Monday, 22 December 2014

8 British Christmas Essentials

I wrote last week about how our Christmases have become a blend of Dutch and British ways of celebrating this festive period. Christmas Day itself though in our house is British all the way.

When you are living abroad it may mean being creative, searching high and low and a dashing of compromise but British Christmases are there for the making. To create a British Christmas you need a few essential items. 8 to be exact.

1. Christmas Stockings

Let's start at the beginning. Christmas morning to be exact. Waking up to a present filled Christmas stocking is the most traditional way to wake up on a real British Christmas. Stockings are left on the end of the bed (or in our case on the door handles outside the bedrooms because my children are funny about the idea of a strange, jolly fellow sneaking into their bedrooms at night, even if he does come bringing gifts) before everyone goes to bed. When we wake in the morning (usually earlier than a crow would be bothered to announce dawn break) our stockings have been filled and we sit together on our bed and open the presents. Just like my own childhood Christmases - even beyond the days of believing.

2. Parsnips

Roasted parsnips were a staple part of my Christmas meal as I was growing up. Ok, so you don't have to have parsnips on a British Christmas Day but for me it has become a symbol of Britishness on the Christmas dinner plate. This is because for so long I had to search high and low to actually find parsnips I could roast to go with the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sprouts and roast potatoes. These days parsnips are a lot easier to find in the Netherlands. And strangely enough they are usually Dutch grown......

3. Christmas crackers

Photo Credit: Debbie Schiel
You cannot, I repeat cannot, have a British Christmas lunch without Christmas crackers. I'm not talking about Cracottes or Wasa crackers, I'm talking about the pulling, banging type of crackers. Again, these used to be something you could only get in your expat shop in the Netherlands, but they are now gaining in popularity and more and more available in Dutch shops.

Two people (or you can work it so Christmas crackers around the entire table are linked at the same time) pull one end each of the cracker. If you are lucky there is a bang and the contents fly across the table, or even the room. Each cracker contains a coloured paper hat, that since the year dot, has never ever fitted on my head because my hair is thick and curly. It rips instantly so it hangs off my head at a funny angle - but that is all part of the fun. There is also always a joke. Which is absolutely not funny.  And all part of the fun. Like this one:

What says OH OH OH?   
Father Christmas walking backwards.
I'll give you a minute to put yourself back on your chair and compose yourself. And then there is some kind of novelty item ranging from a piece of plastic crap that no one can decide the purpose of to more useful, metal items in the posh, expensive crackers.

4. Christmas pudding

The traditional British dessert on Christmas Day is called (*drum roll*)  Christmas pudding. It's a fruit and alcohol laden affair which is rich on the stomach and traditionally served with brandy butter, custard or cream - or all three if my Christmases growing up are anything to go by.

Some people make Christmas puddings themselves, steaming them for about a week (ok, it's a bit less  than that but it needs many hours on the stove) as part of the preparations......but I have three children and a life so shop bought it is.

5. Mince Pies

Stuffing your face with mince pies on Christmas Day (and the month before Christmas and a week after) is very British. Again, a rich fruit mix mince pies are as the name suggests, little pies. Little pieces of heaven actually. Delicious. Especially with lashings of brandy butter.

6. Christmas Log

Continuing with the theme of unhealthy food you eat once a year..... a Christmas log is also very traditional. It's a chocolate roll cake decorated to look like a log, garnished with a sprig of holly, a little robin and the text 'Merry Christmas' in plastic gold letters. As a child, watching my mum make a Christmas log cake, and helping her put our little robin on top was the ultimate sign that Christmas was almost here. I am pretty sure my baking skills do not to extend to making a Christmas log, at least not one that looks anything like the ones of my childhood and as they are not readily available in Dutch shops (or even in Marks and Spencers here) my Christmases have been log free for many years.

7. Rubbish TV
Once everyone is stuffed full of all the above, there is a shuffle, with much groaning about belly ache, from the dining table to the sofas where everyone plops themselves down for the next British tradition on Christmas Day - crap television, or brilliant television - it depends how you look at it.

Photo Credit: Melting Dog

Every popular series has a Christmas special and the nation braces itself for the annual Christmas disaster at the Queen Vic, or the goings on at Downton Abbey.

TV viewing schedules have been meticulously planned weeks in advance. What needs to be recorded? What will we be watching? It is also the time of year when reruns are perfectly acceptable and everyone sits and watches Love Actually, The Gruffalo and The Snowman once more, as well as Morecambe and Wise and classic Only Fools and Horses. But first.....

8. The Queen's Speech

Before anything else is watched, the nation traditionally tunes in to what the Queen has to say. Admittedly, there are less and less viewings each year. But nonetheless it remains a tradition, certainly among the older generation. Three o'clock, alcoholic beverage in hand, slumped on an armchair struggling to keep eyes open under the pretence of listening to her royal majesty.

So there you have it, the essential elements of a British Christmas.

What have I missed (aside from the traditional Christmas cake - I don't like it so I have ignored it - and pantomimes? What essential elements make up your Christmas where you live?


  1. I agree with so much of this. Stockings are a must (although I found out my very British husband never had one growing up) and I love a chocolate Yule Log! It's all about the food, the telly, and the long Christmas walk that no one 'wants' to go on but everyone secretly enjoys!

  2. Yep - sounds very familiar and even more so as we are now living back in the UK.
    One I would add is the UK Shopping panic. I had forgotten how much shopping is done... love or hate it, it's a feature. Happy Christmas!

  3. I'd happily miss the Queen's Christmas Message, but can't imagine this time of year without any of the other things you mentioned. Christmas without crackers just wouldn't be the same!


  4. Christmas crackers are my favourite thing about Chrismtas in Ireland. I know the paper crown looks stupid, the jokes are crap and the gift is, comment but that's what's great about them, a bit of fun! Even my parents love them and brought some back to France to show their friends!!!