It’s taken me a few years, but I think I’ve finally mostly sorted Christmas in Britain in my brain.
Christmas, as Christmas, though not necessarily of much religious connotation, is a big deal in and of itself in Britain. This has taken some getting used to. Possibly the weirdest thing for me to swallow, aside from not being wished ‘happy holidays’ on a regular basis, is the fact that nativity plays are de rigueur in primary schools, but overall it’s the sheer assumption of celebrating Christmas that gets to me. (By the way, thanks to the Life in the UK Test–which I passed–I can now tell you with 2001-statistic accuracy what percentage of the population is Christian and which percentage is not. In 2001, that is.)
But I’ve learned to adjust–a paradigm shift with a slightly jammed clutch, but adjust none the less. There are some key points to remember and understand; admittedly this is mostly for my benefit and amusement, but this could be handy to anyone writing a themed fanfic in a UK-based fandom. Maybe. I suppose. Get a Britpicker, even if you don’t think you need one.
- Christmas takes on a bunch of aspects that in the US and Canada are assigned to Thanksgiving–bigass traditional meal of turkey and stuffing and veg sides with family, and specific television viewing (coughdoctorwhocough) thereafter. I’ve had people ask me what the heck US people eat for Christmas if they just had turkey a month earlier. The answer I’ve given is ‘sometimes turkey sometimes other things’.
- Christmas crackers are a small but crucial concept. These are tiny explosive devices with paper crowns inside, a joke that is appalling, and an item of the Cracker Jack box variety back when you actually got something okay in a Cracker Jack box. Those from elsewhere, think a Kinder Egg toy.
- One will be getting drunk lots as part of this holiday process, with family (potentially as coping mechanism) or on work nights out, or both. With regards to the latter, office Christmas party, yes, and then likely another night of pub and food with one’s department, and getting hammered on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day because it’s a bank holiday and one has nothing else to do save eat leftovers and drink all the things. See: coping with family.
- Remarkably little eggnog is quaffed, though. Except at Starbucks.
- Fake Christmas trees are far more common. If you asked me to surmise as to why, I would say ‘way less open land to grow Norfolk pines’, but I may be off-base here.
And…well, this is more than a point. Christmas music here is just slightly different, which gets me to what was going to be the point of this post until I went on a tangent.
I’ve gotten used to what I will hear in stores and malls and offices in the US for the holidays, that continuous piped stream of not-exactly-cheer-inducing sound. Unfortunately, the stuff I can handle most as background noise (and this may be because of upbringing) is almost non-existent over here, stuff like Mannheim Steamroller and Canadian Brass and even the darn Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Fortunately, some of the big band stuff’s crossed the big pond, but Britain has this unique concept of the Christmas Number 1. This is the lucky track on the top of the pop charts for Christmas week, which is often a Christmas pop song. So many try and fail to gain this spot. (Christmas doesn’t always win out, though. Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ Mad World from Donnie Darko was #1 one year, which makes me grin in misanthropic and anti-pop glee.)
And there are a few tolerable things you’ll hear constantly over here that have never made it stateside–Slade’s Merry Christmas, Everybody, for a start. Let’s not talk about how I didn’t initially believe Noddy Holder was a real name for a rock musician as compared to a name JK Rowling dismissed for a houseelf. It’s just that no one here has heard Must Be Santa! It’s a damn shame.
With regards to things I’ve heard on both sides of the Atlantic, I’m going to take this opportunity to say that Wham!’s Last Christmas is the most ridiculous Christmas song ever, except for possibly Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, which is purely insipid. I mean, seriously, how is a song about having your heart broken and telling that person ‘screw you, you’re not special’ full of the spirit of the season?
At least Fairytale of New York, which I love, is unapologetic about its catchy bleakness. It’s got just the right kind of self-aware attitude problem to be the ultimate in UK Christmas tracks…which, fortunately, is what it is.
Even if there’s no such thing as the NYPD Choir.