A Brit Celebrating Christmas In America
Told by the sarcastic Brit
If you have read some of my other posts you will know that I am currently living in the UK, and in a long distance relationship with my partner who lives in America. If you didn’t already know that, then, well, now you do.
With lockdowns and travel restrictions during the pandemic it’s been impossible for me to fly out to see my partner, with us having to cancel flights, and eventually our Christmas plans last year.
However, we had a Christmas miracle this year! I have been able to get out to the states for Christmas!
When we first embarked on this relationship, both me and my partner expected to see more similarities between our two countries than differences. But as time has gone on we have found that, though the UK and USA do have a lot in common, there are also so many things that we both just don’t understand about each other’s home countries, from language and food, to customs and traditions.
Christmas has been no different in giving us plenty of weird and wonderful Christmas traditions we found we were teaching one another.
It’s been very interesting to experience Christmas in a whole new way this year, and I wanted to share some of our most interesting findings with you, about some of the things that we Brits do differently at Christmas, or find odd about America (no offence intended, being an oddball myself, I like odd).
The American setup
First of all, though this isn’t a Christmas specific thing, I simply cannot continue this post without addressing the thing that has been the most mind blowing for me. The USA is HUGE compared to our little island, and while the UK is separated in some respects, we don’t have states like America does.
To me, the states are their own countries within a country, which just baffles me. Yes, there are federal laws, but there are also state laws which means that some rights and policies are different depending on where you are in the same country.
This also goes for the weather. You can experience pretty much every ecosystem with never even steeping foot out of the country.
Now, of course there is a little of this in the UK, with the North being colder than the South, and customs, terminology, accents and traditions being varied across the country, but the USA just seems to take it to a whole new level I have never experienced before. I’m still getting my head around it.
Oh, and I almost forgot, the time zones! Never have I ever traveled in a country where there are multiple different time zones. It still really confuses me. I mean, my partner was calling her mum, who lives in the same country, but was an hour ahead of us. Wow!
And it is with this that I should mention that my very first ever American Christmas experience took place in New Mexico, for context.
The USA welcomes you with a slap in the face
Now, another thing to note is that I was brought up in the Yorkshire countryside, so everything looks bigger to me in any city no matter how small. But again, anything I have seen in the UK seems to be magnified in the US.
Again, not a Christmas thing, but the first thing I endured as soon as I left the airport was being hit by bright lights, loud BIG cars on roads with more lanes than I have ever seen before. There are billboards beaming at you from all directions silently shouting at you to ‘eat here’, or ‘buy this’.
I soon became overwhelmed with the fast paced way Americans seem to carry out their every day adventures, and I have since been on a quest for some noise managing earplugs to turn things down a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been amazing, and I am grateful for finally being able to be here. But boy, America is loud in every way, and it really has been an assault on the senses in a way I am not used to.
With Christmas being the time for celebration, and a lot of this involving food and drink, I can’t write this post without some special food and beverage mentions.
I start with eggnog because it has always intrigued me, and is probably the number one thing that I associate with an American Christmas. I have watched many a film and TV show where this drink is consumed at Christmas, so this was on the top of my ‘to try’ list.
I have been told that eggnog is very similar to ‘snowballs’, a drink often consumed at Christmas in the UK. But I found this to be very different, and I haven’t tried anything close to eggnog in the UK personally.
I hear there are alcoholic versions, and you can drink it cold or warm. But I decided to try the non alcoholic version first, so I could taste the basic flavours.
I loved it! To me it tastes like a mixture of liquid pumpkin pie and spiced custard. I drunk it cold but can see it being just as tasty with a little warmth.
For somebody with such a sweet tooth as I, it was so delicious. Like drinking desert, and who doesn’t want that at Christmas?
Lack of boozy fruit puddings
This is a double whammy, because first off, apparently our definition of pudding is not the same. In the US, pudding, so I have been told, is either jello (jelly in the UK), or a milk based dessert such as a mousse? So, as I understand it, sloppy deserts.
