission because they wanted to know, "what would happen to Jack." Mr. K clapped in delight when the lights went down and the music came back up! Mr. L REALLY got into the yelling at the actors when a monster was following them, don't worry, this is encouraged! I don't think Mr. G blinked as he was SO into the experience. I was happy to see tap dancing and watch my children's faces as they watched the show. Apparently, everyone in the theatre knew to get ice cream at intermission except for us. Mr. L, "where is my ice cream Mom?" Basically you go to a fancy theatre, enjoy a very high quality show, eat in the theatre, and be as rowdy as you like. Merry Christmas indeed! We will definitely be enjoying this tradition again! P.S. Apparently grumpy people who don't like musicals get dragged to Pantos year after year by their horrid relatives. It's a hard knock life for them.
One of the main differences, for me, this holiday season, is the music selection. Honestly, you would think that more music would cross over the ocean. It doesn't. I also tend to listen to a lot of Canadian artists, who I am definitely not hearing over here! I have learned many new Christmas tunes, as I am constantly listening to the radio (old people habits- I have them). As my Christmas present to anyone who has taken the time to read my ramblings, please click the link below and enjoy some fun wild English Christmas tunes. Number 1 is my favourite. HAPPY CHRISTMAS! Please send me some snow!
1. Fairytale of New York- The Pogues featuring Kirsty McColl
2. Merry Christmas Everyone- Shakin' Stevens
3. Stop the Cavalry- Jona Lewi
4. Merry Christmas Everybody- Slade
5. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday- Wizzard
6. Driving Home for Christmas- Chris Rea
7. Christmas Time is Here Again- The Beatles
8. The Wombles Wombling Merry Christmas
9. Hey Mr. Christmas- Showaddywaddy
10. I Believe in Father Christmas- Greg Lake