A Very British Christmas

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    The UK has a lot of traditions about Christmas that Americans might find strange. Countries with cultures more similar to Britain (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland etc) as well as European countries may find this a little closer to home. Compare and contrast with Christmas in America, Christmas in Australia and Christmas in Japan.

    Before we begin, let's debunk a tabloid myth. There is no mass PC-ing of Christmas. "Winterval" was a one-off commercial event and few things could annoy a Brit any more than some-one wishing them "Happy Holidays". Cards are still sent. Office parties are more common every year. Thank you, Stephen Fry.

    So, in rough order of when they take place...

    Christmas themed goods appear in the shops. This can happen as early as August, but is often delayed until after Hallowe'en (or at least interrupted by it). Also expect shopping centres to have their basic decorations up, and jokes about Yule logs going off three months before they're used. Even at Hallowe'en, the products often coexist.

    Christmas music starts popping up everywhere. There is no event to mark a formal beginning to this (unlike the USA with Thanksgiving Day) and in recent years it has been getting earlier and earlier. For many, the 'official' start of the festive period is the first time[1] one hears the distinctive rasp of Slade singer Noddy Holder on their 1973 classic 'Merry Xmas Everybody', perhaps the most pervasive Ear Worm of all Christmas songs. Until this moment it's merely some pretty lights and stars festooning the shops; after you've heard Uncle Noddy bellow the clarion call "It's Chriiiiiiisssstmaaaaaaaaaaaasss!!!" though, it's open season -- albeit with the traditional response, "No, it's not. It's October".

    Unlike the USA, contemporary musical artists rarely release seasonal albums of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"-esque standards. The Sinatra/Cole/Crosby-era crooners can still be heard, but the UK has its own considerable canon of mostly home-grown Christmas-themed pop songs, generally dating from a period from the 1970s until about 1984 when every major act seemed to produce one, which seem as ingrained in popular consciousness as the more traditional songs and carols -- indeed, several acts are now almost solely remembered for their hardy-perennial Christmas song irrespective of how successful they once were, a sort of musical Flanderization.

    There's a core of roughly thirty that are regularly heard; and ten or so of these you'll hear everywhere, for the whole festive period. Since 2006, when all digital downloads became eligible for the UK singles chart, a slew of these decades-old favourites have returned annually to the Top 40, the pack invariably led by two of the most recent: the 1987 classic 'Fairytale of New York' by the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl, and Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. Just about every song in this category is an Ear Worm, of course.

    Curiously, a few songs are routinely wheeled out that are not festive-oriented lyrically, but 'count' due to originally charting highly around Christmas and giving off a warm fuzzy feeling -- e.g. Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'The Power of Love'; or East 17's 'Stay Another Day', which beat Mariah to the "Christmas Number One" slot in 1994. The race for this hallowed position (and the often ultra-cheesy pretenders thereto) is very much a UK-specific phenomenon, as fairly accurately depicted in the film Love Actually. The last Christmas-themed one was Cliff Richard's "Saviour's Day" back in 1990.

    Advent Calendar: a special calendar marking the 24 days of Advent. Each day, a door is opened and something is revealed. This is often a picture -- and in the commercial calendars, a piece of chocolate. The calendars used to stop on 24 December, but the commercial ones now go up to New Year's Day. Many a children's show will have an Advent Calendar, such as Bratz, Winnie The Pooh and Doctor Who (which has also done online versions to promote the Christmas Specials, replete with trailers, short stories and pictures).

    The tradition originates in Germany, and is not unknown in the US, where it is observed by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and fans of German chocolate. A related tradition is a reusable cloth with pouches labelled for each day into which one can put one's own choice of treat or marker.

    • Just to make the calendars that go up to New Year's Day seem even more ridiculous, advent starts on the 30th November or the 4th Sunday before Christmas officially.

    Pantomime: a festive-season variant on musical theatre where actors, often down-on-their-luck ex-soap stars, random C-list TV personalities and people referred to generically as "entertainers" perform a stock range of children's plays ('Puss In Boots', 'Cinderella' etc.), chock-full of songs, ridiculous costumes and audience participation, plus filthy single entendres to keep the parents happy and warp the children's fragile minds.

