So ya’ll know I’m basically British, right?
Well, except for the accent.
And the whole ancestral lineage thing. You know, the one where my family migrated over to Florida from Spain in the 1500’s and then kinda sorta never left?
I guess there’s also the problematic fact that I never even stepped foot inside the UK until I was 20 years old – a naive stage of my life where I thought I was in the mighty country of Great Britain and was under the impression that “the UK” was just some weird local inside joke that I didn’t get.
Yet in spite of these slight technicalities, there’s no denying that living in London for 2 summers, working for a British company for 5 years, spending 12 weeks out of every year in London, and dating my fair share of British men has made me pretty damn British.
British enough to know I really should be referring to them as the English.
So let’s try this again.
I’m English enough to have achieved expert status in all things kettles, PG tips, and earl greys.
I recognize that US milk chocolate is THE WORST. Seriously. It shouldn’t be allowed to call itself chocolate. It’s criminal. Dairy Milk brand all the way, mate.
My grammar has evolved to the point where words like quite and keen are used with excessive force and my sarcasm has reached a level where my English friends are impressed but my American counterparts think I’m just a cynical b****.
Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly become any more English without undergoing a serious psychological evaluation for delusional behavior, I spent 3 weeks in London around the holidays and found myself jumping further off the deep end of British culture.
Only this time I did it Christmas style.
Imagine if the Grinch teamed up with Ebenezer Scrooge to extract DNA samples from Santa, Mrs. Claus, Elf on the Shelf, and Rudolph in order to study how best to wipe out the entire Christmas-loving species. Only instead they accidentally jumbled them all together in the same petrie dish and created a hybrid breed whose behavioral traits exemplified Christmas cheer the likes of which you’ve never seen before.
Well, that’s what Londoners at Christmas act like.
There’s a never ending rotation of pies, parties, evergreens, markets, jumpers, carols, and crackers. They’re all part of the quintessential Christmas experience that every visitor should partake in when celebrating the holiday season in London.
Sport A Holiday Jumper From Primark
I’m sure at some point we’ve all meticulously trolled the racks at the Salvation Army prior to an ugly sweater party in hopes of landing on something our great-great-grandmother would deem appropriate.
Well, the English do this too. Only the term Christmas sweater is swapped out with holiday jumper and it’s not so much of a themed party piece as it is everyday-wear. Any opportunity to sport a cute penguin, melting snowman, or maniacal reindeer is taken proper advantage of.
Hiya, want to help decorate the tree? Sure, Let me throw on my jumper and grab some mulled wine.
See ya at the party Friday night? I got a new jumper just for the occasion.
You each owe me 15 quid for ice skating tomorrow. We’re wearing our jumpers too, no?
I came to the conclusion that a yearly sweater purchase must be the norm as I sat with 7 of my English friends as they chattered around me in choruses of “I can’t find mine from last year but I did drag this out from three years ago” and “Kristen do you want to borrow one of mine” and “you could always nip in to Primark if it’s not too picked over yet. They have the best ones.”
Seriously. These people have multiple copies – collections that put my brothers baseball card assortment to shame.
Bonus points if you can find one with 3D pompoms sticking out or a cheeky saying such as Jingle My Bells, Nice Baubles, or I’m Not Santa But You Can Still Sit On My Lap.
Stuff Your Belly With Mince Pie
It’s a bit like America’s pumpkin obsession. These festive fruit-filled treats dominate around the holiday season and I had the pleasure of savoring my first bite at a corner pub as I snatched one off a tray circulating throughout the room. Nothing complements these sweet pies like the pint of lager that was holding up residence in my other hand.
(Well spotted – that was indeed some good ole English sarcasm)
Little did I know that was just the beginning of the pastry invasion as I attended one holiday party after another where the sugar coated morsels were well within my grasp. Soon I noticed boxes taking up space in stores and Tescos. Then they cropped up beneath glass domes in every coffee shop and Pret on the block.
I became a bit mince pied out and was happy to return to the land of pumpkin.
