I’m not the most festive person. Call me a grinch, but I just never really got that excited about Christmas. This doesn’t mean I whined and moaned all December, I just wasn’t screaming with excitement or decorating my room with fake snow either. Like the strange child I was, October was my favorite month. I always preferred ghost stories to bible stories, autumn clothes to winter jackets, and sunny weather to the cold.
Then there’s the Christmas music. I can’t stand it (but a few songs make an exception).
Honestly, why in God’s name must people start playing the same 10 songs in November? By the time Christmas rolls around they are totally worn out to the point that your ears want to bleed. The worst part is that they are the same songs every year! They don’t change!
But something was different this year. I started to feel festive. I got into that “holiday spirit” I even bought a Christmas sweater!
I suppose it started in Madrid. Once December hit, the the city changed. The lights were hung and every street in the center adorned decorations. Every plaza had a little market and big glowing tree. The Spanish had extra reasons to celebrate now and crowds of people came to Madrid on the weekends. The streets were bustling and everyone pulled out their down coats and thick scarves from the closet (even if it was still 13 degrees some days).
My school built a huge nativity, which was almost the entire size of the school entranceway. It had more than just Jesus and a manger, but the entire city of Bethlehem,with banks, post offices, working windmills and rivers included. The kids all started learning Christmas songs and seeing them run around singing was so cute.
On the last day of school, the students had a Christmas pageant and I found myself getting teary-eyed as I watched the entire school, kids and teachers together, dancing and singing.
The next day I flew to England to stay at Simon’s house and keep the festivities going!
A British Christmas
I never really gave much thought to American Christmas before this year. The Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses, peppermint hot cocoa and my mom’s pineapple bread pudding were all just normal things to me. Once I got to England, I realized we do things pretty differently from each other. I started to sound like a broken record with all the times I mentioned, “You know, we don’t have/do that at Christmas!”
While there wasn’t any snow this year, the cold weather did make you want to bundle up and the Christmas decorations at Simon’s house were a perfect addition to the toasty living room fire and a cup of tea (coffee for me, please).
This, along with all the little differences I’ve experienced in the past week, made Christmas in England not only interesting, but probably my most festive ever!
The Village Shit-Show
Every Christmas, all the young people don’t go back to their particular spread-out suburban community like in the States, but their own village. A village surrounded by English countryside and full of stone houses and quaint pubs. Every Christmas Eve everyone crams into the pubs for a big celebration.
We started our evening at the bottom of Horsforth to begin what seemed like a pub crawl. Even the first pub was jam- packed, and by about 11pm the cute, cozy English pubs had turned into full-blown night clubs to accommodate their busiest and youngest night of the year. Boisterous 20-somethings danced on the booths, dropped full pints from their hands and wobbled along the dance floor.
After a few months in Spain, where the majority of locals keep their cool under the influence, England looked like a full blown shit-show.
All the reunions around me became a bit awkward by the end of the night. This was especially true when I wasn’t standing near Simon. I would find myself in the midst of people who were in a full-fledged drunk reunion, with exaggerated hugs and slurred-exchanges.
The highlight: Harry Potter’s Neville Longbottom was (supposedly) at the last pub we were at. The lowlight: Our friend, Chris, who knew where he was sat, was a little too tipsy and distracted to take me straight there. I lost determination to find “Neville” in between the sloshing drinks and middle-school reunions. He did in fact get a photo with him/someone though. Here it is….
Many would think Christmas Day with someone else’s family would be sad or awkward. It was neither, and I had a fabulous time. I woke up to my own bag (yes, a full bag) of presents to open even before we exchanged each other’s gifts. How I will fit all the goodies in my suitcase is still yet to be answered! Each gift was opened by the fire while we sipped on Buck’s Fizz (US translation: mimosas).
After all the presents were open, I got a call from my parents who were enjoying the warm tropical breezes of Panama. After our chat, they were off to enjoy the pool, the sun and a stress-free holiday.
Although I love a good American holiday meal, I was excited to try something new. Besides, Thanksgiving was less than a month ago. I didn’t really need turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie all over again.
An English holiday meal is pretty different than what I was used to. We started by eating a beautifully sliced melon and opening our Christmas crackers. Inside was a small paper hat to wear, a tradition that dates back to Roman times. Along with it, popped out a little prize and a joke, which we told to each other during the meal.
I thoroughly enjoyed dinner. There were vegetables I’d never tried (brussels sprouts being one of them) and desserts I’d never heard of! There was stuffing as well, but a different version than what we have a home. The British version is meatier, comes in a loaf and is cut into pieces. Made me wonder why we don’t have more meat in our stuffing at home as well. Less bread, more meat!
Additionally, for the few days leading up to Christmas, and following, we have all been munching on a heavy diet of meat. Pork pies, sausage rolls and paté on bread. It’s a constant meat feast around here!
Turns out we don’t really share Christmas music across the pond. Most of the songs I’d listened to this year at Simon’s house, and in the pubs, were songs I had never heard. It was great to be the only person who was experiencing them for the first time! I got a well needed break from exaggerated tones of Mariah Carey, and really enjoyed the British ones!
Bubble and Squeak & Boxing Day
Another good thing about Christmas in England is that once it’s over, you still get another day-off just to recover! This day, which only adorns our calendars at home, but which we benefit nothing from, is Boxing Day. At Simon’s, we treated it like a low-key Christmas, but I guess some people in England cook up a whole new holiday feast separate from the one the day before! Can you imagine having to cook two holiday meals in a row?
The morning of Boxing Day, we still had a kitchen full of leftovers. Something had to be done with them, so Simon’s Dad offered to cook up bubble and squeak, a strange sounding dish involving most of Christmas dinner!
To make it, you basically take all the leftovers and fry them up together in one pan. It sounds repulsive, but I found it to be really good. There were the leeks, brussels sprouts, mashed swede and carrot along with some of the meat. On the side we had the rest of the roast chicken with some cranberry sauce. All the flavors of Christmas were there, along with a cheeky hidden sausage or piece of stuffing every now and then!
The rest of Boxing Day was spent around the TV, and that evening we had a feast of simple, but delicious foods. Paté and bread, dips, sausage rolls, a cheese and vegetable quiche. Some more Christmas dessert, wine and the Game of Life ended the holiday!
My Boxing Day also involved a photo shoot with the cats, inspired by this amazing grumpy cat t-shirt that Simon gave me
The rest of the trip:
Besides all the holiday festivities, and sitting around the fire, we haven’t done much in England! Simon has been having knee problems and we are trying to get him healed before we embark on a trip. Today, Simon, his sister, three others and myself are off to Prague to celebrate the New Year! From there Simon and I will be taking a train to Budapest for a few days before returning to Madrid. I can’t wait!
I’m so excited to take pictures of the fairy tale city of Prague. Follow along on Instagram!