    • The smaller-scale community theatre takes on this tradition tend to avert most of the above, and are therefore significantly less excruciating to watch.

    Candle Bridges. Seen in windows. They look like menorahs but they aren't.

    The Office Christmas Party. Nearly all UK businesses will put on a Christmas party. This will have food, drink, Christmas music (often of the rather cheesy variety), bad dancing and often at least two people deciding to get more acquainted with each other. Those who do not wish to get acquainted with anybody should steer clear of the mistletoe. Also, photocopier technicians can expect a rapid increase in callouts around this time.

    Secret Santa/Kris Kringle: common in offices, schools, and groups of friends. People write their name on a piece of paper, put it in a box, and pick a name out. They buy a present (for less than a certain value, e.g. £5, £10) for that person. Many people find this very difficult, as they inevitably find themselves with the name of the person in the group they know the least.

    • This is also done in the U.S. although, it is sometimes alternatively called Pollyanna and is sometimes done among family members in addition to the others listed above (this is of course to save money on trying to buy the whole family something big and expensive, now you can buy one person a nice gift and are at your own discretion on what to get everyone else.

    Christingle: a service held on the last Sunday before Christmas Eve in Anglican Churches. Originating in Germany (as before the two wars Germany and Britain were fairly chummy, the monarch originally being German and all), it was brought into the UK by the Children's Society and is a major fund-raiser for them. Children are given an orange embedded with a candle and four cocktail sticks with sweets/nuts/raisins on and a red ribbon tied around the middle (there's also a bit of tin foil to catch the melting wax) – these are all, bar the tin foil, symbolic: the orange is the world, the foodstuffs are the fruits of the earth and the four seasons, the red ribbon is the blood of Christ and the candle is Jesus, The Light of the World. The children may parade around the church with the lit Christingles, attempting not to set the hair of the child in front of them on fire. Ahem.
    Last thing on Christmas Eve there's Midnight Mass to see in Christmas over midnight, like a sort of Anglican/Catholic hogmanay. In The Church of Scotland it's quite a big deal, it's called Watch-night and because of the way the Kirk is it's not mass.

    Father Christmas. These days just another (somewhat old fashioned) name for Santa Claus. Originally, he was a separate figure of the "Old Man Winter" tradition -- i.e. the "Spirit of Winter/Christmas" who should be welcomed into homes and plied with food and drink. Though this has died out in favour of the modern St. Nick, there are two key differences between American Santa traditions, and British ones:

    • British families don't leave him milk and cookies, they leave him mince pies (a small, tart-sized pie filled with "mincemeat", which despite the name[2] generally contains spiced fruit) and a glass of something like sherry or brandy. No we can't explain why he doesn't end up being arrested, having been found inebriated after crashing his sleigh somewhere in Surrey. One or more carrots may be provided for the reindeer.
      • Whisk(e)y is of course his preferred drink in Scotland, Ireland and anywhere you find Brits whose family were originally either Scots or Irish. His favoured tipple also tends to be suspiciously similar to that of your father. Funny that.
    • The Father Christmas tradition holds that he comes from Lapland, rather than the North Pole as American children are taught. Perhaps a little less magical, but easier for families who can afford to get to it via plane. And there are actually reindeer there. The tourist board of Finland is understandably fond of this tradition.

