Today we kick off a series of blog posts for the festive season looking at how Christmas is celebrated around the world.
Disclaimer: The following account is based on my childhood Christmases growing up in the wilds of deepest darkest Lancashire in the seventies and eighties. It's all true, apart from the stuff I made up. Any resemblance to your own or anyone else's traditions is purely coincidental...
"Are you sitting comfortably?...."
(quick, grab yourself a cup of tea - its a long one. Do click on the videos to get the full British Christmas experience!)
"...then I'll begin"
In days of yore, before the Globalist Grinch and the Austerity Orcs stole Christmas (and carried out the most heinous crime of them all, turning Chocolate Oranges into Satsumas). Before Beer-Exit and the Evil, self-proclaimed May Queen, declared it would be "forever winter and never Christmas", the British Christmas was celebrated in the following manner:
The beginning of the festivities starts in late November with the arrival of the Glam Rockers. Their leader King Noddy screams at the top of his voice “Iiiiiiitttt's Chriiiiiisssstmaaaaas!”,
and Sir Elton invites us to “Step into Christmas”. Meanwhile, Roy the Wizzard (not to be confused with Harry Potter’s mate Ron) gets all the children in a frenzy by exhorting them to sing “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” over and over…
Good Ol’ Shaky cheers “Merry Christmas everyone” and Paul Fabbamaccawabbathumbsaloft McCartney gets the frogs out to sing “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time” and Sir Frederick belts out “Thank God it’s Christmas”
But the joviality isn’t allowed to last for long, Glam Rock dissenters Mud wail back “It’ll be Lonely this Christmas” and set off cries of anguish from GeorgiePorgiePuddingandPieKissedtheGirl'sandMadethemCry, who laments “Last Christmas I gave you my heart and the very next day you gave it way”. Dame Chrissy adds “Two thousand miles is a very long way through the snow” and David of Essex tries to calm them down with the retort “On a worldwide scale we’re just another winter’s tale”.
The self pity is stopped though, as Jona Lewie’s genuine plea is heard from the trenches of WW1: “I have had enough, can you stop the Cavalry?”
As “the clanging chimes of doom” toll, swiftly to the rescue come the Saints John, Bob and MaryMungoandMidge, with their messages of “War is Over, if You Want It” and “Feed the World”.
The singing fest climaxes on Christmas Eve when Shane and Kirsty partake in the folk tradition of trading insults with each other:
“You scum bag, you maggot”.
For Children, however, Christmas starts much earlier, usually around September, with the arrival of the home edition of the Laminated Book of Dreams (copyright Bill Bailey). This revered book is poured over continually for months and is the child’s guide to everything they could possibly desire and designed to generate a Christmas wish list longer than War and Peace.
At the same time the Christmas Toy Adverts appear on TV. They play and important role in educating innocent children about the cynicism of the marketing industry, as they wake up on Christmas morning to have their hopes dashed, when they discover that have been lied to and that, in fact, Hot Wheels are actually rubbish.
By mid November" the Wolves are Running" and haste must be made for "time and tide and buttered eggs wait for no man".
Advent is upon us and must be religiously observed by watching The Making of The Blue Peter Advent Candle. It is rumoured some brave souls actually attempt to make replicas of this hallowed object, but they have never lived to tell the tale. Instead, watching each generation of the Blue Peter Presenters make a terrible mess of constructing it every year, before the “here’s one I made earlier” Biddy Baxter edition is produced is compulsory.
December also brings with it the much loved Infant Nativity Play. Here, four year olds re-tell the Christmas story. The girls wear nighties decorated in tinsel and the boys wear their pyjamas with tea towels on their heads held on with one of dad’s old ties.
Baby Jesus is traditionally played by Tiny Tears and usually dropped and his swaddling unravelled at least once during the performance. Little Donkey must be sung with great gusto and enthusiastic clip clop sound effects made out of time to the music by a child with two coconut halves. Away in a Manger is sung, but to lyrics that actually scan, unlike the American version (which quite frankly murders the poor song). So the stars are “in the bright sky” and “the baby awakes”.