In the UK a pudding is a dessert. It used to refer to the homemade rustic comfort desserts such as a spotted dick (yes, it’s a pudding not and STI, and is delicious by the way), but now is commonly used instead of using the word ‘dessert’.
So, when I say pudding I mean dessert, not necessarily that I want you to serve me sloppy sweet stuff. Though, I am not opposed to those types of puddings either.
Now, onto my second point about Christmas puddings/desserts. Every year we Brits look forward to having a nice hot cuppa or a glass of mulled wine and a warm mince pie.
We also have the delicious Christmas cake that has been lovingly ‘fed’ alcohol for months before being wrapped up in a think layer of marzipan and royal icing. Also good with a cuppa. Yum yum.
And then, the grand finale (or at least for me anyway), Christmas pudding! There is nothing quite like the end of Christmas day when you get to see the flaming delight (I mean literal flames, yes, we do in fact set this pudding on fire), make it’s way to the table, being absolutely photogenic. I mean, there are many cards with a picture of this sort of pudding on the front for a reason.
So, imagine it. Me, a Brit coming to America, discussing all of the delights we will feast on, to find that, AMERICA DOESN’T HAVE ANY OF THESE!
Disaster! How can one get through Christmas like this? I feel for the Americans who lack these delights during the holidays.
What are they? My fiance asked me the same question. And here was my reply.
Mince pies — A sweet mixture of dried fruit and spices encased in, usually, shortcrust pastry, but you can also get them made with puff pastry. They can be eaten hot or cold, on their own or with a generous dollop of cream, perhaps even custard.
Christmas cake — A cake made out of dried fruits and spices, made in advance to allow to be ‘fed’. Which basically means to poke holes in it and drip alcohol, usually sherry or brandy, into it over the space of a few months. Then, when we think it’s boozy and moist enough, we will encase it with marzipan and royal icing to add a crunchy finish.
Christmas Pudding — A steamed pudding cake made with, yes, you guessed it, dried fruits, spices and brandy. Then, when serving, we will pour brandy on the top and set it alight. Why? I think there was a reason for it at one point, but it’s just become tradition, and the blue flames look sooooooo pretty.
And it was with this description to my partner that I realised something. Gosh! We Brits love eating boozy fruit!
To be honest, sometimes it can be a little too rich and I will forgo one of these. But I find not having them at all has been strange, and because I can’t have them I want them!!!!
I won’t even go on about the lack of sausage rolls. But, yeah. We Brits love them sooooo much we’ve had 4 Christmas number ones sung about them.
Oh well, to Greggs I go when I return to the UK.
Again, this was something me and my partner thought we would find the most similarities, but with her speak in tongues to me about something called candied yams and green bean casserole, and her baffled looks when I spoke about pigs in blankets (which we later realised are different between the UK and US), Yorkshire puddings, and honey roasted parsnips, we soon realised that, besides the turkey, even our Christmas dinner traditions are very different.
We managed to compromise with a UK/US Christmas dinner hybrid, and I still had very crispy roast potatoes with lashings of Bisto gravy (which I brought with me), so I was happy.
So, I have heard it said many times that Americans do Christmas better than the Brits. I hate to say it, but, that is true.
While in the UK you certainly will see people decorating their houses, with the odd one being so bright the power source in the area is threatened, you will often need to walk or drive around for quite a while to find the odd house/s here and there that are lit up. Of course, this is my experience from the places I have lived in the UK, I am sure there are streets in the UK that light up every year reminiscent of Lapland.
However, this year I had the experience of going on a drive to look for lights in the US. An activity I first thought would be rather odd, but as we sat there shivering with the windows down, everywhere we looked there were lights of all colours and shapes. People had gone all out to make huge spectacular displays. I have only seen things like this at events or displays you usually will have to pay for.
It truly was magical, and as we drove around with the many other families doing the same thing, I couldn’t help but tear up at the thought that these people have gone to great lengths to share a little Christmas with others. Or to show off, but either way, it was so lovely.
So, there you have it. A few little observations from a Brit’s first taste of an American Christmas.
Do you find some of these things odd? Do you have different traditions and foods at Christmas? Please do share, I am loving the Christmas education.