Crack a Christmas Cracker
Everyone knows afternoon tea is a thing in London – with most luncheons carried out in the lavish dining rooms of established hotels like the Ritz or Claridge’s. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a ritual invented just for guidebooks and tourists.
The locals enjoy tea outings as well and I was all too happy to accept an invitation to join 9 of my English friends for Christmas Tea at the Ham Yard Hotel.
We started off with some pre-tea cocktails that curiously came accompanied by what looked to be a beautifully wrapped gift.
I thought to myself oh what a hospitable and lovely (albeit strange) surprise before I was disappointingly told it was just a cracker. Ok so no present, but crackers with tea makes complete sense. Only, why would they make us unwrap our own food? Seems a bit silly to make us work for it when we’re paying this much for something we can get pretty much anywhere in the entire city.
A few minutes later I see my friends one by one pick up their wrapped snacks as one of the Lucy’s (everyone in this country is either named Lucy or Sophie) I was with whispered “cross your arms and grab the end of my cracker.”
I’m sorry what now?
Well, I did as told and found that we were all locked in a circled chain with our arms crossed as we held onto the person on either side of us’ twisted cracker end. An accented voice called out one, two, three and we simultaneously pulled until we heard a loud CRACK and out popped a tube of lip gloss, a paper crown, and a printed joke.
Turns out there were no crackers – that’s just the name it was given due to the sound it gives off when opened.
No one at the time could seem to remember why or how the tradition started so I did a bit of research. You can read all about the history of the Christmas Cracker here.
Order Off A ‘Festive’ Menu
Spending the holiday season in London has taught me to associate the word festive with cranberries. It’s like someone took the world’s least favorite fruit (is it even a fruit?) and decided to transform them into a national holiday delight. I can only assume they inflicted this torture on us based solely on the fact that their red hue makes them totally look the part.
Almost every restaurant had sidewalk chalkboards and window posters that proudly boasted a festive menu of some sort – with the evil cranberries as the main event. Signs promoted everything from guinea fowl in cranberry jelly to chips with cranberry aioli to cranberry and brie wellington.
Even our Christmas Tea was labelled festive which meant the refreshing sandwiches had cranberries stuffed into the bread. This left me with the shameful job of picking them out while everyone labeled me as that obnoxious American.
Show Off Your Knowledge With A Christmas Quiz
“My time’s up. Who wants the next go?” Oo oo I do! I do!
“Sorry Kristen. You may be too American for this one.” I want to try anyway.
“It’s bound to be difficult for you.” I don’t care.
“I’m warning you, the ones I got were all very old English sayings that I grew up with. I don’t think it’ll translate.” Oh just give me the damn Christmas quiz.
In hindsight, he may of had a point.
The Brits love a good quiz. They’re the ones you have to thank for weekly trivia nights that infiltrated bars in the US a few years ago. Working for a British company, I had gotten used to Friday emails prompting quiz games and random tests of general knowledge.
So why should Christmas be any different?
This particular version – that my friend Greg so lovingly told me I wouldn’t be able to contribute to – consisted of numerous categories in which you had to fill in the blank with only a handful of letters as your clue.
I’m proud to say I was able to supply a few answers.
And by a few, I really mean just 2.
Rip Your Pants Playing the Cereal Box Game
Ok so I’m not one hundred percent certain this is a holiday thing or just your run-of-the-mill year round party game but I’m including it because the first time I played it was at a Christmas event a couple of weeks ago.
THIS. IS. THE. BEST. GAME. EVER.
I literally don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life.
The Cereal Box Game is pretty simple and looks like something a monkey trapped in captivity made up.
You start off with a regular cardboard box of cereal and the objective is to pick it up with only your mouth. Sounds easy right? Well, the catch is that you can’t use your hands and your knees/legs can’t touch the floor. After every round, someone tears off a layer so the box gets lower and lower to the ground until it looks like this…
Many ripped pants were made in the filming of this video.
Have you ever tried holiday customs in another country? Tell me about your favorite experiences in the comments below!
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Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!