Across the Pond: Yuletide

So that extra post last week didn’t happen, and Friday didn’t happen, and Monday didn’t happen, but BY GOD I am going to tell you about British Christmas now.

(On a side note, Friday Fiction is going into semi-hiatus, meaning I’ll do it if I feel like it but probably not for a while, because I’ve got a lot of work to get through.)

Right, back to Christmas.

It Starts Early

We have a long buildup to Christmas in the States, it’s true. But because of Thanksgiving fitting in right at the end of November, the majority of the Christmas mania is limited to the month of December, plus the handful of days after Thanksgiving.

In the glorious United Kingdom, there is no such thing as Thanksgiving.

Christmas starts in November.

The Festive Season

And what a Christmas it is! Everyone gets really into it and it’s spectacular. Let me tell you a little bit about it:

  • Mulled wine is everywhere. They serve it in shops, at events, people have get-togethers and make it in the terrible college accommodation kitchens. It’s ubiquitous. It’s the Pumpkin Spice Latte of UK Christmas.
  • Mince pies are also everywhere. Usually they’re individual-sized. They look very cute but honestly? I don’t like the taste. Which is too bad because they’re hard to avoid.
  • Christmas adverts, that is, TV commercials, appear to have more-or-less the cultural significance of Super Bowl ads. They get shared around on Facebook and talked about, and are generally either adorable or sweet.
  • Everyone gets really into the decorations. The town had lights and a big tree in the market square; Pembroke’s hall had a tree too, and a truly amazing “Pembroke Chapel” made of gingerbread. (With GLASS WINDOWS made out of candy).
  • Christmas Crackers! Some Americans have adopted them these days, but though I knew what they were I had never actually gotten one until I came here. Grab a friend, yank hard, and reveal your fortune-telling fish/hopping frog/other small plastic item, terrible joke, and paper crown.
  • The Christmas Panto. I could probably write a whole post on the ridiculousness that is the Christmas Pantomime. It involves singing, dancing, insightful social commentary, political satire, men played by women, women played by men, and people dressed as cows. I went to see the ADC pantomime with some friends, and though it was incredibly long, I had a wonderful time and laughed so hard I cried — even though I never got the joke about what’s-his-name’s basement.

My Christmas

Because of when Thanksgiving is, and when the end of the Michaelmas term is, my last two weeks of term were a whirlwind of festive activity. Thursday the 26th (of November) was the Thanksgiving B.A. dinner — which was sweet, and very much appreciated, even if they didn’t quite get the pumpkin pie. Monday night (I think?) was the carol service, which was lovely even if I did burn my hand with the candle wax. (And the girl behind me dripped wax on my peacoat. Sigh.) Tuesday afternoon was the panto, Thursday night was the Christmas B.A. dinner (In Hall, with gowns and paper crowns and a visit from Santa to all the very good children), Friday night was the Dean’s Christmas party, Saturday I went to Reading and had another Christmas dinner with Florence and her family and friends at the pub, and Sunday morning I flew home.


But let’s back up for a minute and talk about the Dean’s Christmas Party, because it so embodies everything I’ve been saying about Christmas here.

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Just for background: the entire last week of term I was busting my butt in the lab to finish all my microscopy on time. I mean every day, 9-to-5, nothing but slides. Miserable. And Thursday night I stayed up finishing my essays and end-of-term work, so I didn’t sleep at all. I made it through my Powerpoint presentation on Friday, finished my last couple of slides, and found myself in my room, just after dinner time, thoroughly exhausted and SO relieved to be done.

So when I got to the Christmas party, I had a little wine.

I don’t normally drink wine, and I’m a lightweight anyway, so not that much alcohol goes a long way. Plus, I was so tired I could barely stand up. Put that together and you have a recipe for a very out-of-it Faith.

But I had a lot of fun. There were mince pies which I did not eat, and “pizza” which is barely deserving of the name but which I did eat because I was lightheaded from the wine and starving and desperate. And the dean sang his Hippopotamus Song (which is not actually “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” but is instead a song about hippos in love which was so British in its humor that it made me think immediately of Slade), and then everyone sang carols (fun fact, the British sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to a different tune, which really threw me off the first time). Then people started leaving, but those of us who were really keen (or really drunk) sang all the carols again.

We decided to all go out — I say “we” but I was not sufficiently sound of mind to be making decisions, so I mostly just trailed along — but by this point it was late enough that everything was closed because England. (Seriously, everything closes so EARLY here). We ended up back at the GP, waiting for Charles to come open the Puboard (Pub in a Cupboard).

I fell asleep.

Yes, my friends, I fell asleep in the chair, despite the fact that it was actually pretty loud; I had reached the point where even good times and good company weren’t enough to keep me awake.

But I had a lovely time.

Until Next Time

And that’s the story of my British Christmas. Hopefully I am now back on schedule, so tune in Monday for a post on…something which I will worry about tomorrow. For now it’s back to work. Theses, you know?

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