    The Christmas Lunch. There are many rather specific parts to this -- although all won't be included at once. Tends to be even bigger than the American variation, as Thanksgiving Day is not celebrated in Britain so the full weight, so to speak, of tradition lands on Christmas. Jabba Table Manners may result. The general aim is to consume at least 40% of one's own body mass over the course of the day -- aided by the vast choice lying around of chocolate selection boxes, sausage rolls, mince pies, mulled wine, German confectionary, cheese-and-pineapple on sticks, and all those 'nibbles' supermarkets only seem to stock around Christmas: big bags of mixed nuts, large tubs of Twiglets (ask a Brit) and Mini Cheddars (ditto), cheese footballs, cheese straws, cheese twists, cheese puffs, cocktail sausages, mini pizzas, all manner of peculiar savoury bites, 'luxury biscuit assortment' tins, etc. etc. These all turn up in the shops because they're theoretically what people like to buy at Christmastime; people buy them because they're what turns up in the supermarket aisle labelled "Christmas" stuff and it's what seems expected of them; thousands of vol-au-vents remain untouched in freezers past June, but capitalism remains happy. It all appears from around the time the schools go back in autumn, which means every year the same stories turn up in the press featuring the person whose shop-bought Christmas pudding has turned out to be labelled "Best before 1st December" or similar.
    After this light deluge of aperitifs, Christmas dinner proper may feature:

