Whether you’re an expat spending the frosty season away from Blighty, or an Anglophile who fancies bringing some authentic touches to your December celebrations, there are now lots of options for adding a British twist to Christmas.
Firstly, a note on semantics: despite Britain being a multi-cultural nation, the phrase Holidays is seldom used, and in fact translates roughly to vacation. So, although the expression is rather limiting, most Brits will blithely wish you “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”. My apologies to readers who are celebrating a different festival this December.
1. Pause with Christmas Eve Carols
Bring a touch of serenity to an otherwise hectic time by listening to the famous carol service from Kings College, Cambridge via BBC World Service on December 24th.
2. Pull Crackers (the non-edible kind)
Don’t ask me why, with hot, tasty food in front of us, we pause to tussle over a cardboard tube with our table neighbour, don a natty paper hat, and trade the silly jokes printed within… but we do. Crackers used to be tough to buy in the US but you’ll now come across them in many shops including Sur La Table, World Market, and online here. If you’re unfamiliar with them, the basic idea is to tear the thing apart, pretend to be surprised by the bang, and later collect up the annoying detritus to add to landfill.
3. Watch the Queen’s Speech
I’ve heard many Americans refer to her as Queen Elizabeth, but to most Brits, she is simply The Queen (think about it, you’ll understand why). Every year she broadcasts a Christmas message to the Commonwealth. And even those of us who find the monarchy a somewhat questionable concept seem to like to sit down and watch what she has to say. Broadcast at 3pm British time, you’ll find it easily on YouTube shortly after.
4. Call Someone a Bum and a Punk
One thing I lamented, after moving to the California, is that some of my favourite British Christmas songs are never played on the radio here. I’d love to know if this is a west coast phenomenon or whether, in fact, The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is heard on the airwaves of the Big Apple. Bittersweet, moody and packed with regret, Brits either love or loathe this song. Mostly, we love it. For a rundown of others, check out the list here.
5. Break a Tooth on a Sixpence
Possibly the easiest way to mimic an Anglophile December is with the food you choose, and there are a multitude of options for bringing a British twist to your table. Firstly, you can make your own; I like Delightful Repast, Delia Smith and Waitrose for ideas. You might get lucky and find a few items like mince pies and Cadbury products available in stores near you (try World Market if you have one), while Trader Joe’s had me jumping with joy this year when they launched a sticky toffee pudding. (There are now 5 of these in my freezer.) Or, to be sure of tracking down the food you want, try one of these specialty sellers who’ll gladly ship it to you.
In case you didn’t know, the number one traditional food for Christmas lunch in Britain is roast turkey. (We didn’t eat ours in November, you see.) But forget the green bean and sweet potato side dishes; to create an authentic plate, you’ll need Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, gravy and mini sausages wrapped in bacon.
But no matter what you’re eating, you can follow the quirky tradition of hiding money in your dessert. Ideally, this would be a silver sixpence, but, as long as you wash it thoroughly and warn your guests to be careful, I imagine most coins would do. For authenticity, though, you can buy one on Etsy.
Finally, as if all this Britishness isn’t enough, the last word goes to Twinings, who are offering you the chance to
6. Win a trip to London. If you ask them nicely, they might let you travel for Christmas 2016.
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