Like many others, Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal in our house. It has always been my husband’s favorite holiday, and has a soft spot in my heart. The first time I met his entire family was when I flew over from England to Salem, Massachusetts in 2001. For many years all things Christmas were confined to the basement until the drive home from Memere’s house when we would listen to the 24 hour holiday radio that would start on Thanksgiving day. Returning home we would watch a holiday bridging movie, such as Holiday Inn. Then on Friday, Christmas would break loose across every area of our lives.
Combining a Maine Christmas with an English Christmas has brought us many traditions that our friends love to partake in with us, and while we protect the sanctity of Thanksgiving, I do secret myself away in November to do some Christmas prep, that isn’t just shopping. Much of this prep work is finding the things of my English childhood that complete the holiday season for me. Amazon can be useful but pricey, Home Goods is a treasure trove of English goodies, though be warned, most things I find in there that are labelled for an “English” holiday, have no place in my childhood and are just a gimmick. I do find that most independent booksellers and candy stores have a vast offering of holiday goodies from England and other cultures, and try to frequent those whenever possible. My apologies if your favorite English holiday custom is not included here, but please do share on Social Media!
In England, where we have a state religion, the period of Advent is more prevalent than in the US, and much of my childhood was filled with the secular observances that come with living somewhere with a state religion. My non church-going household would light a candle each night in our home, counting down the days to December 24. When I can find one over here, we do that in our family. Each of my children get an Advent Calendar, filled with candies. I have been scouring for appropriately sized and themed, individually wrapped chocolates all month and am very happy with this years selection. Of late my son has been purchasing himself a Funko advent calendar to go along with his chocolate. Last year it was Pokemon, this year Marvel. When my parents still lived in the UK, our advent traditions included taking a picture of the drawer opening each day for Nanny and Grandad. My mum likes that so much, that it hasn’t gone away even though they now only live a mile away.
Christmas Crackers are a big part of my British childhood, and every year it’s a gamble as to whether I find what it is I need. Assuming the basics, that it cracks and contains a joke and a paper hat, I’m looking for something with a good toy inside. Over the past few years I’ve found plenty of themed crackers where each contains a game piece that make up one whole game over eight crackers, or each contains a whistle for a communal musical performance. But what I am looking for is a good magic trick, or yo yo. A miniature pack of cards if I am lucky. Something to trade over the dinner table on Christmas day. The crackers must be purchased before the tree, so that they can go in the tree where they will stay all month, until they are cracked on Christmas day.
For a truly English Christmas one must also find appropriate chocolates to hang on the tree. Though these are not eaten on Christmas day, they are eaten when the tree is taken day. In my youth this would occur on Epiphany (January 6), but given that I buy a spruce the day after Thanksgiving, we generally don’t make it to January 6. These chocolates are foil wrapped in bright colors. They can be Santa shaped or round, you can even hang bags of gold coins in the tree. One year when I was a child, my mum took down our tree only to discover that every foil chocolate hanging on the tree was empty. My brother had meticulously taken them apart, eaten them, and reshaped the foil around thin air. I might have been disappointed at the time, but as an adult with three children I find myself mightily impressed each year that he accomplished this. And terrified to tell my seven year old daughter this story, because she would do this in a heartbeat.
The chocolates don’t end at the tree, and so I will pay an exorbitant amount to have a tub of Cadbury’s Roses available to my family in the month of December. Luckily their American palates have never really taken to this particular tradition and so my parents and I generally have this all to ourselves! I do worry about their growing partiality for trying new things, but then I’ll probably end up buying two tubs. As a child I would frequently find that my friends were either a Roses house or a Quality Street house, both candy companies releasing festive tubs and boxes at this time of year. In my house, fortunately, we were both. We would collect the coffee cremes for my dad to take to work, and still lament that they no longer make this particular chocolate, even though only dad ate them. I regret that they are individually wrapped in sealed plastic now instead of paper and foil Though I can no longer buy the glass jars of my 80s childhood, the plastic tub will do. Every year I hope for a nostalgic re-release of the chocolate exactly as I remember it, but even with the modern version, I am never disappointed.
While for my husband, A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation form the basis of his Christmas viewing, and indeed can be said to herald the season, for an English holiday season to truly begin you need Santa Claus The Movie featuring Dudley Moore and John Lithgow. This is the movie that formed my knowledge base concerning Father Christmas and just hearing the music makes me forget that November exists! There are many movies that bridge both of our childhoods, such as The Muppets Christmas Carol and Jim Henson’s The Christmas Toy. Of late we have added Arthur Christmas to our necessary post Thanksgiving watch list. If you haven’t encountered this charming film from Sony and Aardman Animations I would strongly recommend it.
Christmas cards were a bigger part of my youth than they are in my adulthood. Every year at school we would share cards from class to class. I can remember sharing cards with friends as young as 8 years old, and I can still see and feel the cheap paper, as we would all buy the same boxes from the same shop in town. I can taste the glue on the envelope. As a parent I admit to giving in to the American penchant for photo cards, and I do love keeping track of all my friends and their children, the way our families grow from year to year. But I have to admit when I receive a real card from a real person, especially from across the pond, it adds more joy to my heart than I can describe. Every year I send more and more cards. Every year I send more cards than I receive. And I love every handwritten or Snapfish printed card that comes my way.
Many things are negotiable. Christmas tree lights can be white or colorful but must be plenty. Tinsel can be any color but should be everywhere that is humanly possible. A tree can have a theme color or be full of every ornament you have ever received. While we have a star on top of our tree, I grew up with an Angel. I love my English traditions, and I love my American traditions. I have loved every single moment of raising a family and adding our own traditions. I love sharing new and old traditions with the other GeekMoms here and on Social Media, and seeing what our families are doing across the country, and I can’t wait to see what new things are discovered on our feed this year. I may be just a tad excited! Is it December yet?