The Nativity is followed by the School Christmas Fayre. These hallowed occasions are attended not only by reluctant parents, but also by determined pensioners who tour all the local schools and church halls within a 5 mile radius, as they are Wise and have worked out they can do all their Christmas shopping for under tenner this way.
A long, long time ago, before the Legendary Mr Kipling came to the UK,
preparations used to involve the laborious process of actually making shortcrust pastry. Although, no one can remember a time before the mysterious mince pie filling didn’t arrive in the shops in October curtesy of Mr Robertson and his jolly companion that we aren’t allowed to mention anymore.
These days the occasion is marked by the Great Mince Pies Bashing Ceremony, whereby middle class yummy mummies attempt to make Mr Waitrose’s perfection look artisanal and homemade and bring into school in a Cath Kidston cake tin to pass off as their own. Working class parents just bring them to school in the Lidl Box...
At the School Christmas Fayre, as well as having to buy back the mince pies you donated for less than you paid for them in the first place, you are also obliged to purchase the children’s lovely creations they have been busy making since September. If you are particularly unlucky you will have a very productive child and be forced to part with a significant amount of cash to bring it all home to decorate your recycling bin. If you are really lucky and your child goes to a terribly middle class school you can buy a “Mulled Wine Kit” which is usually a couple of cinnamon sticks and cloves in a paper bag, but usually a bargain compared to buying the ingredients in a real shop. You may also pick up a decent bottle of red wine on the Tombola, but this is like playing Russian Roulette as you could end up with that box of Chocolate Liqueurs which has appeared every year since 1973, but is deemed ok because it is from a time before 'Use By' Dates.
Before it was stolen from us by the Globalist Grinch, there was the Annual Big Trip to Woolworths to buy the Shiny Things, which mysteriously turn into pieces of grey string and dust when hidden from the light.
But most importantly to see the Great Hall of Pick And Mix and to purchase The Christmas Chocolate. Every family must have at least one Gigantic pink tin of Mackintosh’s finest Quality Street and every child must awake upon Christmas morn to a stocking containing at least one of the following: a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, a giant tube of Rowntree’s Smarties or a Cadbury’s Selection Box.
It is also compulsory to present your neighbours and child’s teacher (teachers must receive sufficient chocolate to stave off depression and refrain from murdering your child until the summer holidays) with either a box of Cadbury’s Roses/Celebrations or After Eights. In the 1980s there was a fashion for continental imposters such as Ferrero Roche until everyone realised that they were chewed up KitKats spat out by the cat and only to be given to People You Don’t Like. Middle class people make the Big Trip to John Lewis (not the American bloke on Twitter) to purchase The Bendicks of Mayfair Bittermints (think AfterEights on steroids) and feel smug that, because John Lewis is employee owned, the Globalist Grinch hasn’t been able to steal it yet.
The weeks preceding Christmas are filled with Visiting The Elderly Relatives and being forced to listen to a strange dialect, drinking Vimto and eating preposterously named sweets like Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.
The first Christmas card will usually arrive on 1st December from Great Aunt Ethel who writes all her cards in August to “get on top of things”. The rest usually arrive in the Last Post Before Christmas apart from the ones from friends even more disorganised than you are, which may show up before New Year if you are lucky.
On the 23rd or 24th the entire female population (and a few unsuspecting men) descend on the supermarkets to do The Big Shop. It is traditional to buy enough food to serve an army or at least survive the zombie apocalypse. This includes buying at least 5 kilos of sprouts, as, even though everyone hates them and they are the work of the devil, it is compulsory to eat at least three for Christmas Dinner. There is much clashing of trolleys and lashings of tongues as The Last Christmas Pudding is fought over and the aftermath looks like an image of a nuclear winter.
Christmas Eve is marked by the arrival of The Snowman, just to ensure that any children who haven’t already had an emotional breakdown from the sugar crash from sneaking too many Quality Street are in tears before bedtime.
