Monday, 16 December 2019

Christmas and Winter Festival Traditions: Spoilt Children and Boiled Sprouts



Dear Readers,


It’s that time of year.  You can’t ignore it, I’m afraid…Unless you try very hard and turn into Scrooge…Today, we’re going to combine Christmas traditions with travel…together at last!  We’re looking at different Christmas and Winter festival traditions from around the World.  Some more traditional than others…

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We’re going to start in Australia…as that’s the obvious place to start.  Thanks to the huge influx of British and Irish to the country, their traditions have stayed the course.  Although one massive difference is, of course, the weather.  The idea of a Christmas barbie dinner on the beach is heaven to some and hell to others….In fairness, dear Readers, apart from the sun, there appears to be absolutely no difference between an Aussie Christmas and a British Christmas.  So let’s move on to some stranger ones:


Of course, as we have found in previous Blog posts, Japan generally leads the way in the weird and the wonderful.  Christmas in Japan is something of a novelty and something they don’t really celebrate, however in recent years something of a tradition has developed:  the KFC Christmas dinner…yup, you read it correctly, and if you don’t believe us, then you can check it out at

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In Norway they get pretty weird and on Christmas Eve people hide their brooms…yup…hide their brooms!  This stems from the ancient belief that on Christmas Eve witches and evil spirits came out looking for brooms to steal to ride on…


In Germany, December 6th is very exciting as that’s when St Nikolaus travels on a donkey in the middle of the night and leaves treats in good little children’s shoes.  He also visits the children at home or at school where in exchange for a present, each child must draw a picture or sing a song.  However, in Germany, St Nicholas has some pretty dodgy followers:  Knecht Ruprecht is a devil-like bloke that punishes any children who are bad, and even weirder in Austria you really want to watch out for St Nicholas’ counterpart, Krampus!  This evil character picks up the naughtiest children and whisks them away in his sack!  Terrifying!  Basically in the first week in December it’s a chance for young men to dress up as Krampus and frighten the children…

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Let’s get weirder and go to Caracas in Venezuela:  you go to church early in the morning on Christmas Eve…on roller-skates!!!  It’s so popular now that roads across Caracas are closed in order for participants to skate safely to church…

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We don’t all celebrate Christmas per se, and of course Hanukkah, the Jewish traditional celebration is not to be ignored.  One of the most elaborate is the lighting of the National Hanukah Menorah in Washington DC in the US.  For the eight days and eight nights of Hanukah in the grounds of the White House, a 9 metre tall Menorah is raised with the first candle being lit at 4pm without fail, and another one lit every day for the 8 days.  It’s really spectacular and has been a tradition observed since 1979.

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Closer to home now, and what happens in Spain?  Well the 6th and 8th of December are national holidays, so people usually take the opportunity to put their tree up and decorate their house.  Christmas as the day itself is far less commercialised than in the UK or the US, and they don’t celebrate it as hard as we do.  However, one of their most spectacular ceremonies is held on 5th/6th of January where they celebrate the arrival of the three Kings or Wise Men to the birth of Jesus.  It’s called the Dia de los Reyes, or King’s Day, and it means the most beautiful parades and, more importantly for the children, it’s like the equivalent of Christmas Eve present- and anticipation-wise!

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France?  Sophisticated as ever, they don’t have the tradition of the gaudy outdoor decs that the Brits do.  It’s a much simpler affair, with presents being exchanged either at midnight on 24th/25th or in the morning of 25th if you have small children.  As you can imagine, it’s all about the food:  Christmas dinner must start off with seafood, especially oysters and salmon, and fois gras.  Then, like us, they tend to have turkey, and then a buche which is a bit like our chocolate log.

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The dinner on 24th is also important, usually tending to be immediate family, then on 25th it’s the whole family together.  Unlike us Brits, the 26th is not a holiday, so work is resumed as usual.


Right, then.  Buckle up, dear Readers, especially our friends from overseas.  There is nothing as complicated, as political, as class-driven, than a British Christmas!!  I bet, if you’re in France or Spain or Germany for example, you never realised that just because of the very time you open your presents on Christmas Day denotes whether you are posh or common?!  Let’s start with the time of putting up the Christmas tree and the outside lights.  Basically, in the UK, the earlier you do these two things, the more common you are.  Thanks to Facebook, an almost pack mentality has gone on this year, with people inciting other people to put up their trees earlier and earlier.   Yes, of course, dear Readers, it’s true that Harrods open their Christmas department in August, but it doesn’t mean that you have to put your tree up then!

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Again, the type of tree and outside display denotes class:  however, in the interests of political correctness, I will let you make up your own mind as to which way round these displays are attributed.  Some people love an inflatable snowman and Father Christmas, with lovely big “Santa Stop Here” signs and flashing lights.  One of your Hapless Blogger’s all-time favourites was spotted in the South East of England, and entailed an inflatable Father Christmas standing over the door of someone’s house, meaning they had to walk between his legs to get through their front door.  It nearly hospitalised me with mirth.  Another recent invention is a sort of projector that people buy for their houses:  you fix it up in the garden and it projects snowflakes and Christmas scenes onto your house…Some of us just have a few “warm white” lights.  Not coloured.  Not flashing.

