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Different Christmas traditions in America & Britain
22 December 2008 ~ 12:39After being married to an American for over ten years, I’ve come to realise that the USA has some Christmas traditions that we in the UK don’t have, and vice versa. Although the only thing I find weird about Christmas in the US is the idea of going to the cinema on Christmas Day. I feel like the cinema staff deserve a day off at least once a year. I was very surprised when my mother-in-law first told me they often go to 'the pictures,' as we Brits call it, on Xmas Day. In the UK all cinemas are closed on Christmas Day as is just about everything else except the hospitals.
Other than that I guess it is really cultural differences and neither is better or worse. I like Christmas crackers (paper tubes covered in tissue and twisted at either end, that contain paper crowns in them, very bad jokes, and novelty free gifts, which can be very tacky or very nice depending how much the crackers cost). Two people pull either end, and whoever gets the bit with the gifts in wins. They make a bang when pulled. I’ve seen them in shops in America but they aren't big there as they are in the UK. However my family don’t have them any more in case the bangs scare the pets. I also gather Christmas puddings, made with fruit and brandy, aren't a US tradition. Mark’s grandmother loves them though so we always try to give or send her one or two of the individual size puddings.
Stringing popcorn on the tree is something we Brits don't do, but Mark says his family never did that anyway. Britons also don’t put candy canes on the Christmas tree, but we have a couple of ornamental ones with mice sitting on them and I have to admit the red-and-white stripes look very festive.
Food-wise, Americans don’t tend to eat turkey for Christmas lunch/dinner, because they’ve only just had it a month earlier at Thanksgiving. The British don’t have Thanksgiving so turkey is the usual meat dish for Christmas. In our family we don't eat meat though, so it doesn't make a difference whether it's turkey or ham etc. We have a veggie, Quorn or nut roast. I guess in the US butternut squash is more popular but Mark has learned like the traditional British root vegetable parsnips, which are bit similar to sweet potatoes.
On the subject of present opening, we never open one gift on Xmas Eve, we always save them all until Christmas Day. Though I think some Britons open one gift early, so that may just be us. We do have one person open one present at a time though, as we all get more pleasure from giving than receiving and like to see each others' reactions to their gifts, and also make the fun last longer. But we are all adults, and I totally wouldn't apply that to children.
Now if I asked Mark what he most misses about Boston at Christmas and I know he's say SNOW! They usually have plenty of the white cold stuff, feet of it, whereas here we're lucky to have a few inches over the festive period, and even if we do, we can't cope and everything like the trains grind to a halt.
When it comes to decorating, Americans definitely beat us Brits hands down! Having been State-side around Christmas time, I can vouch that I loved seeing peoples’ gardens brightly illuminated with everything from reindeer and Santa to a mini Eiffel Tower! Now some Brits DO get into the spirit and decorate their front gardens, but it is a much less common sight, such that Mark had to comment on a house just down the road from us that had been beautifully lit up, comparing it wistfully with ‘back home.’ Mind you, I’d hate to be footing the electricity bill for any of these bright revellers.
My real bug-bear over Xmas in the USA is the PC brigade and all the ‘Happy Holidays’ business. I work with people of all religions and I don't know one of them who actually minds us celebrating Christmas, in fact we have a Hindu and a very strict Muslim in our immediate team, and they both come for our Christmas lunch, give cards and join in the secret Santa. I do prefer that in the UK you are still allowed to say Merry Christmas and you can have things on TV that openly use the word Christmas (like the Sainsbury’s supermarket commercial last night saying ‘Happy Christmas from Sainsbury’s.’) I've seen things get more and more PC in the US (yes here too but not as bad). For example, if you watch early episodes of 'Friends' you'll see that they use the word Christmas in all the Xmas episodes, but in the last few series it's been replaced with Happy Holidays. Sorry but it really gets on my nerves. The word Christmas is not a swear word!