Preparations must them be made for the arrival of Father Christmas. Not to be confused with that imposter Santa Claus, Father Christmas is 800 years old, extremely grumpy, swears a lot and holidays at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
For most of his life he wore green, was perpetually drunk and liked nothing more than to make grown ups merry, by bringing them alcohol. Unfortunately, one year someone told him he ought to do something about his drink problem and he decided to try the brown fuzzy pop instead. This turned his suit red and made his teeth drop out. He made a deal with God in return for new teeth he would bring presents for children late on Christmas Eve when they were sleeping, on condition that he was supplied with plenty of alcohol and and stodgy mince pies to keep him going through the night and that Rudolf would get plenty of carrots to keep his nose glowing bright. Father Christmas gets extremely grumpy if he is left milk and biscuits and is likely to wish he was still allowed to leave coal for these ungrateful sods who don’t understand the True Meaning of Christmas is to be Completely Inebriated. He would much rather have a large glass of good Australian Red, or a nice Single Malt or even a left over Dry Sherry will do.
Once the stockings have been hung up, the children must be in bed by 8pm and it is essential they sleep for 12 hours or He Won’t Come.
Waking before 8am on Christmas Day is punishable by all Christmas Presents Going In The Bin. I am aware some naive parents don’t enforce this rule, they are Fools and haven’t realised children will do Anything to get presents. The “No Getting Up Before 8am” and the “If you are naughty Father Christmas won’t come” are essential tools to surviving Christmas along with ensuring No One Buys Hungry Hippos - which sound like WW3 has started when you have a hangover.
Present unwrapping can only commence when all the adults have been supplied with a strong cup of tea (and half a bucket of nurofen). 30 seconds later upon surveying the destruction it is important to announce Breakfast Must Be Eaten Or You Won’t Survive Till Christmas Dinner.
Once upon a time people thought that Turkeys could only grow in large chest freezers. There was much rejoicing when it was discovered that they could exist at 5-8 degrees. In memory of all the millions who died before this breakthrough discovery a commemoration via the medium of comedy farce will be enacted on TV as hapless characters try to defrost the turkey in the bath, or with hair dryers.
(The Royle Family)
Once eleventy billion sprouts, carrots and potatoes have been peeled and the turkey is in the oven for rest of the day, it is time for the Christmas Day Walk. This bracing, character building, constitutional is best experienced by trudging through 4ft snow drifts in a blizzard so that children get to understand what it was like to be Scott of the Antarctic, although efforts must be made to avoid them trying to be a martyr like Captain Oates, no matter how hard they plead.
Once back and feeling has returned to the fingers it is time for the Chocolate Eating and the Lego Building (Father Christmas is usually a bit rubbish at remembering to bring batteries, so no other toys can be played with) and the big children get to look on scornfully at their younger siblings attempts, whilst secretly wondering if they will get a chance to play with the Duplo when no one is looking.
Then there is the Watching of the Christmas Films. For thousands of years The Wizard of Oz reigned supreme, before Wallace and Gromit and their love of Wensleydale took over.
Just when everyone is about to faint from hunger, the Quality Street and dry roared peanuts are getting low and it has long since gone dark, it is time for Christmas Dinner. The crackers are pulled and everyone must then eat the meal looking though a piece of coloured tissue paper.
A starter is served, but be warned this is mostly for decorative purposes and only those with the constitution of an ox should attempt to eat it. Usually it consists of unripe melon or rock hard avocado and still frozen prawns with pink sauce. It is customary for the head male to disappear into the kitchen to wrestle with a miniature chainsaw and curse loudly for the next 15 minutes. The turkey is served with sausages, sausage meat, sausages wrapped in bacon and lots of gravy, as well as roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes and tons of carrots and sprouts. This is to disguise the fact that turkey doesn’t really taste of much and is a bit of a disappointment every year. It was even worse before the lovely Nigella got the recipe for how to marinade turkey from President Josiah Bartlett for the nation. Pre Nigella it was like trying to chew through cotton wool.
