Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in England

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!


danie88 said...

Oh! Did I get him?

danie88 said...

A town I live about 20 min away from has a Christmas Light Drive-Thru Show... all local businesses donate some sort of christmas light display and money and you drive through this trail in the woods and you turn your radio on to a certain channel and hear christmas music... you have to pay per car but its worth it and the money goes to charity so its also a great cause :) plus you get to sit in your nice warm car instead of walking around freezing your butt off lol

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey Congratulations danie88! Now you can start a new Christmas tradition - decorating the GR with tinsel *g*.

Fun post, Anna - and so informative. I'm struggling to think of something we do differently from others and having a difficult time of it. There's the mandatory Christmas morning waiting at the top of the steps for the kids while the adults scurry on ahead with cameras to capture their surprise when they see the tree.

There's the search for the hidden green pickle ornament which means an extra inexpensive present for the one who finds it (the poor tree suffers in the hunt - sad to say). And there's the mandatory watching of The Christmas Carol and The Christmas Story (Ralphie's story).

I suspect Christmas is a wonder the world over - isn't it. Happy Holidays everyone.

Helen said...

Congrats danie88 enjoy your day with him

An English Christmas sounds lovely very much like ours here in Australia I have seen the Queen's Christmas speach a few times over the years it was always played on the TV channels here and also on the news in the evening.

Slade I love Noddy Holder and their Christmas song is one of my favourites I have it on a couple of CDs that I own and was lisening to it today I actually went to see Slade live here in Sydney back in the 70's fantastic band all that glam rock.

I have already got a couple of boxes of crackers and lunch wouldn't be the same without the hat and jokes LOL

For lunch we have pork, ham, turkey, chicken roast vegies and cauliflower and peas lots of gravy then Christmas pudding sometimes trifle fruit mince pies and Christmas cake (and eat leftovers for the rest of the week)

We also have lots of carols by candlelight around the area where we all go to big parks buy candles and sing carols there is usually fireworks to finish off with and these events start about 2 weekes before Christmas and we have often attended a couple of them the kids always loved them when they were younger this year what with babies and that we haven't managed to get to any but there is always a really big one in Melbourne that is televised on Christmas Eve and that is part of our tradition to watch every Christmas Eve. We have friends come around and we watch and sing together I do love that.
Thanks for a lovely post Anna have a wonderful Chrissy back home.

Have Fun

Anna Sugden said...

Congratulations Danie! What treats do you have in store for him today?

The Christmas Light Drive-Thru Show sounds wonderful. What a fabulous idea.

Anna Sugden said...

Donna, I'm laughing at the kids scrambling for the hidden green pickle ornament. What a fun tradition. I may have to borrow that for a book some day.

I always watch White Christmas and Christmas in Connecticut when I'm decorating the tree. My own little tradition.

Anna Sugden said...

Helen, thanks for sharing what you do. I did wonder if the Aussies and Kiwis had similar customs and traditions to us Brits.

Yay on being a Noddy Holder fan - how cool that you've seen Slade!

I know when we were discussing wedding cakes earlier in the year, Anna, Christine and I all had fruit cakes in mind, while the Americans had something completely different - more like a birthday cake.

The carol singing sounds lovely.

And thank you for your Chrissy wishes - may you and yours have a wonderful Christmas too. Especially those new grandbabies.

Eva S said...

Hi Anna,
Finland isn't so far away from England,but our Christmas lunch is very different from yours, we have baked ham,lots of casseroles (potato,rutabaga and carrot), freshly salted salmon and lutefish( not my favorite!).We have rice porridge with one almond, sometimes for good luck (or for to be married next year!)to the one who gets it.

I live in a small town near Turku, our Christmas City where the Declaration of Christmas Peace has been read since 1320'. Every year our family has been there (in the crowd among thousands of others)listening. No Christmas without it!
Minna wrote about it yesterday...

Merry Christmas to you all!

Virginia said...

Congrats danie88 for getting the great Golden Rooster!!!

I am trying to think of something we do different and I just can't think of a thing, maybe its just to early in the morning to think. Christmas in England sounds so lovely.

Sue A. said...

Vancouver starts off the seaon with the Rogers Santa Claus Parade which is held in late November.
Vancouver's Pan Pacific Hotel holds a Christmas Wish Breakfast & Toy Drive.
Bright Nights at Stanley Park - a family Christmas tradition for over 20 years and has 1 million lights that transform the train, barnyard, and forest into a winter wonderland.

