Before you start flinging mince pies: Surviving Christmas in the UK , a reminder

Posted on December 21, 2009 by peacefulyorkshire



Sometimes I just want to bang my American head against my rented Victorian terrace house wall and fling all my Mr. Kipling mince pies at my window in my frustration with my airport delays. The pie box says they are ‘exceedingly merry’–I am so not feeling that way now as I am missing my holidays with my family. I am raising my hand and admitting that now I am having a very ungraceful moment as I am stranded in the UK as my flight getting home to America three days ago was cancelled. Long story short  I am still trying to get on a flight home. For those of you stranded in the UK with the current weather conditions of snow and cancelled flights (like me), this advice from our archives will keep you informed about the possibilities of spending Christmas in the UK– or some observations about a British Christmas.

As you readers know, Christmas in Britain brings on its own wacky traditions… no one tells you these things as an American in Britain that you might encounter:

The Grotto: No, not a ghetto, not Santa’s grotty. But a GRAW-DO…Yeah, I was confused at first, too. Yes, here in Britain Santa  lives in a cave called a grotto. Not a cottage! Not a cabin! Not a wonderland!Yes, grotto sounds like a dirty word but really, it is a place meant for little children to visit Santa. Don’t ask.

Christmas crackers: Under no circumstances should you win the Christmas cracker if you are pulling it with your well-meaning British Sister-in -law, her kids, or your mother-in-law. Trust me. Monitor your pulling effort and just let them ‘win’ the cracker. Do you really want cheapo nail clippers anyway? And don’t be fooled by the “Marks and Spencer Luxury Crackers” either, they have nail clippers in them, too. I would  like to add however that I have started a very nice collection of wire silver egg cups from Christmas cracker winnings.

The Christmas Hat– You might pull your Christmas Cracker too hard (to not win requires lots of practice) and you may need to put on the flimsy colored paper-hat inside. Depending on the British family you are with will dictate if you are required to do so. You need to be aware that yes, you will look ridiculous in a bright-orange-tissue-paper-crown. But if everyone else puts it on and you don’t you will look like a big stick in the mud and that is definitely a social no-no.

Style your hair so that it would look good with a bright-orange-tissue-paper-crown on top. Maybe you could plan ahead to coordinate your Christmas day outfit so that it would match these common Christmas hat colors: Red, Bright green, dark purple, bright yellow, bright orange, and dark blue or black. Pray that you get the black hat if you do pull too hard and win the Christmas cracker– it looks more suave then the other colors.

The Queen’s Speech: You should be prepared to watch the Queen’s Speech, regardless of what you think of the Royal Family. My soon to be mother-in-law has tons of collectible “Royal Plates” on her wall so I know it is going to be a given. Although some British families (probably not many) do not watch the Royal Christmas message, but just be prepared to stop your Christmas dinner to watch.

Or, your Christmas dinner will revolve around the Queen’s speech timed to absolute perfection when the teas and coffees are served (oh those Brits are so organised!!). Practice some lines beforehand saying nice things about the Queen even though her speech might seem fake, over-rehearsed and out of touch with reality. Easy for her to say: “I hope all the hungry children in the world get food to eat this Christmas”– she lives in a castle for heaven’s sake! Your British family will probably also agree she shouldn’t say such things since she is swimming in money but have learned to keep their traps shut in this matter.

Boxing Day: Just when you thought Christmas was over comes along Boxing day. You’ve gotta think positive: you have made it this far and at least you are not at work like a lot of American employees back home! Yet, it is another day where everyone sits around in a food coma and eats lots of left-over beef and mincers while watching football matches you probably don’t give a hoot about. Around this point you might have had a few scuffles with your British partner and their family, probably unintentionally and probably about topics like their mother-in-law offending you, and what time you are going to leave.

A lot of British families like to take walks in the country on this day– you could fake a headache or indigestion if the thought of that is not appealing. At that point Christmas is about over anyway. And you will have made it through. Score!

