An English family Christmas
Christmas - for family!
Christmas Day for me is a family time, it isn't for meeting friends, shopping, or watching telly. All those things can and do happen on other days, but Christmas is special.We do a large traditional family Christmas in rural Kent, in the south-east of England.
I will spend Christmas this year, as for the last few years, with a crowd of family.
The dramatis personae are my parents, my sisters, my brother, my maternal uncle and his wife, my paternal uncle, my other half, our son (who is 4) and my brother in law. So 12 of us, all found.
We all pile down to my parents' house in Kent, and arrived between the 22nd and 24th December, apart from my sisters, who live there anyway. My parents' house was built in the early 1320s, and is a hall house - originally most of the house was just one big room, open to the roof.
During the 1550s, walls and floors were added, as privacy became popular, and in the 1700s, the house was covered in brick on the outside to look nice and modern. The original wooden structure of the house is the original 1320s frame.
Christmas is, I think, perceived generally in the UK as a more rural than urban celebration. Central London, where we live, is deserted between Christmas and New Year, for example.
Few people go anywhere in the UK at Christmas time. I've never been in a car on Christmas Day, for example, and never (apart from church services) spent time with a non-family member.
The parish my parents' house is in shares a vicar with a neighbouring parish, so one year we have Midnight Mass, and the next year, 10pm Mass. I like this service, and attend it instead of on Christmas Day itself.
Thinking about my own family and my friends' extended families, I think it's rare to travel on Christmas Day.
Most people will wake up and go to bed in the same place, so people away from home will be away at least two nights.
There are no trains, buses, or tube trains on Christmas Day, so travelling's pretty tricky anyway. And most other places, such as shops, are firmly shut.
Larger shops are forbidden by law to open anyway.
Christmas Eve is the start of celebrations. During the morning, various people cut holly and ivy from the land around the house, to decorate pictures and walls in the house. My mother tends to string Christmas cards together on red ribbon, and hang them in the living room, which adds to the Christmas decorations.
We all help decorate the Christmas tree, which has mostly already been done, but final touches are essential.
My parents' house has a very large kitchen, and we tend to gather around the table before the start of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. This is an amazingly beautiful service broadcast each Christmas Eve from King's College Chapel, in Cambridge. It interposes Bible readings and carols to tell the Christmas Story.
The BBC has broadcast it by radio every year since the 1920s, and it really starts Christmas. THe first part is always the wonderful carol "Once in Royal David's City", sung by an unaccompanied boy tenor, and is magical.
The first four lessons are from the Old Testament, predicting the coming of the Messiah, and the last five from the New Testament, telling the Christmas Story. As we listen, vast mounds of potatoes, and other veg, are peeled and chopped.
Christmas in England and in the Church of England
- Church of England at Christmas
- ::Medieval Christmas::
Christmas is Medieval England was very different to Christmas now. The Church ensured that Christmas was a true religious holiday. Celebrations were for the birth of Christ as opposed to simply peasants enjoying themselves.
- The Christmas Archives: Christmas Customs of England
Christmas Customs of England from the Norse, Celtic, and Saxon roots through the Norman invasion, the Protestant reformation, and on to the modern days.
- Events - Christmas markets : Enjoy England
enjoyEngland - the official website for tourism in England. Christmas markets in England.
As Christmas Eve is the end of Advent, we always avoid meat and have fish pie for dinner. It's supposed to represent fasting, but as my mother is a wonderful cook, the meal fails to represent any sacrifice at all.
After dinner, there is an air of excitement, and much huddling in corners with paper and tape to wrap the last few presents.
Most people push off to Midnight (or 10pm) Mass, if they didn't go in the morning.
There's something wonderful about coming home in the dark and seeing the Christmas lights twinkling in the windows.
Christmas Day starts with shoving the turkey in the oven, and having a light breakfast. About 11am, we gather round the Christmas tree in the living room, and exchange presents, and quaff champagne. We have Christmas stockings still, even as adults, and it's still wonderful getting to the orange and nuts at the bottom.
After this, it's all hands to preparing dinner. We tend to start eating at about 3pm, and feast.
This year we had organic turkey, with sausage stuffing one end and apricot and nut the other, roast spuds (choice of goose fat or veggie), roast parsnips, leek sauce, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon, carrots, sweetcorn, spouts, peas, turnips in butter with herbs, sludge (a puree of swede and carrot), and roasted pumpkin. All the vet apart from the sweetcorn was grown by my parents.
For pudding, we have a traditional dried fruit Christmas pudding, made with vegetarian suet and brandy. This is accompanied by brandy and rum butter.
Everything, including the cranberry sauce and pudding, is home-made.
After dinner, we all tend to collapse for a bit, and read our new books, try on new jumpers, or play with new toys, before the washing up starts. Everyone joins in, apart from my mother who was the chef and gets a well-earned break!
We don't really eat again, but tend to play games in the evening - bridge, chess, rummy, or scrabble.
The day after Christmas is generally spent mostly outdoors.
My sisters usually go to a Boxing Day Meet (fox hunting) for some of the day, and the rest of us don thick coats and go for a long walk over the fields with the dogs.
Boxing Day is a bank holiday, public transport is very limited, and a lot of things are shut.
Some shops start their post-Christmas sales on Boxing Day, but I've never been, and never will.
Between Christmas and New Year
A lot of people take off the time between the two holidays, and loads of businesses, offices, and other workplaces are shut for the duration.
My uncles and in-laws push off home on the 27th December, to be replaced by my father's best friend from school and his wife, who stay until New Year.
The days tend to be spent walking, riding, playing games, chatting, and just spending time with family.