Christmas on Grouse Mountain - a sleigh ride through the mystical alpine forest, visit Santa's workshop, and skate on Mountain-top Ice Skating Pond.

Burnaby Village Museum - enjoy a historic setting of Christmas activities.

There's plenty of things to see and do with the family during this season.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

We have Christmas Light shows here too, as you come through the line they hand you a cassette tape to listen to while watching the lights, I think they now have you tune to a particular radeio station now though. It has been a while since I went.

Caren Crane said...

Danie88, congratulations on the GR! It's like a special Christmas gift for you. Except, you know, he's messier and a bit demanding. *g*

Anna, I belong to the United Methodist Church and at my local church, we have a very special Lessons & Carols service during Advent, usually a week or so before Christmas. It is so wonderful and the music is gorgeous, with a small orchestra. Heaven!

We don't do anything particularly special on Christmas. We're always at my mother's house. Open stockings, the kids gander at their Santa gifts (never wrapped), we have a big Christmas brunch and wait for stray family members. When everyone has arrived, we open presents. Though there is a crowd, we usually open them one at a time and ooh and aah over each one. It's such fun for everyone!

Then we usually sit around and drink coffee until we switch to wine, then eventually assemble a Christmas mid-afternoon dinner (much prepared in advance) and eat again. Talk more. Maybe play board games. All while listening to Christmas CDs. I'm so looking forward to it!

Anna Sugden said...

Eva! *waving* Good to see you!

My stepmother is Danish, so I'm used to having different things Scandinavian-style for a Christmas celebration. I love the pickled herrings - especially the curry and tomato ones. And the casseroles.

Interesting about the rice porridge with an almond. We always used to have a sixpence baked into our Christmas puddings for the same reason. These days, as sixpences are no longer in circulation, people use silver charms. I did hear there are special firms who've got original sixpences, so maybe that tradition will begin again.

Anna Sugden said...

Whether or not you do anything different, Virgina, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas celebration.

Anna Sugden said...

Sue A - Vancouver is one of my all-time favourite cities! We had such a fab trip there - in fact, we'd hoped to get back for the Winter Olympics, but couldn't get organised enough. Plus the tickets were so expensive. (we only wanted to watch the hockey, not all the other things they bundled together).

I can imagine how beautiful Staney Park must be with all the lights. And Grouse Mountain sounds magical.

Joan said...

Mornin' all,

Stopping in for a quick, freezing (5 degrees) hello.

Lovely post, Anna. I can't think of anything particular we do special. My family always just had ham and potato salad and such for lunch on Christmas Day.

We do have an event on the day after Thanksgiving to begin the Holiday Season called "Light Up Louisville". They have music, Santa and at a pre-determined time throw a switch which lights up the park and city tree and nearby govt buildings in all kinds of lights.

Anna Sugden said...

Dianna - what a neat idea of having the individual listening devices/radio station while watching the lights.

Anna Sugden said...

I'm so glad you get to experience the wonder and beauty of a Carol Service, Caren. Hopefully, one day you can come here and experience one English style.

Your Christmas Day sounds like the nicest kind - lots of good food, family fun, pressies (can't forget the pressies!) and topped off with wine.

Ours is much the same. Though hubby and I don't do stockings any more, we have a small breakfast to sustain us until the big lunch (he likes gala pie - a pork pie in pastry with a hard-boiled egg centre; I like mince pies with cream because I'll be too stuffed late to enjoy them!).

While lunch is cooking - which we prepare together - the Christmas CD is on or we listen to Carols from Kings. When the family arrives, we open the bubbly. Or, for my Mum, we make a snowball (Advocaat and Sprite).

Pressies after lunch and then relaxing!

Anna Sugden said...

Hugs on the chill, Joanie. Hope you have a nice warm fire or a cuddly blanket to keep you warm.

Light Up Louisville sounds like fun! I know a lot of places do that at Thanksgiving. We had a wonderful visit to San Antonio one year, with their parade and lights.

Gillian Layne said...

Good morning! Joan, I'll top your balmy 5 degrees with a lovely 2! 2 degrees is not very common in Kansas. :)

Congratulations, Danie88! Anna, this was a fun read for me, and all new information. Christmas isn't our "big" meal, but a feast of snacks and often Mexican. Not sure why we do that.

