As our fair Josie at Sleep is for the Weak is taking a holiday sabatical from the Writing Workshop, we here at Cafe Bebe are struggling for inspiration. I’ve gone to Josie for a personal prompt and it’s a good one! Her advice, US vs UK Christmases? Which one is better? What’s different?? Are you ready for a bit of Christmas cheer??
Here is what my Christmases were like in the US…it should be noted that I DO NOT SPEAK FOR ALL AMERICANS!
- The official Christmas shopping season begins the day after Thanksgiving. Every shop in the land is open at 5 or 6am with “Door Buster” sales and all sorts of incentives to get silly shoppers out of the house at ridiculous o’clock. Thanksgiving is usually the 4th Thursday in November- this past year it was the 26th of November so “Black Friday” was 27 November.
- We usually got our Christmas tree after Thanksgiving and decorated it then. My brother and I would help with the decorating along with my Mom. Dad did the technical stuff like stringing the lights. Outside decorations usually were hung when it was pitch black and howling with snow for maximum effect. I recall making hot chocolate a few times for my Dad while he was stuck outside in the misery. But, oh, it looked so pretty when he was done. In addition to the tree and outside decorations, we also had a nativity set that was placed under the tree. It generally was my job to set it up…occasionally I messed about with the figurines and put them in odd places. You have to have a bit of levity at Christmas!
- Advent calendars of the chocolate variety were a tradition thanks to school fundraisers. I seem to recall more than one season where all of the chocolates disappeared within days of Advent beginning. I do not recall how that happened. As I was raised Catholic, Advent was a bit of a big deal in the church we attended…Christmas was about Jesus after all, not SANTA! I didn’t really care who it was about as long as presents were involved.
- Christmas Eve was when most of the fun happened in our family. When we were younger, we attended the Christmas Eve Children’s Mass at our church (my brother is 6 years younger than me) which was always quite entertaining. And I was always happy that church was out of the way! We would then go home and usually have my Grandparents over for present opening. You see, in our family, the main present opening took place on Christmas Eve. I know a fair few American’s who did this! I don’t know exactly why that was our family’s tradition but it was. My brother and I would take turns passing out presents which were under the tree and then the fun would begin. We would all take turns opening a present and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over everyone’s presents. My Grandpa would always ending up wearing whatever he got which was quite amusing as the layers accumulated! I would stack my presents in an orderly pile and take extra care opening the paper (don’t tear it!) and not peeking as I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. We usually had to have an intermission part way through (sometimes the present opening took 3 hours) and we’d always have hors d’oeuvres to keep us sustained through the marathon present opening. Christmas Eve dinner was usually pretty casual. No turkey for us that night…it was usually a Christmas Day feast.
- Christmas Day we would come down from our rooms to find that Santa had visited and left us “Santa” presents in our stockings. These were usually the smaller presents or “stocking stuffers”. I never knew that Santa was supposed to bring us our big presents. I do remember the year that I figured out that Santa wasn’t real (DISCLAIMER…SPOILER!!!). I looked at the gift tag on one of my presents and realised that it was my Dad’s handwriting…fun over. No more Santa. I had it sussed! I never spoiled it for my brother though. I think he still believes…don’t tell him!
- Christmas Day was usually about food and playing with presents and napping. Not a bad sort of day. In latter years, as a family we would go to a movie on Christmas Day. I recall seeing “Hook” one year. There was also American Football to watch and traditional movies like “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or “A Christmas Story” (two of my ALL TIME favourites) as well as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”. I always looked forward to the children’s Christmas movies- “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”…ahhh…childhood. By the way, there is no Boxing Day in the US. The day after Christmas is when everyone starts taking back the Christmas presents they hated or capitalising on the After-Christmas-Sales to shop for the next Christmas. Don’t you love American capitalism??
My UK Christmases- 2005 to Present:
- In the UK, Christmas Eve IS NOT CHRISTMAS. But in our household, it is. On Christmas Eve we have, since my arrival in 2005, had our own, private Christmas on Christmas Eve. It’s when we give each other our presents but as we can’t afford to give each other presents anymore, it now becomes when we open the pressies from the American side of the family. Little Miss’ second Christmas will begin Christmas Eve at our house with the presents we have for her. That’s enough Christmas for us!
- My Hubby’s family is where we spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day and on and on. We head over to his parent’s house (all of 5 minutes away) in the early morning. This year my Hubby’s twin sister and her family will be here from Australia to enjoy the holidays with us. There will be 3 children + Little Miss so it should be great fun! And as Little Miss will understand a bit more about presents this year, there are bound to be lots of photo opportunities. Before present opening, their family tradition is to have the following for breakfast: Crumbed Ham, Pork Pie, pickled onions and a few other bits and bobs. As I’m not keen about pork pie, I mainly have a ham sandwich…for BREAKFAST. I’m still not used to this tradition. I believe we will have a Little Miss adapted breakfast of either Eggy Bread or Pancakes. Maybe that will become the next tradition.
- Present opening with my Hubby’s family is much like mine, thankfully. Everyone takes turns and oohs and ahhs. The children get the most, the rest of us get a few. My youngest nephew is the constant recipient of “Sit Down”, “Stop Twirling”, “Don’t kick your brother/sister” and I’m sure this will remain the tradition this year. He’s 8 now so those kicks hurt a bit more.
- After present opening there’s a few hours of down time for present playing, napping, eating while my Mother-in-Law prepares the Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner is traditional English- turkey, stuffing, potatoes- mashed & roasted, parsnips/carrots, leeks in white sauce, bread sauce, brussel sprouts (yuck) and assorted other veg. Christmas pudding, mince pies and my niece’s birthday cake are the dessert options. I’m not a fan of Christmas pud or mince pies so I feel a bit sad when it comes to pudding…there’s always my niece’s cake though!
- I love Boxing Day! I love that there’s just one more holiday after Christmas here in the UK. We generally spend it with Hubby’s family and it is centered around eating most of the time. I really think that the US needs to adopt Boxing Day…it’s a lovely holiday. Do you know the historical significance of Boxing Day? Apparently, back in the day, it was the one day off each year for the servants. The masters/mistresses would bring the servant’s presents in a BOX and they would get the day off. Hence, BOXING DAY. If you know another answer, let me know.
This is how I’ve celebrated Christmas in the US and in the UK. Which one is better? Well, the Christmas of my childhood when I didn’t have to worry about money, health, fitness or happiness! All I know is that Christmas is about family and children and I’ve got a great one in store next week. Little Miss celebrating her second Christmas, my sister-in-law and family home from Oz, all of the immediate family present and healthy…what more could we want? Well, maybe my American family to turn up on the doorstep as well but I’m guessing I won’t get that wish. I’ll settle for a phone call and a “Happy Christmas” from my gorgeous girl. That’s all I need to be happy this Christmas!
This post was written by Karin, who blogs at Cafe Bebe. She is a first-time stay-at-home mummy who wants to help others and hopes to open a real-life Cafe Bebe soon.
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk