I don’t know how many times since being in England I have asked others, or myself, “Is this cultural or personal?” As I asked colleagues at the bookshop what they were doing for Christmas the resounding theme was to spend it with family and eat lots of food. That seemed fairly similar to my experiences.
However, some observations of differences have been:
~ I haven’t heard much of Santa Claus, but Father Christmas.
~ Instead of cookies and milk left out for said Santa, they would leave a mince pie, a carrot and some sherry for “the visitor”.
~ Most churches hold a Christmas eve and Christmas morning service, whether it’s a Sunday or not.
~ It’s tradition to awake Christmas morning with a heavy stocking laying at the foot of your bed. In my family (and many I know back home in Canada) the stockings go on a mantle or fireplace or banister of sorts). We opened the stocking (me and my host couple) in bed that morning with “oooohhs” and “aaaaahs”.
~ The meal I enjoyed had roast potatoes rather than what we would do – creamy mashed potatoes! The table also had “pigs in a blanket” (sausages wrapped in bacon), bread sauce, and for dessert we had mince pies, Christmas pudding and lime jelly – my family would have pies and cakes.
It was my first Christmas alone and it reiterated to me that while there are loads of new experiences you can have in life, without those you love the most to share it with, it’s just not the same. I was so blessed to be welcomed into an amazing family of six – two loving parents, four kids (two of which are married). They even got me a present! I observed a lot of how the parents and kids related (I do that with family dynamics so beware 😉 ) and there was a strong thread of love and respect throughout their family tapestry.
But now, let’s go back to what I personally experienced for my English Christmas. I live with a wonderful couple named Philip and Verity. I worked at the bookshop during the day Christmas eve (Sidenote: I held no pity but only chuckles for those frantically looking for gifts at 3:30pm on Christmas eve!) That evening Philip and Verity had invited some close friends over for their traditional Christmas Eve High Tea. Verity had prepared meats and cheese of all sorts, made fresh scones and mince pies, raspberry jelly, fresh veg for dipping, and breads of many flavours, and of course, tea. We enjoyed by candlelight the lovely spread before us.
I snuck away for some Skype love with my sister, her fiancé, and my parents, before heading off to Christmas Eve service at 11pm. Some tears were had as we opened gifts in front of the computer (Okay, maybe those tears were just mine!). Being this far from home has made me appreciate that much more the life God has given me back home.
Christmas morning I awoke with something heavy on my feet. Verity had joyously prepared a stocking for me. Each tiny package was wrapped, thus making the opening that much more fun. I went to their room with my stocking and we all had coffee and stocking time together.
After that, it was a rush to get pretty before heading to the county of Kent to a town named West Wickham for Christmas morning church service and to meet Verity’s brother and his family. Kent is just south of Essex where I live so that requires driving through many roundabouts, over the Thames river, past the toll bridge on the M25 and eventually we got there! As we turned up the hill towards the church the sight before us was idyllic. At the top of the hill was an old church built in 1490 (the new part was only 250 years old mind you. I know, “New?!” ) and below the church on the grassy slope were three horses grazing. It wasn’t a white Christmas. It was a very green Christmas.
We parked the car, hopped out, and the sound of the church bells ringing on Christmas morning brought a smile to my face. It’s one of those sounds that will always stay with me forever. The church has a new Vicar, a young gentleman, and the worship team (with piano, drums and violin) sang a compilation of Christmas melodies and newer worship songs. There were young families and older couples. It was quite different than I expected – modern life held inside a church that was over 500 years old!
Back at Verity’s brother’s house I got to meet the family and, like I said, did observing and my usual “21 questions”. If you ever meet me, I will likely ask you a lot of questions. Just sayin’. We had tea and visiting until dinner was ready around 2pm. Turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes and everything I mentioned earlier. But before we dove into our plate of goodness, we opened our crackers and dawned our crowns. We each had to say what our craker joke was and every time, whether the joke was funny or not, there was a resounding “Ohhhhhhhh” around the table. I was placed between Nanna and Warwick, the eldest brother. It was a lovely time had by all and I wished that I had been feeling better (something in my diet lately is not liking me!).
After dinner and before “pudding” we watched the Queen’s speech which is on BBC every Christmas Day at 3pm. The Queen gave a message of hope, forgiveness and straight up Gospel. The English in the house thought it was one of her best. We then had Christmas pudding, more tea, mince pies and lime jelly. This family has started a tradition that goes back many years called, “Burp the Jelly”. It must be lime flavoured and before the jelly is shared, someone must take a big spoon and lift the jelly carefully, thus causing a sort of “burping” sound. The bigger the burp, the bigger the applause. THAT was personal, not English 😉
At one point I went out on the deck with Verity’s brother and nephew to take a look at their view over the town. It was lush green and spotted with fields of white houses and brick. Her brother told me that the church we were in that morning was likely visited by Anne Boleyn (one of Henry VIII 8 wives) at one point as her cousins lived in the area. When I told him how different it was to have a green Christmas and that I have had a brown Christmas and a white Christmas, but never a green Christmas, he chuckled and said, “I’ve never heard of a brown Christmas!” You see, it’s always green in England. The grass never dies. Some trees and shrubs keep their leaves. So no matter how grey and dull the sky can get, the ground always looks fresh.
We eventually got to gift opening and that took hours. This was probably the point where I missed my family the most as our gift opening is usually silly and brings the most laughs of any time of our day. Random comments like, “Oh, that was meant for someone else!” or “Sorry, I was on drugs when I wrapped that.” Or “Disappointed?” It still makes me laugh to think of last year when my Dad had just got out of the hospital for kidney stones and couldn’t totally remember what he had bought everyone.
Some games, laughs and more tea was had and we were home by 1am. It was a different Christmas for me – a new experience. The creative type like me needs and loves new experiences. Change is inevitable. This was an idyllic experience. However, I still think that there are some things in life where sameness and tradition are best. Watching this family love and relate to each other is exactly what Christmas should look like.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with family and look forward to 2012 with anticipation of great things to come!