We share the same Christmas traditions that most of you do. One thing special about my home town, thirty miles from where I live now, is that we have an original Fort from the 1800's, fully restored. There are over eleven buildings, from officer's quarters to the bakery, and when they decorate and then light it up with traditional candles and luminaries, you can really imagine what it must have been like for the brief time the soldiers and their families could spare from their duties to celebrate Christmas.

Anna Sugden said...

What am I saying? Joanie has a hunky Roman or two to keep her warm!

Buffie said...

Oh Anna, thank you so much for sharing an English Christmas with us. I have to say that after reading your post I now want to add England to my list of fantasy places to spend Christmas!

I live in a small town called Locust Grove. Usually the first weekend in December we have "Christmas in the Grove". It is a Christmas festival with all the local businesses, churches, and schools. The boys' school always does the "Who Hair" booth. It's fun to see the kids with Who Hair!

Christmas Eve is always spent with my side of the family at my sister's house. My dad decides what type of game we all will play for additional prizes. One year it was see who could put together a 50 piece puzzle fastest, one year it was pin the tail on the donkey, one year it was a scavenger hunt throughout the house. We always have a blast. And as my kids get older, I know that will be one wonderful memory they will have of their Grandpa!

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, Danie88, way to go! Maybe he can help you wrap presents!

Anna, you have made me SO homesick for England - my second home! I LOVED the Lessons and Carols services! I actually made my singing debut at those services. (At the tender age of 9) And mince pies! YUM!And my brothers and I always reminisce about Christmas crackers! I've said before some of my most memorable Christmases were spent in England as a child.

In our little town, Christmas on the Coosa and The Progressive Live Nativity are two big traditions. Christmas on the Coosa is an all day fair with a parade, vendors in the park with all sorts of hand made items and that evening there is a carol concert and a boat parade down the river. Boats are decorated like floats in the Macy's parade and there is a lot of competition between businesses, organizations, schools and churches. There are even prizes for the best floats. And at the end of the parade Santa Claus water skis down the river to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

The progressive Nativity is put on by the various churches in town. Each one depicts a step in the Christmas story with live characters and music on the lawn of the church. It has gotten pretty elaborate over the years including the wise men arriving on camels and horses!

In my home town where my Mom still lives Santa Claus comes around the neighborhoods on the back of a firetruck with a police escort on Christmas Eve. It is a lot of fun to see the kids come out in their pjs. Their parents tell them Santa is checking on them one last time so they'd better be good and go to bed.

Anonymous said...

Anna, lovely post! I was wondering about the differences between English and American Christmases! :-)

Our church also does a service similar to your Lessons and Carols, but we do it on Christmas Eve. We even start out with one member of the choir singing "O Come Emmanuel" in the back of the church, holding a single candle. Then the choir processes in, singing, and we all light our candles.

Another tradition we have is that one of our church members writes a new Christmas Pageant every year -- she blends the Christmas story with a story from today to make it really fun for the kids and the congregation. This year, she wrote a story mixing Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure with the original Christmas Story. It was most triumphant, but we had to reschedule the pageant for January, because we've had so much snow, no one could get to church!

Maureen said...

I enjoyed your post and had never heard of the Queen's speech. We don't do anything too different but in our area there is the re-enactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware on Christmas Day.

p226 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
p226 said...

We had a nativity scene right downtown there for a while with live animals.

Then some guy got caught in the pen uh.... doing uh... uh... bad things with one of the sheep.

The nativity scene didn't come back after that.

But my buddy was in the courtroom when this ... fellow had his plea hearing for his charges of cruelty to animals. The judge asked how he plead, and the guy responded "Cruelty? How can it be cruelty if it kept backing up?"

My buddy said it took 20 minutes to restore order in the courtroom, mainly because the bailiffs were doubled over with laughter.

Not that I'm advocating this as a "unique local tradition."

Anna Sugden said...

2 degrees, Gillian? Brrrr.

How fascinating about the fort. Is it live, as well as restored? ie do they have people there re-enacting life as it would have been?

Anna Sugden said...

You're very welcome, Buffie. I hope your wish comes true - and you come and visit us here in Cambridge!

Locust Grove sounds like the perfect name for a romance novel small town. And the 'Christmas in the Grove' Festival ideal for those home and hearth stories.

And what a fun tradition with your father. Those are the best kind.

Anna Sugden said...

Louisa - we'd love to welcome you back to your second home some time. And you can sing carols with us any time.

Wouldn't it be fab if we could magically transport the Lair to different places?