    • Turkey: this is probably the most common mainstay, but some celebrate with goose or a game bird instead. The latter are generally not eaten under any other normal circumstances. Goose was the bird of choice in Victorian-era Christmas (described in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol), but is now uncommon and much more expensive; although, unlike turkey, it actually tastes of something. Beef joints or various pig products (gammon, pork etc.) are also common, and arguably an older tradition than the turkey. (This is alluded to in Terry Pratchett's Hogfather).
    • Cranberry sauce is a traditional accompaniment to turkey, and/or "bread sauce", a whitish savoury concoction.
    • Roast potatoes. When TV cook Nigella Lawson suggested they be roasted in goose fat, the entire country sold out of goose fat.
    • Brussels Sprouts: As in the place in Belgium. A green vegetable, essentially baby cabbages the size, hardness and edibility of golf balls, which people either love or hate. The people who love it defend it as similar to Marmite: divisive but tasty. The people who hate it tend to really hate it and only ever eat at Christmas -- because it's Tradition. If you're on one side, you can't imagine being on the other.
    • Christmas Pudding: Also known as "plum pudding" or "figgy pudding". It's a very rich steamed pudding[3], with a lot of dried fruit and nuts. Often has alcohol added before cooking and may well be covered in the stuff (usually brandy) and lit for a bit with all the lights turned off. Can be made at home, but usually bought beforehand -- Harrods' puddings are considered the best. If made at home, it will have been done so either according to a thousand-year old recipe passed down from mother to daughter, or, more usually, borrowed from celebrated TV cook Delia Smith.
      • Can be served with cream or ice-cream, but most 'traditionally' with brandy butter, a dietician's nightmare made from brandy (surprisingly), butter (ditto) and sugar, of similar consistency to ice-cream but not as cold. One of those peculiarly festive foodstuffs that only seems to manifest in our universe in the run-up to Christmas, although leftover pots can be glimpsed as late as mid-January before they scurry off to whatever dimension they spend the rest of the year hibernating in.
        • Brandy butter seems to be the same thing as hard sauce.
      • Also often served with rum sauce (sweet white sauce with rum). Combine cream, rum sauce and brandy butter for the ultimate cholesterol nightmare (and maximum deliciousness).
      • May contain silver sixpences (no longer legal tender) to give luck and major dental damage to whoever finds the damned things. This is probably symbolic of something deep and meaningful and probably, ultimately, pagan.
      • Some school Home Economics courses have a major assessment based on making one of these, continually cooking it and stoking it up with fruit and brandy over a period of two months before students can take it home.
    • Christmas cake (not this kind) -- a dark fruitcake covered thickly in marzipan and then white royal icing (frosting), often whipped into a snowscape (royal icing includes egg whites and sets more solidly than regular icing: anywhere on a scale from 'crunchy' to 'industrial laser required'), which will also gum it onto the Christmassy board it's stood upon. Small model Santas, reindeer, robins, holly leaves, 'Happy Christmas' signs, snowmen etc. may be cemented into the icing, and the sides wrapped with a decorative crepe paper band. Widely considered inedible; equally widely considered delicious: slices routinely get forcibly and messily dismembered for the benefit of that one person who likes marzipan but not icing, the one who likes icing but not marzipan, the one into likes both but not the cake, etc. Like Christmas pudding, best made to a murkily specific ancestral recipe -- the only constants seem to involve the whole family stirring it, and the thing needing to be stuck in an oven for anywhere up to about 48 hours. Called fruitcake in the US, much the same tradition except nobody cooks it and everybody hates it.
      • It's also traditional to make this quite some time before Christmas, stow it in an old tin in a cupboard, and 'feed' it brandy/rum/whisky/port/Old Hoggard's Brainrotter until Christmas Day to "stop it drying out". This is to let the flavours mature and ensure it is soft and moist. However as it's traditional to bake it as distantly as Guy Fawkes Night (the fifth of November) or even earlier and give it up to a tablespoon of brandy per day this can result in a confection which bleeds brandy when you cut through the icing and has to be kept well away from naked flames.
        • Traditionally both cake and pudding should be made in November, before stir-up-sunday (another name for advent Sunday, the last Sunday of November. The truly dedicated make their Christmas pudding, however, (and occasionally the cake), on the Advent Sunday the year before it is due to be eaten, to give it a year to 'mature'. Whether this improves the flavour is always hotly debated.
      • This seems similar to the American tradition of the gingerbread house. Either hand-made or store bought pieces of gingerbread (think of a more cake-y ginger snap) are glued together with royal icing (which doesn't set up quite as hard as marzipan but still tastes ghastly) and then decorated with candy canes, gum-drops, more icing, dots, candy, etc... Like most things in the US, there are competitions to see who can make the biggest and/or best decorated.
      • There's also Yule Log: basically a giant chocolate Swiss roll topped with very thick, very rich chocolate ganache, with icing sugar as a smattering of 'snow'. Can be served with ice cream to make extra certain of dental devastation. Acts as an alternative for people who prefer sponge to fruit cake.
        • The Yule Log also used to be a gigantic log that was the mainstay of the fire in the main hearth for all twelve days of Christmas.
      • When marzipan isn't an option (because everybody in the entire family hates it, except for that one aunt), brandy butter may be used instead. Then nobody has an excuse not to get drunk.
    • The main meal is usually the time for pulling Christmas crackers: If you've read Harry Potter, you'll be familiar with these, although the Potter characters receive much more spectacular versions. Cardboard tube sort of thing, with two twisted ends. Two people pull from either end, a little firework goes bang and you take the stuff inside out. This includes a party hat, some cheap plastic bit of junk and a piece of paper with a very poor joke. These jokes are very much a trope of their own in that they are expected to be bad - often by way of an Incredibly Lame Pun. To find a genuinely funny joke in a cracker would be a grave disappointment and may even ruin someone's Christmas. It is a legal requirement under the Christmas Act 1972 that each person dining at the table wear the party hat, despite the fact that they look ridiculous. If they have drunk the right amount it won't actually matter.
      • The hats are meant to represent the crowns worn by the Three Kings, or the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at His crucifixion.
      • It has been seriously suggested that people prefer bad cracker jokes[4] to good ones because that way one person (you know the one, that second cousin who everyone vaguely suspects got dropped on his head as a child) doesn't suffer the mortifying indignity of being Late to the Punchline.
    • Throughout all this, it is traditional (at least in most of England) to be as drunk as you possibly can, while still able to sit up and eat. Bucks Fizz (orange juice and champagne; much like a mimosa except with more juice) and Bailey's are traditional Christmas beverages, possible over breakfast.
      • Another traditional Christmas drink, at least in the south-east is the "snowball", which consists of a creamy liqueur named Advocaat (roughly the Rightpondian version of eggnog [5]) mixed with lemonade to make it more "child friendly" (seeing as how at Christmas, the drinking age seems to drop to about 5, as long as you're in the house and out of sight [6]). Despite this it's rather strong, so it's considered wise not to mix it with anything else and to take a break every two glasses. (During this break, we suggest a glass of Buck's Fizz, as it has fruit in it so it's not proper alcohol.)
      • Families beginning to stockpile vast quantities of alcohol - commonly champagne, Buck's Fizz, brandy, Bailey's, and certain odd types of liqueur that no one likes and end up festering malevolently on a shelf somewhere forever - usually in the garage or utility room, as early in the year as September is not unheard of.

