As a British Expat, celebrating Christmas overseas just doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore. I’ve spent every year doing the same British traditions and now I’m living somewhere that hasn’t different traditions, it’s not the Christmas I know and love! The best I can do, now I live in America, is to bring a few of my UK traditions to my US life!
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I’ve been surprised at how early people put their Christmas lights/decorations up here in America. My other half said it’s because people try to beat the coldness, it’s not fun to decorate the outside of your house when it’s below freezing! On the 20th November, I even went on a ‘Holiday Tour of Homes’. You pay $5 (which goes to charity) which gives you access to 5 homes. You put on little blue ‘booties’ and the owner lets you wander around and view their Christmas decorations and home decor. One of the 5 homes is called the ‘Cookie House’ where you get free cookies and hot apple cider! It’s a fun afternoon but it does mean their house has to be decorated by the middle of November!
In the UK, although the shops are stocking Christmas items pretty much in August, it doesn’t really kick off until the very beginning of December. For me, it begins with an advent calendar!
One term that gets searched a lot on my blog is ‘Do Americans have advent calendars?’.
Yes and no.
When talking to various American people, most had heard of advent calendars which are usually quite expensive and have a toy behind each door. Or they’ll have a ‘sleeps to Christmas’ type countdown, but not the typical chocolate advent calendars that you can find rows and rows of in UK shops and don’t actually cost that much.
I love the simple chocolate calendars (any excuse to have chocolate for breakfast!) I always try and guess what shape the chocolate will be behind each numbered door before I open it! My Mum really likes the traditional nativity scene calendars where each door just reveals a picture rather than chocolate.
When I was younger we also had a miniature Christmas tree, each day you’d open a little drawer that held an ornament to decorate the tree with. On the 25th, you put the angel on the top!
Advent Calendars have come a long way, you can buy some really crazy ones! Such as: Calendars with different smelling soaps each day, different flavoured tea bags and Lego pieces that build a model after 24 days!
In America, you can buy advent calendars in the food shop, Aldi. They usually stock chocolate ones (both cheap ones or a more expensive one with full sized truffles) that are German rather than English but they still work in the same way! In 2018, they have also released advent calendars with cheese behind each door (gross) and one for around $70 that contains 24 x 187ml bottle of wines!
I get a chocolate advent calendar shipped over from home each year.
Related Reading: Childhood Memories: British Christmas Traditions
British Christmas Decorations
Chocolate Tree Decorations apparently aren’t a ‘thing’ in America! My Mum must be able to read my mind from 4000 miles away, I was only recently thinking ‘Oh man my tree has no chocolate on!’ and what should turn up in the post a couple of days later…Christmas Tree Chocolates! They are chocolates that come with a little piece of gold string attached to them so they can hang from a tree branch!
I also have various British themed Christmas decorations on my tree, from postboxes to red robins, to ones with the UK flag on. I bought a lot of mine over with me and others I received as gifts so they have some sort of meaning for me. Otherwise Amazon has a good selection of British Christmas Ornaments.
Traditional British Christmas Food
Ahhh oh how I miss a British Christmas dinner! In the UK, traditionally turkey is eaten on Christmas Day, but in the USA, they have turkey at Thanksgiving just a month before, so it’s not really eaten again!
A British Christmas dinner usually consists of: turkey, roast potatoes, vegetables (brussel sprouts, parsnips, carrots etc), stuffing, yorkshire pudding, a pig in blanket (read below…they are different in the UK!) and gravy.
For dessert, traditionally you’d have Christmas Pudding, which is a heavy fruit cake, topped with brandy sauce or cream. Some people will pour neat brandy over the top and then set it on fire. It’s pretty fun to watch.
As well as having a Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day, Brits will know that some restaurants will have a special Christmas Dinner menu available in the run up to Christmas. This is aimed at the work Christmas party market! It’s weird having work parties here without the special menu!
- Yorkshire Puddings. A simple batter similar to a crepe mix (eggs, flour and milk), poured into a cupcake tin and baked in the oven.
- Pigs in Blankets. Pigs in Blankets aren’t the same in America. In the UK, Pigs in Blankets are little cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon and they are yummy!
- Sausage Rolls. Just to confuse things, sausage rolls are like American ‘Pigs in Blankets’ which are little hot dog sausages wrapped in pastry. In the UK our Sausage Rolls are made with sausage meat, giving them a slightly different taste! I love eating cold sausage rolls, they are great to take to gatherings as well as you can make bite sized ones!
- Tins of Chocolates and Biscuits (cookies). In the UK there are SO many different tins of chocolate that appear at Christmas; Miniature Heroes, Quality Street, Celebrations, Roses to name a few. My Mum shipped me over some Celebrations as a present! I was desperate for a biscuit tin because you just can’t get small packets of biscuits here! However, now it’s Christmas, biscuit tins have appeared in Walmart! In all different sizes! With PROPER biscuits! I was so excited to find them that I bought a little tin!
- Nuts. We’d also have a basket of mixed nuts around Christmas time (usually walnuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts). They are so time consuming having to crack each nut individually (brazil nuts are a nightmare!!) but hey Christmas traditions and Christmas traditions!
As mentioned above, f you happen to live near an Aldi, they are great for setting you up for a European Christmas! I found: tree chocolates, advent calendars, stollen (heavy cake with raisins) and panettone (brioche style cake with fruit)!
Christmas Crackers USA
This British tradition has been a little bit complicated. Christmas Crackers tend to be put on the Christmas Tree until the main Christmas dinner when they are laid out with the place settings. They are decorated tubes where 2 people take one end each and pull them apart.
They contain a paper crown, a really bad joke and usually a silly little item or toy. I didn’t want to chance getting my Mum to ship me any as they contain gun powder and you can’t normally fly with them. I did some research online and read articles by other British Expats and discovered that the USA store, Target, will stock a small selection of them! They were on the bottom shelf, but they were there! They have a cheaper set of 6 crackers for $5 or a bigger box of 8 (with better gifts) for $10.
However, I did read once, that if it’s a State that isn’t allowed to sell fireworks, it then means poor ole harmless Christmas Crackers get knocked on the head too. I’m not sure how this still stands since fireworks can now be bought in Iowa so I’ve been able to find them in my local Target for the past few years.
Amazon have a wide range of Christmas Crackers but they do tend to be a little more expensive compared to those at Target.
My all time favourite Christmas song is ‘Band Aid’…no it’s not about something you stick over a cut! It was first released as a charity single back in 1984 to raise money for the famine in Africa. The recording consists of a mash up of loads of the biggest British and Irish artists. It then got remade on its 20th anniversary back in 2004 and then again on its 30th in 2014.
I usually pull up one of the British Christmas CD playlists on YouTube and will listen to that. It seems that Christmas songs in America tend to be the really old, slow, boring Christmas songs, despite the fact that Mariah Carey sings one of the more ‘upbeat’ ones? The fun ones don’t seem to get played much here!
These are some of my favourite British Christmas traditions! This year I’m hoping to get to one of the European Christmas Markets here in the Midwest! What are some of your favourite traditions in your home country? Check out some of these Spanish Christmas traditions that I found when I visited Barcelona!
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