When I was growing up, the song Home for Christmas seemed a bit overly sentimental. I couldn’t imagine not being home. Then life happened and I began to understand the meaning of the song.
Some of it is about being in a specific place with people you love. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. Christmas there has a very different feel to South Carolina where I spent Christmas when I was 19. That year Christmas was exciting as I was busy being a debutante. The next year, I was in Europe, alone. And the following year I spent Christmas in England for the first time. Since then we have bounced back and forth from the UK and US but mostly in the UK. It has been ten years now since I spent Christmas in the US and 20 since I spent it at California.. Christmas in Northumberland is just different but after 26 years it is my home now (something that was awhile coming).
Christmas in the UK is different. There are things like Boxing Day (26 December) which is another huge meal and lots of sport on the telly. Christmas crackers with their paper hats, inane jokes and little gift. The flaming Christmas pudding (the secret to getting it to light is to gently the heat the brandy until fumes are given off), Christmas cake and the mince pies. Everywhere you go in the UK at Christmas in the UK, you get offered mince pies. At first I thought no or oh yuck, but actually they are totally delicious. The meat comes from shredded beef suet – a type of fat. It melts down in the cooking and you just get the dried fruit cum spice taste. Until the recent British baking boom it was hard to find gingerbread and there was no real tradition of baking cookies. Baking Christmas cakes, yes but not cookies.
Also people tend to serve mulled wine rather than eggnog. Most people in the UK have never tired eggnog. You can get Avocaat (Warninks) which is a Dutch drink and basically commercial eggnog but it tastes a bit different. In the UK it is often drunk as a snowball with lemonade (7up) added. The sheer range of alcohol on offer at Christmas in the average British house astonished me the first time I encountered it.
And then there was the Christmas panto (again full of bad jokes) instead of the Nutcracker. SF Ballet’s Nutcracker used to be a yearly treat and I was so very pleased when I was able to take my oldest two to see it…many years ago. And I missed US Christmas ornaments which tended to be nicer. My tree is now mostly decorated with US ornaments that I have acquired over the years plus a few hand made ones, including sprayed walnuts the children and I did when we first moved to this house.
At first when I lived in the UK, I used to wish British Christmases more like the ones I had experienced in the US but as the UK as become home, I realise, neither Christmas tradition is better just different. As long as you are surrounded by ones you love, then all is well. And if you can’t be home for Christmas, you can at least dream.
So other than the people, what Christmas tradition do you feel the need to hang on to? I have always insisted that we have fondue for Christmas eve and open one present each. It goes back to when my parents got a fondue pot in the early 1970s…
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty, and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. Her next book TAMING HIS VIKING WOMAN will be published in February 2015. You can find out more about Michelle at www.michellestyles.co.uk