Once everyone has eaten a years supply of food it is time for the Christmas Pudding. It is traditional to pour alcohol on it and set the house on fire, to protests of “you’re not wasting my good single malt on that, use the cooking sherry”.
Once the pyrotechnics have been extinguished and the soot brushed off the ceiling, the children craftily disappear. Adults are obliged to endure a small slice. Traditionally a silver sixpence was hidden in the pudding for some lucky person to find, which in today’s money would be the equivalent of stuffing it with £100, hence it there was much more enthusiasm for this practice in the past. Tip, decline the sauce, extra thick double cream makes it much more palatable.
The evening will be rounded off with much winking and waggling of glasses and the traditional telling of the "Four Candles" Joke.
Boxing Day was traditionally the day of eating leftovers, drinking too much and falling asleep in front of the TV whilst children are allowed to run feral and survive on chocolate and fizzy pop. Some miserable Globalist Grinch in search of more profits decided that it must become The First Day of the Sales and ruining New Years Day forever. New Years Day was of course, the start of The C&A Sale and an exciting trip to the City of 'Four Thousand Holes'. All the Christmas money and gift vouchers would be scraped together to buy an Entire Years Wardrobe.
It is essential that everyday between Christmas and New Year is the same so that all track of time is lost. For children it is an endless round of present exchanging, fighting cousins and a chance to live on sweets and crisps. For adults a time when drinking alcohol at breakfast is acceptable and all memory of work can be erased. Many people peak too soon and haven’t the stamina for the full 12 days of drinking and feasting, this is partly down to the modern celebration of New Years Eve…
New Years Eve is celebrated by drinking as much alcohol as possible so that it seems perfectly normal to be singing a Scottish version of the Hokey Cokey at midnight to the strains of Sir Jules of Hootenanny's bagpipes and no one thinks it odd that a dark haired bloke disappears out the back and reappears at the front door with a disposable barbecue or a pack of firelighters from the shed (it used to be coal, but creative improvisation is required these days).
More drinking is then required until you can no longer feel your legs. The absence of The New Years Day Sales means this stage is taken more seriously than in the past as people used to make their excuses and be in bed by 2am. Now no one is expected to surface before noon.
New Years Day was traditionally greeted by the appearance of the Four Swedes and the playing of “Happy New Year” twelve times at dawn. Then, once The Sales had been exhausted a visit to the neighbours Open House Party and relaxed drinking and feasting. Unfortunately, it is now more commonly the start of I am Never Ever Ever Drinking Again Month and any attempt at singing from the Four Swedes will be greeted with a threat of the removal of all electronic devices.
When the Three Orange Kings of Holiday (Cliff Michelmore, Anne Gregg and Judith Chalmers) have arrived back with their tales from far lands on the 6th January it is time to put the Shiny Things in their boxes to decompose.
The children fervently pray that the school boiler will have broken, the pipes frozen and flooded so that they get an extra four weeks holiday. Or the very least hope for the chaos of a Snow Day, where the grown-ups will battle with closed roads and cancelled trains, whilst they spend all day sledging.
As the adults prepare to settle into months of escapism watching TV shows about exotic places they will never visit, the children excitedly anticipate news of the crazy antics of the kids from East London. With their hapless and inept teachers, these plucky kids endure regular bullying and beatings, but with the mounting death rate, it is anyone's guess who will survive till the end of term.
And so the Glam Rock Kings sail off into the sunset for another year and Father Christmas plans his next trip to Vegas.
(With apologies to Dr Suess, JR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Smash Hits, John Masefield, Peter Kay, Raymond Briggs, The Royle Family, The West Wing, Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, The Beatles, Abba, Grange Hill and of course my parents. No apologies whatsoever are given for naming and shaming Hot Wheels who owe my son an apology for ruining his Christmas and shattering his trust in adults at the tender age of 5 years old.)
And more strange British Christmas traditions can be found here!