Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Happy Holidays

Traditionally, the holiday season in the UK doesn't start until Advent does, which is on Advent Sunday. 28 November this year. In this more multi-cultural society though it seems the holiday season starts just about after Halloween. In the US, the holiday season, I believe, starts tomorrow, with Thanksgiving. For the 2 years that my family lived in California, we celebrated Thanksgiving and have done so on and off for the last 20. This weekend we will gather at my parents house to celebrate, not on Thursday, because we do not have a national holiday, but on Saturday. For the first time ever all three of us girls are bringing their boyfriend/husband and our Grandparents will be there too.

Slowly, in the UK, we are embracing what I see as 'US' customs and traditions: Halloween was the first one, grasped perhaps because of our national thirst for dressing up and for our multi-cultural society's desire to have faith-less festivals for everyone to get behind. Baby showers followed too - I attended my first one this year and was advised by an American friend I should take a card to say "you will be a great mother". Trouble is, the UK card market hasn't caught on and our cards are only suitable for once baby is born. Where I live, it's hard enough to find a card for twins... This year, I have heard that some retailers are having Black Friday sales. I'm not quite sure how these will work, given that Friday is not a day off in the UK, but it can't be long before Thanksgiving is marked in some way here (although I am not quite sure what we will attribute it to; we have plenty to be thankful for including a bountiful harvest - which is what wikipedia suggests Thanksgiving is for - but I cannot be alone in thinking it has something to do with Native Americans and the first settlers, and perhaps it is inappropriate us celebrating the fact that English dissenters left Britain behind for a better life).

Christmas, too, takes a more secular role in our calendar every year. Indeed, even as someone that was raised Christian, some of my favourite aspects of Christmas barely bridge the gap between religion and secular celebration: candlelit carol services, mulled wine, listening to Carols from Kings on the car radio on Christmas Eve as we drive across dark countryside to reach our families, the making of our now annual Christmas jam/chutney, the week off work to be with family. I guess these all do have religious roots: the carols, the journey from afar, the gathering of the family - all are present within the Story of Christmas, yet I am not journeying to worship a saviour born as a baby, or bringing a present to celebrate the birth. The centre of my Christmas is my family and a celebration of that. Yet peace on earth and goodwill to men are what we sing in church in celebration - adding to the peculiar mix that is the British Christmas: a mix of Christian symbolism, Victorian traditions (christmas cards, snow), European influences (christmas trees, father christmas) carried out with 20th/21st century tastes.

And, now that we are married, we blend our holiday traditions even further. To me Christmas is not Christmas without "Christmas Ham" and bread sauce, and stuffing and sitting around a darkening table, illuminated by candlelight, eating satsumas and Christmas pudding as the light fades and conversation ebbs and flows, accompanied by coffee. Only then, once a fire has been lit and tea made, can the present opening begin. By contrast, Husband's family open presents in their pyjamas in the sitting room and the Christmas meal is roast beef. Each perfect in it's own way and, until there are grandchildren, we alternate between these year on year. In time, we will have our own baby family blend on the day itself to accompany our own traditions: spending a weekend in December making our jam/chutney/etc (everyone keeps returning the jars throughout the year, we assume this means we should continue), hosting a 'Christmas' meal of thoughts for what we used to coin our "London Family", although clearly, that is now inaccurate, and this year, is going to be on New Years Eve instead. We have largely abandoned christmas cards, preferring e-mail. We made stockings last year for our first married Christmas which we filled for each other and which we hope will become an annual event.

I hope too, that Thanksgiving will become an annual event, perhaps, in time, hosted by Husband and I, with both families present. Elderly grandparents in disparate locations mean that this will not be possible for Christmases, and, in truth, until there is a change in personnel (incoming or outgoing, to put it bluntly) I don't see Christmas changing just yet...


Spare Thoughts said...

Trying our first Christmas with husband's family. Last year was my family and that was very strange. Hoping that with time it will get easier and we'll get used to other families traditions and make our own traditions.

Kristy said...

I love that your family celebrates Thanksgiving. Even if the tradition is supposed to honour the time the Native Americans & English settlers at Plymouth came together over a meal (which can be extremely politically loaded & controversial if you get into settler-Indian relations), I think that it's wonderful to have a day to reflect on the things for which you're thankful. And a day to give thanks, based on that premise alone, should be adaptable in any culture.

(The holiday season here does officially start on Thanksgiving day, but the Christmas decorations start appearing in stores before Halloween. It's ridiculous.)