    Family traditions. Expect feelings to run high over the proper time for eating the Christmas meal; whether the Christmas tree should be real or artificial, lit or unlit, whether the lights should be bulbs or LEDs, and whether they should be white, single-colour or multicoloured (the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree used to have multicoloured lights, but now it has white ones because that's the tradition in Norway, the donors of the tree); when children get to open their first presents; whether they arrive in a stocking, a pillowcase, or just in a pile under the tree, or more than one of the above (the presents, not the children... unless the Christmas cake was particularly brandy-rich that year); whether family parlour games and carol singing are jolly fun or hell incarnate; and whether everyone other than the official cook goes to the pub while the dinner is prepared, or mucks in to help peel potatoes. Do not expect any two sets of in-laws to have traditions that match even slightly. (To get the general idea, read Terry Pratchett's Hogfather).

    Christmas television. Viewing schedules will be crammed with Christmas Specials, that is (partially) stand-alone Christmas episodes of programmes, the occasional festive variety show, clip/compilation/best-of shows, and other quirks of the season. A recent tradition has been to repeat much of last year's 'new' Christmas programming on the few days either side of December 25th.

    • All details are to be found in the likes of the Radio Times TV listings magazine's Christmas bumper edition. Usually with some lovely festive-themed cover art. Recent covers have included a TARDIS snowglobe and an exclusive Christmas Day living room scene with Wallace and Gromit. Although the Radio Times runs year-round, with the dawn of Electronic Programme Guides many families will only buy a copy for Christmas, if at all.
    • Christmas morning is when our thoughts turned to the bearded man who's given us such great happiness and joy down the years -- we refer, of course, to Nöel Edmonds with Noel's Christmas Presents.
    • Already bastions of misery and despair, the soap operas of terrestrial television (Eastenders and Coronation Street to name two) celebrate Christmas by sharply increasing the sheer amount of suffering that they inflict on their characters. Entire families gather around the tele-box to see who dies, who breaks up with who and which Christmas party is blown up by a freak lawnmower accident. This has a trope all of its own: Soapland Christmas.
    • Other programmes will also do something special for their Christmas Episode, whether this means ramping up the excitement, sending the cast on holiday so they're doing the same routine against a different backdrop, or just clearly establishing that it's Christmas by working any of the above into the plot.
      • This applies even if the series no longer runs in its original format. For example, the much beloved sitcom The Royle Family has long since stopped making new series in 2000, but it's made four Christmas specials between 2006 and 2010. Only Fools and Horses did a few Christmas specials after the show had ended too.
    • Doctor Who, these days, does an hour-long Christmas special. Many people were surprised when it was pointed out that this tradition only started in 2005 with David Tennant. These specials at least take place at Christmas, with the 2010 special being a sci-fi, time-travelling retelling of A Christmas Carol complete with Michael Gambon, a Welsh opera singer and a flying sky-shark.
      • The usual Christmas tradition of the "classic" Doctor Who was simply to repeat all the episodes of a popular story all together in one long programme. The original series did once have its own Christmas special though, in 1965, complete with a jolly Breaking the Fourth Wall ending.
    • Top of the Pops, former long-running music show that was killed off after a disastrous rebranding back in 2006, now survives as an annual special which serves mainly to announce who has secured the coveted Christmas Number 1 single (usually from a The X Factor winner).
    • The BBC adaptation of The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe will crop up at some point.
