Christmas Traditions in the UK

The Brits celebrate Xmas in slightly different ways to our cousins on the continent. In many European countries, the 24th Dec is the most important day of the holidays, when the Xmas tree is put up with its decorations, the family gathers together and presents are handed out. In Britain, the 24th is a very important day…for last minute shopping! Some shops stay open until 8 or 9pm in order to feed the demand of people (usually men) frantically running around trying to cross off all the items on their present lists. Before children go to bed on Xmas Eve (24th Dec), they hang stockings (a big red sock) from the mantlepiece or the end of their bed. Traditionally, this was filled by (Santa Claus of course!) with things like satsumas, nuts, chocolates and small gifts like crayons or playing cards. Children are allowed to open the contents of the stocking when they wake up on Xmas morning…which could be as early as 5am! Nowadays, I think that the main purpose of the stockings is to keep the children satisfied for a little while in the morning, so that the parents can sleep until maybe around 6am. Father Christmas should enter the living room of every house by coming down the chimney and through the fireplace at sometime during the very early hours of Xmas Day. To entice Santa down and thank him for the presents, some families leave out a small treat of mince pies and sherry. When I was a child, on Xmas Day my family used to get up early and have a big cooked breakfast. This was because afterwards we had to go to church and then wait until about 2pm for the large turkey to be ready from the oven. We used to open the main, bigger presents around midday. However, these days I think that people who have young children, who get very excited about Xmas, usually open their presents at some early time in the morning. Xmas dinner was always turkey in the UK. But now, more and more people have different types of meat, like a big joint of beef or pork, or perhaps a goose. The important thing about the dinner is to have the meat with all the trimmings – this is the phrase used for all the vegetables and extra stuff that you eat with the meat…not forgetting lashings of gravy! (Gravy is a salty brown sauce made from the juices of the meat and other ingredients like wine and the water used to cook the vegetables). Lots of alcohol is drunk throughout the meal and people pull crackers and wear the paper hats and also tell the really bad jokes that you get inside the crackers. Then if you have a proper traditional Xmas cake, you get more alcohol. A real Xmas pudding cooked in the traditional way by your granny, should be soaked in alcohol for months before Xmas actually arrives. After dinner at 3pm, there is the Queen’s speech on TV. In the distant past, I think that people stood up and saluted while the national anthem was played at the beginning of the Queen’s Speech and then listened intently to what she had to say. But now, I think that anyone who watches it, probably does so just to have a laugh at how posh her voice is. After the Queen’s speech there is always a big film on the TV for the whole family to sit around and watch together. It always used to be a James Bond film, or something like Ben Hur or Spartacus. But now things have improved a bit and this year for example the big Xmas Day movie on BBC 1 will be ‘Shrek the Third’. During the film, most of the adults try to sleep off the Xmas Dinner on the sofa. This is when someone uses their new video-cam to make a film of grandad snoring with his mouth open and then puts it on YouTube. Oh, one thing I forgot about Xmas that really makes it a special time of year…the family arguments!

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