I love the sound of Christmas on the Coosa - especially Santa water-skiing! And the Progressive Nativity is a wonderful idea. When I was in charge of RE at my school (in my primary school teching days), one of the year groups got to do the Christmas story. With three classes in a year group, each one took a different part of the story and re-enacted it for the school.

In our small town in NJ, Santa also arrived on a fire truck - even us adults enjoyed that!

Treethyme said...

I lived in the London area for seven years in the seventies and early eighties. For several years, I worked in Regent Street, where the Christmas decorations were always amazing.

I loved shopping the street markets and picking up lots of gaudy Christmas decorations like metallic mobiles that folded flat until you hung them up. It used to be impossible to get them in the US but now they seem to be catching on -- so tacky, they're fun!

I got totally hooked on Christmas crackers when I lived there, so we used to order them from England when we first moved back. Now they are getting easier to find here, too, but they aren't as good as the English ones.

In England, my husband's relatives always brought out the booze on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (which I loved!): Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry, Apricot Brandy, Cherry Brandy, and my favorite, homemade sloe gin.

Then it was roast potatoes and the "joint" (roast beef)with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. The best Yorkshire in the U.S. is at Lawry's prime rib restaurant on Ontario in Chicago, but that place is not cheap!

My husband goes home every year but I haven't been back since my kids were little. The last time I went, it was December -- we planned it that way on purpose, because Christmas in England is wonderful!

Anna Sugden said...

I smiled when I saw your comment yesterday, Kirsten, knowing what today's post was about. Glad I was able to fill in some of the blanks.

Your carol service sounds lovely. And the pageant idea is very clever. I really like the idea of melding the traditional with the modern so that it keeps the story live and relevant for today's young. What a shame about the pageant being rescheduled - but it will be a nice treat for everyone in that post-holiday blues period.

Anna Sugden said...

Oooh that sounds like a very cold and wet thing to do, Maureen! The picture looks cold and wet - let alone doing it at this time of year. Very cool, though.

We get some people who take a swim in the North Sea or the English Channel on New Year's Day. Total and utter madness!!

Gillian Layne said...

Anna, Fort Scott is a National Historic Site. They do re-enactments all year long, and my children have even attended their summer camps. We are very lucky to live near such a treasure.

Here's a link:

Anna Sugden said...

P226 - you always manage to bring a smile to my face! We really did miss you.

There are many stories like that over here. Especially among the Welsh *g*. Did the man do what they do and put wellies on the sheep? (wellington boots)

Gillian Layne said...

Treethyme, you made me grin--sounds like you have a wonderful, fun holiday! :)

I'm off to brave the cold and finish this Christmas shopping. Wish me luck--and good luck to all of you still wrapping and finishing, as well!

p226 said...

Did the man do what they do and put wellies on the sheep?

There are levels of detail I have no interest in. This is one of them, lol.

Anna Sugden said...

Ah yes, Treethyme, Regent's Street lights are to Christmas, what Times Square is to New Year. Though I hear that this year, they were a bit of a let down. As a child, I always thought it would the height of fab to go down to London and see all the fabulous Christmas windows and to see the lights.

Funnily enough, we're headed into London this evening to exchange gifts and have dinner with my hubby's kids. I'll send you Christmas greetings from there.

I hope you'll be able to return for a Christmas in England some time soon.

We'll definitely have to magically transport the Lair over here one year.

Anna Sugden said...

How cool, Gillian. Thanks for the link. It looks fab. What a dramatic blurb for the fort too!

Anna Sugden said...

P226 - O think it's just the Welsh's S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure *g*).

Minna said...

Well, I have mentioned most of our Christmas traditions by now. But I have to see if I can find an explanations for "tiernapojat" in English somewhere...

If your internet connection is faster than mine, you might be able to listen to Radio Nova:
just click Radio Nova on Air on the left (or Joulun radio, if you like to listen to Christmas music).

David Copperfield - Snow Dream

Minna said...

Ok, here's some stuff about tiernapojat:

Eva S said...

Minna, look at


It seems like Oulu is the home of Star Boys

Beth said...

I love hearing how other people celebrate, Anna! Thanks for the fun post *g*

Our town has the Christmas House. Years ago, a family started decorating their house with tons (and I mean TONS) of lights and outdoor decorations and it became such a big attraction that people would drive by every year to see it. He passed the decorations down to his son who added even more decorations *g*

During certain times they'll have people dressed up as Santa or Frosty to hand out candy canes to the kids who stop by.

Congrats on nabbing the GR, Danie!

PJ said...