Thanks for reading and Happy Christ– I mean, Merry Christmas! And fingers crossed to get myself home for Christmas….or lord help the mincers and my windows.

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What Others Are Saying

  1. kellyn17 November 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    One issue as a native Brit is that “grotto” is not pronounced as GRAW-DO. Instead its pronounced how it is spelt really, grott-o. Also why you are describing a typical British Christmas, like in America too I imagine, everyone celebrates Christmas Day differently including their own family traditions as well.

    • yankeebean November 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm

      It’s funny because PeacefulYorkshire and I always laugh about Grotto because it reminds of ‘ghetto’. We still call it ‘Santa’s Ghetto’ even now :D

  2. Steve December 20, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    P.S. Is there anything you actually like about the UK? I lived in Greece for 15 years and did a lot of moaning about it, but even after 5 years back here, I’m totally schitzophrenic. Why can’t England be more like Greece? Why can’t Greece be more like England?

  3. Steve December 20, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Well, I’m a Brit, so let me just point out that I don’t do Christmas crackers, paper hats, mince pies, turkey or brussels sprouts, and I’d rather saw my own leg off than endure the Queen’s speech. (I wouldn’t cross the road to see the Queen or any of her ghastly family.) Christmas is a time to avoid getting caught up in other people’s reality – after all, you have to endure the buggers for the other 363 days of the year.

    Good to hear you got home – the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

  4. justAmericanDesigned December 19, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    AH! I’m suppose to be visiting the UK to meet my man’s family for the first time next week. While I’m already nervous about different traditions and if they’re going to like their son’s American girl or not, but I’m getting increasingly nervous about the snow! Just saw that Heathrow airport closed all incoming flights for today, and am so worried about mine being canceled! But that said, how did you ladies make it through the first time you met your man’s parents?

  5. Jackie Brenner-Shanley February 21, 2010 at 6:20 am

    …and someday i will slow my typing down enough to catch the typos!!!! so sorry

  6. Jackie Brenner-Shanley February 21, 2010 at 6:19 am

    hi ladies!
    i am actually old enough…almost…to be your mom! i am a 54 year old floridian living in kent and have been here since 2002…and just reading the first few lines, feel no so alone because i thought the VISA hell was unique to me…us!! I basically had 30 years as a middle management business woman, am a witer of sorts, in the 3rd year of trying to start 2 businesses from home and am happy to find your site! i keep forgetting i am not 30 anymore, though i feel it…and maybe act younger sometimes…but i grew up in the rural parts of central florida, but close to KSC and so the rare closeness and blend of ‘rural southern living’ and ‘geeky tecno brains’ is something i really miss…especially nature…
    anyway, thanks for the smiles and i look forward to reading more!!!!

  7. pacificyorkshirebird January 1, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I had some coworkers tell me I could get crackers at Costco. I was surprised they even knew what they were and brought them up very appropriately when we were talking about how to help Mr. Charismatic enjoy his Christmas in America.

  8. Iota December 31, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    BLACK paper hats? Ooh, you must have very sophisticated crackers.

    I didn’t think crackers existed in America, but this morning in Target there were a few boxes on clearance (two varieties: regular and luxury). Do you think they’re catching on over here?

  9. Kneazle1 December 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Hahahaha too true. Here in Plymouth Santa has an Ice Castle instead of a grotto these days.

    Glad you made it back, Happy Christmas!

  10. Meredith December 23, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Hahahahaha…cute and funny explanation of Christmas over here…it doesnt get much better than this!

  11. peacefulyorkshire December 22, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I have FINALLY made it back to America (after being delayed for 3 days) I can enjoy those Mr. Kipling mince pies in an ‘exceedingly merry’ fashion without the angst of missing Christmas with the family. Whoo hoo!
    My heart goes out to all the people who have had their travel plans changed because of the snowy weather!! Fingers crossed to any one who is trying to get home to the states for Christmas (or anywhere for that matter!).

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