by Anna Sugden
This is our first Christmas back in England after six years in New Jersey. As we put up our first real tree (a Norwegian fir called a Nordman, which doesn't drop its needles - ideal for the tender-pawed, and the post-Christmas clean-up!) and hung real mistletoe, with its creamy white berries, for the first time in six years, it struck me that there are a number of things about Christmas in England which are different. I don't know if they're unique, but they make an English Christmas ... English.
Knowing we have visitors from all over the world, I thought I'd share five things about an English Christmas with you.
1. Christmas music - Yes, many of the Christmas songs you know and love are the same. But, for many people over here, Christmas isn't officially Christmas until you've heard Noddy Holder (the lead singer of Slade) declare "Its Christmas!" in his gravelly voice. At the risk of showing my age - here are Slade(You'll have to watch right to the end to see the moment I mean).
Another favourite of mine is "I wish it could be Christmas every day" by Wizzard.
2. Christmas lunch - I talked about this in more detail on a recent post at Writers at Play ), so I won't repeat it all. Suffice it to say that Christmas is our big turkey day (though some prefer goose). What makes it really English is the selection of desserts - Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies and/or a Yule Log.
3. Christmas crackers - Christmas lunch isn't officially underway until you've pulled cracker. No, I'm not talking about getting lucky with an available hunk - not with all that family around, anyway! A Christmas cracker (see picture) is a fun tradition - when you pull it, it splits open with a bang. Inside is a paper hat (which must be worn), a 'gift' (kind of like the prize at the bottom of a box of Crackerjack) and a silly Christmas joke (the ones little kids find hysterically funny).
4. The Queen's Speech - with Christmas lunch over, it's time for collapsing in front of the TV. Before the Christmas blockbuster or the Christmas specials, comes the Queen's Christmas Speech. This is broadcast by the BBC. It also goes out around the world via the radio on BBC's World Service. In years gone by, many families waited to open their presents until after the Queen's Speech. In our family, Christmas stockings could be opened first thing on Christmas morning, but the main presents had to wait. I suspect fewer and fewer families follow that tradition any more. Sadly, I also suspect that fewer and fewer people actually listen to the Queen's Speech.
5. Service of Nine Lessons and Carols - I've saved my particular favourite until last. Usually held on an evening before Christmas, this is a wonderful event. And whether you're in an 11th century Minster, a small village church or a modern chapel, the format is always the same. It begins with the lights being turned off, so that the church is lit only by candles. Into that gentle glow comes the pure, sweet voice of a young solo chorister. Unaccompanied, he or she will sing the first verse of Once in Royal David's City. I can't express how magical that moment is. And how much it makes you feel the wonder and beauty of Christmas. Then, the lights come up, the organ plays and we all join in the rest of the hymn. Through alternating readings from the Bible and Christmas hymns, the story of Christmas is told.
For me, this is the loveliest celebration of Christmas. Whether it's hearing the familiar story from the age-old passages, singing along to traditional favourites like "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" or "O Come All Ye Faithful" or listening to the choir sing a carol composed especially for the service. Even when we were abroad, we always tried to scour the internet to find a service to listen to - Carols from Kings (that's King's College, here in Cambridge) is often available and worth hearing.
I hope that has given you a little insight into Christmas here in England. Now, it's your turn. What does your country, state, area or town do that is special or unique to celebrate Christmas?
And don't forget, one of today's commenters has a chance to win a fab prize in the Banditas Twelve Days of Christmas!