Lovely post, Anna. I enjoy reading about everyone's traditions. My church has an all choral service two weeks before Christmas with a string orchestra and music from our church choirs of all ages. It's really beautiful.

I belong to the United Methodist Church. We have two UMC churches in town, mine (which is huge and mostly caucasian) and a small one with an African-American congregation. Segregation is not that far back in the history of this area and the two congregations co-existed but had never interacted until our current pastor was assigned to my church shortly after I joined in 2001. He reached out to the other church and one of the many shared events that has come from the relationship is a joint all-music Christmas Eve candlelight service. The music is a rich blend of traditional carols, gospels, and hymns. It's truly beautiful both for the music and especially the coming together of the two congregations in harmony and friendship.

Crianlarich said...

Wonderful post, Anna. I enjoyed every word. An English Christmas really is something extra special, isn't it? Though I'd jump for Salzburg or Munich as discussed yesterday, Christmas in England is way up on my list, too.

Back in the Munich days, I'd often pop over to London for long weekends in early Dec. (enjoyed getting crackers at Liberty's, for example) So thank you for the lovely memories.

Here... well, again as said yesterday, I find Christmas here pales in comparison to Olde World Christmases.

Three things my community does: A boat parade. Boat owners decorate their boats and cruise through the bay to a marina on the mainland where prizes are given for the best ones. And a night early in Dec. when the tree is first lit and all the shops stay open late and offer little 'somethings' to those who pop in. Might be Christmas cookies and eggnog in one shop and some little gift in the next one. Carolers dressed in "Victorian" garb stroll the streets as does Santa. And then the lovely botanical gardens here decorates and has candlelit walkways at night. The plantation home there has many decorated Christmas trees in the rooms, each one decorated to represent a different country and culture.

But all in all ... we'll be celebrating next year's Christmas in Germany again and I'd much rather be there than here this time of year.

Michele L. said...

We have a Christmas light display in Michigan City, 15 minutes away, in Washington Park. Every year they add more lights. It has grown enormous! They have the motion lighted displays also. We always drive through there before Christmas while listening to Christmas music on the radio.

Also, we love to see the Christmas train every year. Our local paper tells us when it will be coming through the town. It is about 8 cars long and it is all decorated with lights. That is always so neat to see!

Oh wow, I love your English traditions Anna! I have never been to England but would love to someday! It sounds like Christmas would be a fun time to go!

Have a Merry Christmas!
Michele L.

traveler said...

Enjoyed your lovely post today. When I lived in Canada I always listened to the Queen's message.
In this special town where I live in the Southwest, Luminarias are lit on Christmas eve. This is a sight to behold. Just inspiring and unique.

limecello said...

Er... this is awful :X haha I don't know? Well city hall is always lit... and the "metropolitan" city that's closest has a Holiday Tree Festival - where people can decorate trees then they're sold off to support a charity. In high school we did that for (National Honor Society) - and were put right next to the woman who had done the Christmas tree for the White House - so that was fun.

That's probably one of the biggest things.

Jane said...

We have the big trees at Rockefeller and Lincoln Center and the beautiful display windows at Macy's and the other department stores. There's a local tv station that plays a film loop of a yule log burning in the fireplace with Christmas music. I love Christmas crackers. My cousin's neighbor's are from Australia and they introduced us to the crackers. We always put the hat on.

Helen said...

We used to have sixpences in our puddings as well until we changed over to dollars and cents back in 69 it was always fun getting money in the pudding.

My family still does the traditional Chrissy lunch but lots of Aussies now have big seafood lunches and the fishmarkets in Sydney are so busy from the about 2-00am Christmas Eve till early hours Christmas morning people go there early Christmas morning before opening presents to get their seafood for lunch the traffic is unbelievable apparently I have never been but my son works for a transport company and from tomorrow till Christmas morning they estimate they will do about 500 runs with all trucks being used for the fish markets.

Have Fun

Suzanne Welsh said...

OH Anna, the solo was so fantastic! Thank you for sharing it. That's a song I've never heard before.

Last night we did what is a family tradition for us for about the past 15 years. We went to evening church service, at our daughter's church. They sang lots of carols, and modern Christian songs like "Mary Did You Know". We all sang along, until Lyndsey took the microphone to sing, "O Holy Night".

Now here is where I'm a Carol-snob. This song should (IMHO and muscially trained ear) only be sung by those individuals who can clearly make the leap to the top note and sing it clear and perfect and with power. No sliding up the scale to it. No quivering. No hesitation. Either you've got the cajones for it, or you just shouldn't try.

