The classic British Christmas starts right about now as the nights draw in, the leaves start to fall and the first flurry of Christmas cards and party invites come through the door. Ready to do Christmas like the Brits? You bet we are!
Now Christmas just aint British without mince pies, which are served from early December as puddings, or as an alternative snack to biscuits (cookies). Best served warm with a hot cup of tea or a dollop of brandy butter, mince pies are little round pastries filled with sweet, spiced and sticky fruit known, confusingly, as mincemeat. But there’s no actual meat in them – the name comes from their original savoury form, centuries ago. Supermarkets sell 370 million mince pies every festive season, and for a population of just 70 million, that’s not bad going…
Kids will write their wish lists to Father Christmas and send them up the chimney in good time for Christmas morning, and stockings are hung at the end of beds for Father Christmas to fill whilst they sleep. A glass of milk or brandy, a couple of mince pies and a carrot for Rudolph will be left by the fireplace for the big man to snack on when he arrives down the chimney, (of course) and children will rush downstairs to find crumbs, an empty glass and sometimes a nibbled carrot in the morning – a sure sign that he’s been!
A carol service is a great way to kick off the official countdown. These are usually held a few evenings before Christmas Day, when people have finished work for the season. Proceedings tend to kick off with a rendition of Once in Royal David’s City, and finish with The Twelve Days of Christmas, taking in Silent Night and Ding Dong Merrily on High along the way. More often than not, carollers will move onto a local pub for more singing and catching up with friends, and this is where the more modern songs might be sung, like Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. The standard festive drink for carols and parties is mulled wine – a warmed and delicately spiced red wine with a slice of orange, best served in a glass mug with a handle and consumed with a mince pie or two.
Listen to our Christmas Carol playlist on Spotify here.
And so the big day arrives! Whether presents are done before or after, traditional Christmas dinner is usually eaten as a late lunch, and the table is laid with crackers at each place setting. Crackers are coloured paper tubes twisted at both ends, with small gifts, a joke on a slip of paper, and a paper hat inside. The cracker is pulled between two people, and breaks in half with a big snapping noise. Contents tend to fly everywhere, and the one who ends up with the bigger half of the cracker in their hand ‘wins’ the contents… and has to read aloud the cheesy joke inside. The best way to pull crackers is for everyone to cross their arms over with a cracker in their left hand, so everyone at the table is holding onto the ends of two crackers. And then one, two, three… PULL!
Roast turkey is served with pigs in blankets (chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon), roast potatoes, parsnips, greens, gravy, sometimes bread sauce, and cranberry jelly. Dessert is traditionally a Christmas pudding, a mixture of more mincemeat plus brandy, made months in advance and steamed on the day, with a sprig of holly on top. Making the Christmas pudding is a tradition in itself, and each family member will have a go at mixing it with the wooden spoon whilst making a wish for the coming year. This dark and boozy pudding is drizzled with brandy and then flamed as it comes to the table, before being served with brandy butter or cream. Tradition states that the mixture should be made with a penny inside (a sixpence, originally) and that the one who finds the penny in their pudding will enjoy luck and good fortune in the coming year.
And finally, the crowning glory to any British Christmas, once the presents have been opened and the dining table is a joyous mess of empty plates and paper hats? It’s the Queen’s Speech, of course. Silence prevails as the monarch gives her round-up of the year’s events, and wishes her nation a peaceful, happy Christmas. Click on the image above or here to view the Queen’s 2012’s Christmas Message.
… And then it’s time to crack on with the turkey sandwiches and a good old game of charades!
Happy Christmas, Sloanies!