Image result for christmas tree


Next, of course, we come to the tree.  This is a grey area.  There are the traditionalists who adore a real tree (moi) and then there are the pragmatists who store their trees in the loft ready for next year.  No pine needles, no worries.  Fake or real?  If it is fake, what colour?  Multi-coloured flashing lights or white ones?  Bows and feathers (presumably these are people without pets), matching bauble sets or a mismatch of homemade and acquired ones from over the years?  Being in the latter category re baubles, and the real category re tree, your Helpless Blogger had a jolly old time, with the Mini-Blogger and the Canine-Blogger (less said about those two the better!) getting said tree into the car (flash-back to a tree incident many years ago where I was caused to actually put the roof down on a car that was too small for the tree and drive the 20 or so miles home in December in the UK…frozen wasn’t the word), transporting it home, getting it out of the car, into the house, onto its stand and not at a jaunty angle.  The latter was not achieved.   It stands, as we speak, at a rakish angle but basically, dear Readers, no one will notice as the Mini-Blogger has decorated it and the Canine-Blogger has started to eat it…

Onto the Christmas Eve traditions:  this very much depends where you come from in the UK.  Some of us go out and get as drunk as possible (a national pastime).  Others prefer to watch The Snowman and play chess by the open fire whilst eating mince pies.  We make sure our stockings are hung up by the fireplace (in the absence of a fireplace because of course Father Christmas needs to come down the chimney, we put them on the ends of our beds – elaborate stories of leaving a key out for Father Christmas to get in ensues…in our household the dog stays up to give it to him…) and we go to bed extremely over-excited whilst beleaguered parents stay up until the early hours creeping around the house and wrapping presents…often quite drunk.


Now, another class minefield in British society is when you open the presents.  Basically the slower you are the posher you are.  Although this is disproven on various levels…and again, thanks to Facebook (oooh let me advertise to the World how many presents are under my tree), it also seems that the posher you are the fewer presents you give.  Sounds backwards?  Well, listen to this:  the Royal Family famously follow the European tradition and exchange presents on Christmas Eve, probably for practical reasons as well, as much as anything as they have church to go to on Christmas Day, and I suppose the Queen needs to be sober to deliver her speech…More on that in a sec…Also, it is apparently tradition in the Royal Family to find the silliest gifts ever for each other, as, quite frankly, what would you buy the Queen anyway?!

Image result for christmas tree with lots of presents underneath


However, speak to the average British household, and you’ll find the majority throwing themselves down the stairs at 6am and ripping all their presents open.  In the Hapless Blogger household such behaviour was never allowed, and after a demure stocking-opening ceremony, presents were then opened just before lunch (this is where spoilt children come in) and then after lunch we would go for a family walk, where my parents would stay behind to do the “washing up” (we had a dishwasher) and on the return from the walk, low and behold, Father Christmas would have visited again, on his way back to the North Pole.  This was a very clever way of my parents spreading the presents out and ensuring a happy child for the whole day…


Back to the Christmas Dinner.  Now, this is an exciting prospect for most households, and usually a complete departure from the norm.  Now, we as Brits, unlike the French, have generally no idea what to have as a starter.  So we habitually go back to our 1970’s routes and opt for prawn cocktail, or perhaps some smoked salmon.  We then like to buy the biggest turkey we can find (or if you’re my mother, insist we have something posh like guinea fowl or poussin – honestly, I’m not kidding, we went for years without a traditional turkey because we had to have something more cultured – then my father insisted on getting a goose and thanks to the amount of fat that came off it, we were never the same again and the turkey consuming resumed) and start roasting it at about 6am.  That’s when we generally put the sprouts on, too.  Again, unlike the French, we have not got our heads around the length of time it takes to rest after departing from the oven.  We like to take it straight to the table and hack away at it.  Of course, you mustn’t forget the stuffing balls, pigs in blankets, and again, a class thing:  how many types of potato can you have on one plate?  Starting from a couple of goose-fat roasted potatoes at one end, to roasted, boiled, mashed, goodness knows what at the other.  And the gravy.  Lashings of gravy, bread sauce (never been able to look bread sauce in the eye since my mother’s made me sick once) and cranberry jelly…All on the same plate at the same time.  Then it’s time for pudding.  One must have a Christmas pudding which you start making in September and boil for about a month (joking…ish) and set fire to (of course).  You have this with brandy butter and cream.  Only about 25% of the population like it but we all have it.

Image result for christmas dinner


Now, again, the time of the Christmas Dinner various wildly from family to family.  Some have it at lunch time.  Others have it slightly later but aim to finish before the Queen’s Speech.  Others have it about 5pm.  Then, afterwards, because you’re not a Brit if you don’t aim to eat until you bleed on Christmas Day, you need to have turkey sandwiches about 9pm.  This is essential.

The day after is referred to in the UK as Boxing Day, and was traditionally a day when servants would receive their “Christmas Box” from their employer and would go home to give such boxes to their families.  Traditionally it was the day of the hunt, certainly amongst the upper classes of course.  This is getting less and less popular for obvious reasons.  For everyone else, you either resume your eating as per Christmas Day, or for the really weird, you go to the “Boxing Day Sales”.  Another huge phenomenon in the UK and what’s even more disturbing is the Next Boxing Day Sale.  Now, Next is a sort of clothing/department store selling its own brand.  Mid-range I would say, not cheap, but not hugely expensive.  They have this famous sale wherein people queue up (favourite British pastime) at 4am to be the first people into the sale.  So you get up at goodness knows when in the dark and cold in hopes of a bargain…There are other stores too, but this is the bonkers one. 


Then it’s all over for another year…


So, dear Readers, which would you prefer?  A Christmas class minefield or a barbie on the beach?!  Or just keep to your own traditions and try not to burn the turkey…that reminds me, I need to go and put the sprouts on now!

Image result for boiled sprouts


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