Pavarotti, trained opera singers, Whitney Houston years ago, both my daughters...Yep, that's it! Alison used to sing soprano that made 8 year old boys envious, and when she hit this note, I swear people were in awe. Lyndsey is a mezzo soprano, so they take the song down a key for her.

Last night when Lyndsey started the last chorus, the entire church hushed, the music stopped....and with the power God gave her, she hit that note.....oh my, sends shivers over you. Evey child, including hers, stopped and listened...okay...for me...NOW it's Christmas!

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Danie, way to go on the rooster!

Anna, what a gorgeous post! As Helen said, a lot of our Aussie traditions are stolen straight from England. Including it being the one day of the year where turkey is the chosen food. And eating plum pudding and mince pies and shortbread (lots of Scottish influence in Australia). We do crackers and I LOVE the Queen's message. I always watch it! Most years, I got to subtitle it for the deaf and hearing impaired when I still had the dreaded day job. She speaks nice and slowly, dear Lizzie! I love the Carols from King's although this year it looks like the ABC have gone to Melbourne instead for a local version. I'm sure it will be nice but it won't be quite the same. One of the loveliest memories of my life is going to a winter evensong service at King's College. Candles and beautiful choir boys and frost in the air and the light gleaming off that beautiful golden stonework and stained glass. Sigh. Would love to do it again one day!

Hey, I LOVE Christmas in Connecticut. What a clever script!

P226, you always come up with such a twist on things!!! Snort!

Hmm, Anna! Your line about the Welsh made me think of an old joke - Wales - where men are men and sheep are frightened! Although down here, we usually say it about New Zealand (ducking the flying projectiles from across the Tasman!).

p226 said...

P226, you always come up with such a twist on things!!! Snort!

Wouldn't be the first time I've been accused of being twisted. *g*

ruth said...

There are these delightful walks through the old town area that is lit up with farolitos. Cocoa is served and there is entertainment. The lights are awesome and unusual and we realx while strolling through the area. Thanks for your great post. Loved it.

danie88 said...

YAY! gives GR a big hug! hehe :)

we actually slept in today and we sat through an interesting conversation about romance books with my mom, my sister, and a friend and we got to chase after one of our dogs who got out (he's supposed to go out on a leash)... so its been quite an exciting day so far... hehe who knows what else is going to happen lol

Donna MacMeans~ I actually just put a mini set of reindeer antlers on him... does that count? lol

Buffie said...

"Locust Grove sounds like the perfect name for a romance novel small town. And the 'Christmas in the Grove' Festival ideal for those home and hearth stories"

Anna, since you liked Christmas in the Grove, I think you will really enjoy our small town music festival which is held in the summer --- Grovin' in the Grove. Yep, we Southerns are nuts!

Treethyme said...

Anna - Just curious, what small town in NJ did you live in? I lived in Succasunna for two years, a small town in NJ where the firemen used to arrive in a fire truck! My husband was interested in this thread, it got him all nostalgic.

I remember Anna C.'s Welsh joke and it still makes me laugh. I've been to Wales many times and each time we saw more sheep than people. Lovely country, though, especially St. David's and we also liked Dolgellau and Machynlleth. The whole country is beautiful, or it was back then.

Pat Cochran said...

Thanks to everyone for sharing the
descriptions of your special Christmas services. I'm looking forward to participating in our
parish choir at the Christmas Eve
Midnight Mass. Merry Christmas!!

Pat Cochran

petite said...

When I visited a friend one year at Christmas they had a tradition of walking through their neighborhood and every house had these spectacular decorations and lighting displays. Towards the end of the evening we all congregated at one of the homes for an extraodinary feast. What a memorable year that was.

Nathalie said...

WHta is unique... is that we have a crazy after christmas shopping day called Boxing Day, where people go crazy because of the sales. I prefer to saty at home that day!

Lois said...

Us, here. . . ah, hmm, I don't think we really do anything in town as a tradition for Christmas. LOL But seeing how we are however many miles from NYC, and it's only roughly 30 minutes away if you can go from point to point, I'll steal NYC's Christmas traditions and say the tree is also ours too. ;)


catslady said...

Our city has a large light up night with all kinds of activities included. A few years back it was an anniversary and it lasted all day and night - different activities for kids and adults. Unfortunately it's usually way too cold for my liking lol.

I have my own tradition that I started 40 years ago of a tree trimming party with friends and family.

