A Brit Goes Home for Christmas

The following is a guest post.

The best times to take a trip to London are also the most expensive. That’s why although I’ve been living in the US for seven years this is only the second time I’ll be going home for Christmas.

I’m a British mommy living in Maryland and if I’m honest I’m one of those ‘reluctant expats’ who vowed never to become ‘Americanized.’

I was determined not to lose my accent – but my British family and friends say they now hear a distinct twang. I was positive my stylish London fashion sense wouldn’t disappear – but last week I wore a neon cable knit sweater to the grocery store. And I definitely was not going ‘holiday’ crazy like so many of my neighbors.

To really avoid that last one I’m escaping to my family home, where my mom can go overboard instead!

But that’s not the only reason I’m taking the trip. Christmas is definitely the time when I feel homesick the most. It’s not just the emphasis on family time that does it but the little Christmas traditions that are uniquely British.

These include going to see a Pantomime. I loved doing this as a kid and secretly pretended I was being dragged to them against my will as an adult. Panto’s are musical theatre productions usually based on a fairytale, performed in front of family audiences. They’re a great way to get into the festive spirit.

Then there’s pulling crackers before or after your Christmas meal. Crackers are brightly decorated tubes of cardboard that are pulled on either end, with treats, bad jokes and paper hats inside them, and anyone who doesn’t wear the paper hat during the whole meal is officially a Scrooge!

After you’ve stuffed yourself at dinner there’s always an abundance of Christmas TV specials to watch. In particular the popular soap ‘Eastenders’ usually kills of a main character on Christmas day – a big ratings pull.

And so is the ‘Queen’s speech’ or ‘Royal Christmas Message’ which has been delivered every afternoon on Christmas day since 1932! For some families it’s a moment that brings everyone together (even if it is in front of the TV) and it’s one of the only times you’ll hear the Queen speak at length about anything.

And much like the day after Thanksgiving over here Brits have a day off after Christmas – known as Boxing Day. It’s really just another excuse to overindulge on food and drink and hit the sales!

Silly but significant traditions that I took for granted when I lived in the UK but this year I’ll be savoring them and what’s even more special, introducing my sons to them for the first time.

Tricia Clarke is a freelance journalist and blogger who has worked for BBC Radio in London and NPR in Washington DC. She is the creator of Britsacrossthepond.com, a unique and engaging website celebrating the British experience in America. Follow her on Twitter @BritsAcrossPond

Comments

  1. Harry says

    Dear Tricia, thank you so much for your wonderful insight. Growing up American with English ancestry, I now see better where all of those traditions came from. We all did much of the same growing up accept for the crackers which in my day were’nt paricularly available in the U.S.

  2. Stacey Burnaroos says

    Tricia, I loved your story of going home for Christmas. I hope to do London and Wales ( my parents homeland) at Christmas someday soon!! But I do have to say, that my parents ( now passed) did instill, such wonderful holiday traditions in me and my 5 siblings, that we are still able to enjoy a “Big fat British Christmas holiday Experience” here in Seattle. Traditions are very important to my family, and we are doing our best to pass rhem on down through the generations, all our little ones have grown up with Nana Vonnies( my Mom’s) nursery rhymes to recipes, and are told all her old stories of the Old Country. We enjoy many Christmas traditioI’m sons togather, Santa, seeing the lights & sights, bazars sing a longs our little ones put togather, baking, just great times!

  3. says

    Hi Harry
    Thanks for reading my post!
    Yes, it’s great that things like crackers are easier to find in US stores, makes me feel a little closer to home! x

  4. says

    Hi Stacey
    Thanks for reading my post!
    I absolutely love your Christmas traditions!…bazars were always a hit with my family too!

  5. Charmayne Yorke says

    Tricia: I enjoyed your post about going home to London for Christmas. I think anyone that is from a different country can definitely relate. There’s no place like home for Christmas!! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Enjoy!

  6. Dali says

    Tricia,

    I loved your post. As a person who knows nearly nothing about British traditions, I found your post very warm and insightful. I have always wanted to visit Britain and I realize now that perhaps I should visit during a holiday to get the feel of how the British spirit fills the streets and it would probably be a lot more fun due to the excitement.

    I think of London as a romantic city full of old traditions to discover and for some reason I always think of them as a fairy tale. I imagine it like an old painting of beautiful old homes during winter with snow covering every part of them and cobblestone roads with sidewalks full of Brits dressed elegantly in their long winter coats. It’s just something romantic about it that intrigues me. One day!

  7. says

    I’ve lived in California for 8 years and, like you, am hopeful of not losing the British accent any time soon.
    I love that it’s becoming much easier (here, at least) to buy crackers, and I’m lucky that Panto never played a big part in my childhood. And, thanks to YouTube, even the Queen can be watched on Christmas Day.
    Some years I do make the journey back, some years my family comes here, which is great fun. And sometimes, like this year, I’m happy to just have a quiet Christmas doing very little. But, even if I miss Britain, I feel incredibly lucky to live here. The San Francisco sunshine on Christmas eve is a welcome winter boost!

  8. says

    Hi Dali
    Thanks for reading my post!
    I think lots of people share the same romantic image of England, especially with so many period dramas and movies on TV these days! Hopefully one day you’ll get to visit and see what it’s really like for yourself x

  9. says

    Hi Pauline
    Thanks for reading my post!
    Yes you ARE lucky Panto’s weren’t forced into your childhood! Lol!
    And I totally agree, the worst part about British Christmases is the weather…can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up with the sun in your face on Christmas morning! I’ll have to make it happen one day x

  10. Teri says

    Just realise that you wrote this last year! However, this fellow Brit can commiserate. I’m lucky in that I live near NYC so can get lots of the goodies we miss from stores like Myers of Keswick and Carry On Tea and Sympathy and now that I have a subscription to My Private Network, can watch shows from home on my laptop. Still, it’s the fam, I miss most. Hope your Christmas back home was lovely and that you have a wonderful Christmas this year!

  11. says

    I think for a long time I missed Boxing Day the most. Fortunately, as a teacher, I never have to go to work on December 26th, and my husband’s current employer always gives him the day off, so we have a Boxing Day party every year that our closest friends don’t even need an invitation to anymore – they just plan on it as part of their Christmas :-)

    We do miss the panto – but I hear it’s changing in the UK anyway – fewer Dames, and fewer lead boys played by women.

  12. Pj says

    Wonderful!!!!, Tricia, itoo refuse to become Americanised…… I still do ALL the Brit Chrstmas Traditions: huge dinner, mince pies , Christmas pudd, crackers… Only one missed out I’d Queens speech- although two years running hubby did find it, downloaded and we watched/listened to her at 3pm our time……
    I get very home sick around this time too,I think because I do come from a rather large family (extended) too!!

  13. Jacqueline Fairbrass says

    Ahhh…Tricia, I’m now homesick. I’ve been 3 years full-time in the US and my hubby now expects to wear a paper hat pulled out of a cracker at Christmas Dinner, finds the Queen’s Speech on-line for me and now, finally…he understands that I’m not going to get dressed on Boxing Day. For me it’s movies, staying in my jammies and eating left-overs.

    Have a wonderful trip!