I love Christmas. It’s the aftermath that exhausts me. My husband has just thrown the tangled Christmas lights at my feet in some hope that I might untangle them before we pack them away for next year but as you may have deduced, I’ve decided to take this rare moment of quiet on a Saturday morning to write instead. The lights are staring at me, as are the pine needles all over the floor, and the gazillion toys I need to sort through and find space for. I understand why bears hibernate for the winter. All of the snow we’ve had over the last month that was beautiful in the days leading up to Christmas is now becoming a bit of a nuisance. I suppose I’m a bit of a New Year scrooge. I hate the mess and I really hate resolutions. Christmas, on the other hand, is a different story. Christmas in England is magic. It’s as if Christmas is England. It’s so… well, traditional I guess. I feel like I’m in the middle of where it all started, sans Bethlehem, donkeys, wise men, ect.
Being American, Christmas for me starts the day after Thanksgiving. This applies even when I’m in the UK. I do a good job of ignoring all Christmas decorations and piped Christmas music in shops and elevators (lifts) until that third Friday in November. I don’t do this consciously. It’s natural, I suppose because I love Thanksgiving in America just as much as I love Christmas in England. We were in the States for Thanksgiving this year and our arrival home landed us smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Parties were planned for the kids and adults alike. Lights were going up in the village. Carolers sang outside the local Waitrose (grocery store). The Ampthill brass band played under the lit Christmas tree located in the shadow of the clock tower in the square while everyone sipped mulled wine and hot chocolate. The scene is so quintessentially English that I half expect someone to jump out and shout ‘God bless us everyone!’ Or maybe it’s just that I feel like shouting it. The people in town who know me would probably not look twice at my overtly American display of emotion and excitement but I do try to keep a low(ish) profile.
My husband and I do as much shopping online as possible because the crowded stores are not my favourite part of it all. Unless it’s for food. That we take quite seriously as does the rest of the UK as discussed in my last blog ‘The Food Over Here…‘ (By the way husband saved the day on New Year’s Eve with a starter of French onion soup from a Raymond Blanc cook book – the whole dinner start to finish was one of the most memorable meals of my life). We look forward to going to The Cooks Collection in town to order our Christmas cheeses every year. Sampling, discussing and eventually choosing our cheese is our adult version of going to see Santa. Catherine, the owner is full of Christmas cheer and never seems to tire of our indecisiveness which is much appreciated and makes it all that much more fun. We even try to get a babysitter for the event and squeeze in a drink at the cozy Prince of Wales a couple of yards up the road. Not very rock and roll I know but it makes us happy.
What I love about Christmas here is that it’s so accessible. You tend to get the feeling you are in the middle of it without having to set foot in a mall. The pubs and restaurants are full of large parties eating and drinking until they can’t fit any more in. I love looking in the windows at all the grown men and women wearing paper crowns they pulled out of Christmas crackers. I generally refuse to wear the crown myself but do enjoy seeing them on others. My sister in law taught me to wear it for 5 minutes and slip in off quietly before everyone starts taking photos. Top tip.
The houses here tend to be closer to the street so when you’re out walking you get a lovely view of everyone’s Christmas trees in the front window. Every village generally does their own ‘turning on of the lights’ and while the lights might not be the most spectacular you’ve ever seen, it always seems personal. Even London’s Regents Street lights seem understated compared to some American displays. Not that I don’t love that too. I do, and if I’m in the States at Christmas we always do a Christmas Eve drive to see lights. It’s just different here and I enjoy that about it.
My three year old has just come in from playing in the snow and offered his help with the untangling of our lights. While I’m tempted to let him have at it, better judgment tells me it’s a bad idea. It’s time to clean away the last of the Christmas crumbs. Until next year…