Anna Sugden said...

Sorry for the gap in posts. all, but we were up in London's Chinatown, enjoying a festive get-together with my hubby's daughters. The City looks pretty spiffy!

Minna - thanks as always for yur fabulous links.

Anna Sugden said...

It is fun hearing about what everyone else does, Beth. The Christmas House sounds like fun. Where we used to live, the local wealthy landowner always used to put on a lovely display of lights for the rest of us mere mortals.

Much more classy than some of the HoHoHo houses we've seen around this year!

Anna Sugden said...

What a lovely story, PJ about your two methodist churches - I bet the joint service is wonderful - a fabulous blend of all that is joyous. Having lived in a town where the two churches (both Church of England) have been in competition, it's nice that some people can reach out and bring congregations together.

Anna Sugden said...

Crianarich, I wonder if it's all the generations of history that go before us in Europe that makes Christmas different? The celebrations have become a part of the rich culture.

Crackers from Liberty?! Wow - lucky you! I splashed out and got some ridiculously expensive crackers this year - the prizes are actually not too laughable - but then the jokes probably aren't either *g*.

Anna Sugden said...

Your Christmas train and Christmas lights in the park sound lovely, Michele. They must be really magical.

Any time of year is a good time to visit us here in England *g*, but I do think Christmas has a special something. They say you should do Christmas here and New Year's (Hogmanay) in Scotland.

Anna Sugden said...

I was wondering, traveler, about the Canadians and the Queen's Speech, so thanks for answering that silent question. I always think luminaria are so pretty - they must make streets look lovely over Christmas.

Anna Sugden said...

LOL Limecello - your mission, should you choose it, is to find out for next year what is special in your area. Actually, your tree-decorating festival sounds like a fab and fun idea.

Anna Sugden said...

Ah Jane - I do miss New York at Christmas - my home away from home. Enjoy it for me!

What fun that you're into crackers - I found a little shop off greenwich Avenue that sold them a couple of years ago and was so excited ... except they didn't bang when you pulled them!

Anna Sugden said...

Wow, Helen - that's amazing about the fish runs. I must admit, I'd always imagined you all "tossin' shrimps on the barbie" and enjoying the sun, while we shivered over here!

Anna Sugden said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Suz. It really is so fabulous - and when you're in the church, well, you can imagine ... it sends a tingle down your spine to hear that pure voice filling the air.

Aww - your Lyndsey is one talented lady! (We know where she gets that from *g*). It must be so special for you.

Anna Sugden said...

Anna, love, you're more than welcome to visit us over Christmas any time you like. Even if we can't get you into Carols from Kings, I can promise you a sing-along of The Messiah that will make your heart soar along with all the best that a Cambridge Christmas can offer.

ROFL about 'that joke' - I've heard it about the Kiwis too *g* I really must send you a recording of that Fascinating Aida song.

Anna Sugden said...

You're very welcome, Ruth - it's always such a pleasure to be able to share things about my homeland.

I had to look up farolitos - how pretty the old town must look all lit up. And how nice to be able to walk through and enjoy it.

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, Anna, lucky you! I had some great meals in London's Chinatown. My favorite was a restaurant called Lee Who Plays Around with Women - I think officially it was Li Hu Fuks. It gets a mention in Werewolves of London which I always thought was way cool as a result! Oh, you're making me homesick for the UK again!

Singalonga Messiah? Is that like Singalonga The Sound of Music? Anyway, I'm THERE!!!!

Anna Sugden said...

LOL Buffie - you Southerners know how to have fun!

Danie - only you could put the mini-antlers on a rooster! Mini-antlers always remind of that scene in Scrooged (such a fun Christmas movie), where Bill Murray suggest stapling them to a gerbils head.

Anna Sugden said...

Treethyme - we lived in Cresskill, which is near Englewood in Bergen County. Much as we love being home, we do miss it.

Wales is indeed a lovely country and full of sheep ;)

Anna Sugden said...

Pat - there is something about the midnight service on Christmas Eve that is so special. How lovely that you're part of the choir and can sing out in celebration!

Anna Sugden said...

That sounds fab, petite. Years ago, when I lived in Virginia, there was something similar- except they also had a progressive dinner at the same time - a dinner course at each house.

Anna Sugden said...

Nathalie - we have that crazy shopping day too. Personally I'd rather stay home too and indulge in my famous Boxing Day soup.

Anna Sugden said...

