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November 14, 2008 1:27 PM   Subscribe

What are some UK Christmas holiday traditions?

I made my second trip to England this year, and loved it just as much as the last time I was there. To my surprise, my husband LOVED it. So, he's really interested in starting some new Christmas traditions based around our honemoon in London and Edinburgh.

If you are from the UK or have spent your holidays in the UK, what sorts of fun things do you do that we Americans do not traditionally do?
posted by santojulieta to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by meerkatty at 1:40 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Christmas crackers!

I guess you could flip through any of the Harry Potter books for ideas, too.
posted by casarkos at 1:41 PM on November 14, 2008

Take Boxing Day off work.
posted by plep at 1:58 PM on November 14, 2008

I'm not going to lie here. Most of what I know about UK Christmases comes from Harry Potter, Bridget Jones, About a Boy and Nigella Lawson.
posted by santojulieta at 1:58 PM on November 14, 2008

Rubbish TV. Find all the repeats you've seen too many times, and watch 'em again, slightly drunk, with family you despise alongside you?

Oh, you wanted good holiday traditions?

How about a "traditional" Christmas lunch, comprising roast turkey, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, gravy, cranberry and/or bread sauce. This is followed by Christmas pudding and mincepies.
posted by philsi at 1:59 PM on November 14, 2008

Christmas Eve our town had a communal (all the local Churches) carol singing and service in the town square, with blazing fires to keep warm.

We always had a huge Christmas lunch (rather than dinner, which most Canadians I know do) ... which was always turkey and all the trimmings. Christmas Crackers were obligatory. This was followed by the grownups having a nap to sleep off the lunch, while the kids played with / destroyed their new toys.

At 3pm (?) everyone gathered around to watch the Queen's Christmas message on TV (which you can no doubt find online), followed by several hours planted on the sofa watching seasonal specials of the soap operas and/or movies (usually James Bond, or the Sound of Music.)

Leftover turkey sandwiches for a light evening meal, accompanied by more TV.

I've no idea if we were 'normal' or 'traditional' but most of my friends' families did the same thing.

Then there's Boxing Day (Dec 26th), which was usually more relaxed - we always went for a walk in the country, ate more leftover turkey, read books, watched more TV specials.

Raymond Brigg's The Snowman is a short video that I always found magical to watch at Christmas.
posted by valleys at 2:02 PM on November 14, 2008

Definitely have to include the Queen's Speech playing (as valleys mentions) as you sleep off a fat feed - don't actually pay any attention to it. I think she streams it on her website. There's carol singing too - going round your village/community and tunelessly or otherwise caterwauling "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" etc., though that's probably a bit of an ask for a couple to organise alone. Maybe settle for an album of traditional carols.
posted by Abiezer at 2:32 PM on November 14, 2008

Drop Santa in favour of Father Christmas. Go caroling and astonish the neighbours. And don't forget to sit in front of the telly with a cup of tea and watch the Queen's speech.
posted by saucysault at 2:43 PM on November 14, 2008

Christmas Eve midnight church service with carols, then down the pub.
Proper open fire, mince pies, sherry, Queens Speech, board games!

Afternoon walk after lunch to stop everyone falling asleep after indulging too much. Bet on the chance of a White Christmas, only to endure another gray day of drizzling rain.
posted by arcticseal at 2:50 PM on November 14, 2008

Proper open fire, mince pies, sherry, Queens Speech, board games!
Spot on! Let the boardgames end in a blazing argument, though you need siblings rather than loved partners for that I suppose.
We grew up in the country, so our decorations were mostly natural - mum and dad would get holly branches including the red berries (our holly is not quite the same as the U.S. variety though, I fear. Might be wrong there) and ivy. Yule log for the open fire if you have a fire place. Out sledging if there was snow.
posted by Abiezer at 3:01 PM on November 14, 2008

For me, the joy of christmas is in the food :) So I suggest you forget all about the queen's speech (boring!) and concentrate on making some delicious mince pies (serve warm with cream, ice cream, brandy butter or slices of cheese), christmas pudding, the aforementioned brandy butter, and be sure to have yorkshire puddings with your roast turkey dinner. Pull the christmas crackers at the start of the meal, read each other the (appalling) jokes and then, you MUST wear the paper hats for the rest of the meal and any photos taken that afternoon. If you aren't into cooking, you can buy mince pies and christmas pudding online, but the brandy butter is so easy to make that you can do it yourself.

Oh, I almost forgot! the best part of christmas pudding is setting it alight. Customs vary from family to family, but essentially a good pud has plenty of brandy (or other alcohol) in it already. When it is heated and ready to serve, you pour brandy over the top of it, and then set the brandy alight. It burns with a short-lived, pretty, blue flame. Optional 1) add raisins into the brandy before lighting, then scoop up and eat warm brandy raisins. Optional 2) make a mess of lighting the brandy and set light to yourself, the tablecloth, and the cup of brandy you are pouring from. This elicits great joy and humour from everyone else at the table, and as long as you extinguish the flames within a couple of minutes, nothing very bad will happen, except for some burnt arm hair and a funny smell.
posted by Joh at 3:39 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

And you will need some silver sixpences hidden in the pudding.
posted by Dr.Pill at 3:50 PM on November 14, 2008

If you really want a proper English Christmas meal, don't have a turkey, have a goose. You'll never look back.
posted by Acheman at 3:52 PM on November 14, 2008

Before Christmas: advent calendars. You get them in more German-influenced bits of the US, but they're pretty common, especially for kids.

Crackers, daft hats, stupid jokes. Mateus Rosé. Pigs in blankets. The Great Escape. The Queen. And our Christmas evenings were always a buffet tea at one of the extended family. Hot dogs, cheese and pineapple chunks on sticks, finger sandwiches, vol aux vents, mince pies, sherry trifle. A 'bran tub' for little gifts.

If Christmas is for family, Boxing Day is for gadding around with friends, and (for some) going to the footy with a Santa hat if your team's at home.

(The two Royle Family Christmas specials are probably a better take than anything touched by the hand of Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis.)
posted by holgate at 3:59 PM on November 14, 2008

Keep in mind that as part of the commonweath Canada has a lot of the same traditions commerically available (such as crackers) if you are having trouble getting stuff. And the playmobile advent calendars are awesome.
posted by saucysault at 4:47 PM on November 14, 2008

Eating Quality Street with abandon. You can find this in the US in British import shops.
posted by galaksit at 4:56 PM on November 14, 2008

Eating Quality Street with abandon.

Or Roses. But never the coffee cremes, which would hang around till New Year, along with the red peanuts in the mixed nuts dish, brazils and walnuts being the first to go. Also: chocolate oranges. (No mini Bournvilles any more? For shame.)

Another Boxing Day tradition in certain parts of the country? The gee-gees. (Or the hunt, if you're that way inclined.)
posted by holgate at 5:54 PM on November 14, 2008

Listen to the BBC broadcast of the King's College Christmas Eve service (Nine Lessons and Carols). The music, sung by the scholars and choirboys of King's College, is outstanding.
posted by Cygnet at 6:02 PM on November 14, 2008

Also, watch a Doctor Who Christmas special.
posted by rhinny at 12:53 AM on November 15, 2008

Morecombe & Wise
posted by kenchie at 2:39 AM on November 15, 2008

Make mince pies, carefully fill one of them with cotton balls instead of mincemeat, pop the lids on and bake. Then hand them round and sit there waiting for some innocent to bite down on it.

Actually it might only have been my family that did this, but still, priceless.
posted by tallus at 1:03 PM on November 15, 2008

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