We stayed with Rachel, Dalley, and their son Leon for a little over a week during our month in England. We became fast friends and stayed up late each night talking about music, Doctor Who, and all sorts of various topics. We felt like we had known each other for months and we’ve loved keeping in touch since.
Christmas in England always seemed so magical, and Rachel’s story below has only confirmed that. Here is “12 Countries in 12 Days of Christmas” Part V: Christmas in England.
Christmas is quite possibly the best day of the year and one that every child in England looks forward to. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, our schools whip children into a Christmas frenzy with never-ending outbreaks of Nativity plays, Christmas parties, take-your-toys-to-school and non-uniform days; countless Christmas cards are written and sent and Christmas present lists are honed in endless rounds of huddled discussions.
Obviously, we parents do our best to inject a little temperance into the situation by attempting to impart the true meaning of Christmas and explain to our spoilt children that there are many people less well off than ourselves but often, by the time Christmas day arrives, our efforts are proved fruitless in the face of such overwhelming excitement. I won’t lie; as a parent, it is nice to get swept along in the joy!
Having said that, we always find time to remember the many people, even in our own wealthy nation, for whom a ‘typical’ Christmas is a distant ideal; as a family, we are very lucky to have each other and a roof over our head so we try not to get too distracted with the over-commercialisation of Christmas.
Particularly for me, the most important element of Christmas is that my family are all together and everything else will fall into place. For the last few years, we have hosted Christmas at our house for as many members of our family as we can gather; the numbers have ranged between 6 and 14 people but we always manage to get everyone around the table, even if we have been a bit squashed at times!
Christmas morning is guaranteed to start early and is often accompanied by ecstatic shouts of “he’s been” followed by frantic stocking emptying and lots of chocolate consumption – and that’s just the adults! Whilst still wiping the sleep from our eyes, we all converge around the Christmas tree and let the children open their presents, otherwise we’d never get a minute’s peace.
After that, Christmas morning is usually a leisurely affair, as presents are exchanged and a bit of Christmas fizz is sipped for breakfast. My Mum and I are the ones who like to make the Christmas Dinner, so a good chunk of our day is taken up with preparing the meal whilst the rest of the family drink sherry and eat mince pies and the children play with their new toys and games.
The main event of the day is Christmas Lunch, which is a 3 or 4 course meal and always renders everyone comatose after consumption, so Christmas afternoon is the time when we all gather around the fire, put a good family film on, snuggle down and instantly all fall asleep. This is the time of day that I love, as I sneak out to see my horses, muck them out and give them their Christmas presents too; well, I couldn’t leave them out!
On Christmas Evening, our friends and neighbours are all invited to join us and a small party usually ensues, with even more food and drink demolished until no one can take any more. On Boxing Day and the days following it, we like to go a-visiting and see any of our friends and family that were not able to join us on Christmas Day, so we tend to do a lot of traveling with even more food and drink consumed, but it is invariably a lovely experience and, if I’m honest, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
What are some traditions in your own family?
My family background is quite diverse so we have adopted several family traditions from various cultures and, having also married into a large and welcoming family with its own traditions, we have quite a busy calendar to stick to, both during Christmas and in the run up to it. One of my favourites – a tradition picked up from my grandmother’s German heritage – is that of Saint Nicholas’ Night, when we polish our shoes and put them behind the curtain on the windowsill in the hope that St Nick will fill them with chocolate (which he usually does!); if your shoe is filled with chocolate in the morning, then it means that Father Christmas will come on the 24th too!
Our Christmas Eve routine is also now a set pattern that we follow too; my husband’s family (all 600 of them!) all converge on his Grandma’s house for this annual gathering, where Grandma Heaton, who is now 93!, puts on a huge spread with all sorts of food, puddings and alcohol. As this is often the only time we see some members of the family who live far away, it inevitably goes on for much longer than planned and is a chaotic but ultimately warm, welcoming and wonderful way to mark the beginning of Christmas.
When we do eventually get home, the routine continues with the children as we put out a glass of sherry and a mince pie for Father Christmas – with a carrot for Rudolph of course – on the fireplace, put their stockings at the end of their beds and then I must read the poem The Night Before Christmas to them before they go to bed, just like my Dad always did for my sister and I when we were little.
Once the children are asleep, we adults then jump into action to prepare everything for the morning; we put the presents under the tree, fill their stockings and then – most important of all – we ‘set the scene’ (which means we drink the sherry, eat some of the mince pie and carrot and then use glitter to make a Father Christmas footprint on the hearth). The magical excitement that all of these little things brings to the faces of the young ones makes it all completely worthwhile.
What foods/meals are a part of the holiday season?
Food is a huge part of the Christmas season; Christmas Lunch is the main event and it comprises three courses – a starter (often prawns and egg mayonnaise), the main course (turkey, roast potatoes, roasted parsnips and carrots, Brussel sprouts, red cabbage etc.) and then dessert (Christmas pudding with brandy sauce).
The other essentials are mince pies, Christmas cake and the traditional stocking fillers – satsumas and nuts! Of course, it also wouldn’t be Christmas without masses of chocolate and biscuits, which are given as gifts and then eaten to excess!
One of the Christmas traditions that I love is singing Christmas carols, of which there are many traditional ones and a few newer ones that everyone knows and sings along to; although I no longer sing in a choir, I still like to find somewhere where I can sing carols, as it’s such an enjoyable experience. There are also a multitude of Christmas songs that are played on the radio and which we always put on whilst we’re unwrapping our Christmas presents and eating Christmas lunch; they have been the soundtrack to Christmas for all of my life and are so familiar and comforting.
However, Christmas for me only really starts once I’ve heard Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl which always reminds me of my Granddad, sums up Christmas and makes me cry!
What symbol represents Christmas?
Christmas means so many things to different people and it is hard to pick out just one thing that represents Christmas but, for me, I only feel truly like Christmas has come to our house once the Christmas tree is up. I love decorating the tree with my son whilst watching a Christmas film with the fire roaring.
I try not to put the tree up too early because we always get a real one – I just love the smell of a real tree in the living room – but my husband and son generally win the battle of the tree about a week before Christmas. Once the tree’s up, I can then set my mind to writing the Christmas cards and wrapping the presents ready to send to Father Christmas; that’s when I know that Christmas is around the corner and I start to get excited.