Hey Lois, I'm 4000 miles away from NY and claiming it as my second home, so you certainly can *g*.

Anna Sugden said...

A tree-trimming party sounds like a fun thing to have, catslady. Speaking of which, my younger cat has become fixated with the twinkling lights this year. She sits and stares at them for hours - better than climbing then tree, like she did last year!

Anna Sugden said...

LOL Anna - we ate in a place called Leong's Legend - a homage to that old TV programme calle The Water Margin. Food was great - service was lousy - but we had a great time!

Joan said...

Joanie has a hunky Roman or two to keep her warm!

Ummmmmm...yes, yes I do. {snuggles}

What Demetrius? You want me to pop your cracker? Oh...your CHRISTMAS cracker...

Well, all right, if you insist

Joan said...

"Mary Did You Know".

Oh, Suz I ADORE this song! And there is another that I haven't heard for awhile....I think it is called "He wasn't his son" and speaks to Joseph being the surrogate father for baby Jesus.

jo robertson said...

Anna, what a beautiful post! Thanks so much for sharing your English Christmas with us. I'm so sorry I'm late -- it's probably tomorrow over there LOL.

I expect our Christmas is much like everyone else's here in the states. The new tradition we began when I was a child in Germany was putting our shoes in the window for St. Nick to fill.

We also opened our presents on Christmas Eve, largely I suspect, because my dad couldn't "wait" to see the expressions on our faces.

Christmas Day was for -- you guessed it -- eating and visiting.

Louisa Cornell said...

Suzanne, how awesome for your daughter. I know you must be so proud!! You are SO right about O Holy Night. I have heard some excruciating renditions of it and it simply is NOT for the faint of heart (or voice.) I am a purist. O Holy Night should be sung as it was written and as it was intended to be sung. Thus, my screech of agony when the hip hop and pop versions come on Wal-Mart's muzak! EEEEEK

Amy S. said...

Great post!

Pat Cochran said...


Honey tells me the title of the song
you mentioned is "It Wasn't His
Child" and was recorded by Trisha
Yearwood. Our daughter Missy, she of
the beautiful voice, includes it on
her Christmas list and brings tears
to everyone's eyes when she sings it.

Pat Cochran

Crianlarich said...

Spot on, Anna ... it's definitely the thousands of years of history that adds such depth and meaning. Tradition. All the ones that went before. And, too, perhaps how so much is still there, tangible and 'there.' Makes a simple walk so much more ... sort of like slipping into the pages of a history book. But better because it isn't just ink on the page. It's there right before your eyes.
Big sigh....

And Liberty crackers were definitely a splurge.

Happy Christmas.

Caffey said...

I love hearing about the different traditions both those from other countries as well as those who have personal ones. In my home, we put a new angel ornament on our tree in memory of my mom each year. This year we'll have 8 ornaments up that are all different angels. When we put them up too, we think about other angels that are with my mom and too remember some wonderful memories as well! A couple of years ago I couldn't get the angel because I had surgery so my hubby and son got it. My daughter asked this year to get one, so now we added to take turns picking one out and surprising what we pick out! Other ornaments are different homemade or gifts of ones that I have gotten. We have a small tree up now (our cats had a wild night with our big tree a few years ago, LOL)

Anna Campbell said...

Caffey, what a lovely story about the angels on the tree in memory of your mum. Happy Christmas!

Kate Carlisle said...

It's unforgivable but I'm slipping in late anyway to say hello. Hi Anna! What a wonderful post. I would love to hear the Queen's speech!

I know it's Christmas in our house when my DH puts on a cheesy song he and I recorded a few years ago, a jazzy, silly version of Jingle Bells. We listen to that, then start decorating the house and munching on cookies--and drinking champagne, of course!

Caffey, I love the idea of buying a new angel every year. What a sweet way to remember your mom!

Danie, hope you and the GR had a fun day!

Anna Sugden said...

Sorry I'm late responding to the last few comments - pre-Christmas family stuff and testing Nigella's recipe for roast potatoes.

Jo - glad you could pop in - never too late! I can see the European influence - many of them celebrate Christmas Eve.

Anna Sugden said...

Thanks, Amy S!

Crianlarich - what a lovely, evocative description of how history is live within a country and culture.

Caffey - I love your angels tradition. May have to borrow it.

Kate - always a pleasure to see you, love. You can usually catch the Queen's Speech on the BBC website - I have to say, love her or hate her, she does a good job.

And your tradition is very cool - I like it.