Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Controversies

Having enjoyed a wonderful Christmas at my Mother-in-Law's house in Michigan, with my Brother-in-Law's family as well as my Wife and Daughter, I felt the need to write a little about some of the differences between Christmas in the US and Christmas in the UK. I think it's important to state that I find there to be more similarities than differences, especially with my Wife's family, who go out of their way to embrace British traditions as a way of making me feel welcomed. In addition, I've discovered (as is often the case) that what I've been accepting as UK/US differences are often simply differences between families. More on that later.

I guess one of the biggest differences is that, generally speaking, the big guy with the red suit and white beard is referred to as Santa Claus in the US, while most of the time Brits refer to him as Father Christmas. My American family was eager to try the British tradition of Christmas Crackers, complete with awful jokes and paper hats we all had to wear for extra humiliation at the table. And the meal we had yesterday was a lovely joint of roast beef, while British Christmas dinner, again generally speaking, consists of turkey (Turkey usually being consumed in the US for Thanksgiving). In England, I'd also usually be eating Christmas Pudding, that gloriously fruity, alcoholic, heavy steamed sponge, and a slice of Christmas Cake, just to ensure that I was incapable of movement the rest of the day. And I'm writing this article on what in Britain we'd call Boxing Day, December 26th, traditionally the day that employers would give leftover gifts to their servants and employees. Yes, "re-gifting" is nothing new!

So, on to more controversial stuff. What do we leave Father Christmas/Santa Claus on Christmas Eve? In my house it was always a mince pie (a sweet pastry filled with what is called "mincemeat", which these days contains no meat), together with a glass of sherry and a carrot for the reindeer. My Wife's family believe that milk and cookies are the generally accepted gift in the US. But a rather unscientific poll I conducted showed some rather interesting results. One old schoolfriend from England was a little conflicted on the matter. Since drinking and driving is such a big issue, her family had started leaving out a cup of hot chocolate; however, another schoolfriend had advised her that Rudolph was now the one who drives, so Father Christmas will once more be finding a glass of brandy. And then there were three American friends of mine who in turn were leaving:

1. Freshly baked sugar and chocolate chip cookies and hot apple cider with spiced rum
2. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
3. Baileys Irish Cream

I'm not sure whether this says more about globalization, or my friends! I do know that my Mother-in-Law bought mince pies, sherry and a huge carrot, so we could do things the way I had always done them. My daughter was also delighted to discover that everything she'd left had gone on Christmas morning, apart from the last bite or two of the carrot; according to the note Santa left, the reindeer each took a bite, but it was so huge, they couldn't manage it all.


Lexie said...

This Christmas Pudding sounds totally delicious. I think I'm hungry now :D

I really had no clue there were differences between US and UK about Christmas celebration..well, not so many really, it seems you have found the perfect way to combine the different traditions! :D
I like to learn about other countries and how other people live..imagine that in Greece we don't have a "Santa Claus" at all! We have a "Saint Basil" -I think that's the name "Vasilis" in English, lol. Here, he's the Saint that comes on New Year's Eve to bring gifts to the children (and to some adults too, I'm expecting a tarot deck)

I like milk and cookies btw :) But the other alternatives sound nice could start with milk and cookies and finish with something with a little bit more alcohol..not a bad idea at all.

Alison said...

I didn't even know that it was traditional to leave out a carrot for the reindeer. I'm going to start doing that.

Anonymous said...

This year, we had to leave granola bars for Santa ... because we ate all the Christmas cookies ourselves.

Graham said...

No wonder he snarfed up our mince pie with such relish and slugged back that sherry - he was trying to take away the taste of those nasty granola bars, Corinne!