    • Christmas films -- terrestrial channels tend to show both more and higher-profile films (often ones receiving their terrestrial premiere) over the Christmas period (as exhaustively covered in the aforementioned Radio Times bumper edition, naturally). In addition, while the usual Christmas-themed films (from It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle On Thirty Fourth Street (x2) to Elf and Bad Santa) will inevitably be on, many thematically-unrelated ones have nonetheless become staples of the season -- ET the Extraterrestrial, Casablanca, Brief Encounter, James Bond films, The Great Escape (which is almost a certainty for Boxing Day) etc. Interestingly, during its rather untrendy period in the late 80s and early 90s, the original Star Wars trilogy definitely fell into this category, having become a much less common sight before it became cool again.
      • One or more of the Wallace and Gromit films. In 2008, the UK premiere of A Matter of Loaf and Death was the highest-rated programme on Christmas Day.
      • One or more Harry Potter films come as standard over between Christmas Eve and New Years Day.
      • Chicken Run usually shows up somewhere in there. It's The Great Escape for kids, made by the people behind Wallace and Gromit; what did you expect?
      • At least three or four versions of A Christmas Carol will be shown on the terrestrial channels alone. The exact ones vary, but Scrooge (the Alistair Sim one) is usually among them and the Muppet adaptation is practically guaranteed.
      • Michael Caine appears to be a rather incongruous festive favourite (making him all the more perfect in The Muppet Christmas Carol). Usually a toss up between the aforementioned Great Escape, Zulu and The Italian Job. It's also traditional for every adult male to quote all the iconic lines, and then discuss how iconic those lines are, and then rank them in order of how iconic they are, and then argue over the order.
      • Children's animated short The Snowman is so consistently shown and beloved that any attempt to remove it from the Christmas schedules could be seen as some sort of career suicide for the head of Channel 4. The one year it did omit the showing, they fell behind Channel Five (then almost entirely unknown and only available to roughly half of the country) in the ratings.
      • In recent years Pirates of the Caribbean has begun to make appearances.
    • Police, Camera, Action! - a Very Special Episode may air in the lead-up week to Christmas on ITV 1 or ITV 4 (in any case, mainly a Rerun, then on Christmas Eve expect an episode on ITV 4 which will be a re-run from either the 1998, 2000 or 2002 series and a 2007 series episode later on, and on Christmas Day they will usually show it either two or three times a day - with it being shown as early as 6:00am or 7:00am on ITV 4, then repeated in the afternoon, and an hour-long one (8:00pm to 9:00pm or 9:00pm to 10:00pm) which is a Very Special Episode.
      • Expect either Rust Buckets (1998 series), Round the Bend / Rogue's Roadshow (2000 series) / Diversion Ahead / Motorway Manners / City Limits (2002 series) or Speed Freaks (2007 series) / Death Wish Drivers / Less Lethal Weapons (2007 series) to air on Christmas Day.
      • On ITV 4 it's expected that this happens on Christmas Day, and has become a tradition since December 2007.
    • The Queen's Speech. Originated by George V in 1932, it's more formally known as the Royal Christmas Message. Broadcast on the terrestrial TV channels BBC One and ITV 1 at 3pm, it's basically the Queen making a short to-camera speech to the country and The Commonwealth (over clips of her doing things, media footage etc.) on the events of the year. Political opinions will be of the neutral, non-party political variety (along the lines of 'People died. That's bad.'). Once, the text was leaked to tabloid newspaper The Sun; the world nevertheless kept turning -- the monarch will always say broadly the same things anyway, and no-one really imagines she just gets up from the table, brushes crumbs of Christmas pudding from her chin, quickly swaps a paper crown with her tiara and delivers a live off-the-cuff monologue to her subjects. Recently, the Queen has spread the message on YouTube and via podcast as well as on TV.
      Amongst all the wide variety of celebrations going on the length and breadth of the land, the hubbub and noise of the 21st century Christmas (complaints of "Change the bloody channel and put something decent on!", followed by a family argument on the monarchy), the Queen's Speech acts still as a bulwark of tradition, a unifying watershed moment in the nation's collective festivities; it marks the point after lunch in Christmas Day at which the whole country -- children and grown-ups, religious and atheist, families together, full of the joy of the season -- takes a break from the relentless frolics, drinking, present-opening, drinking, arguing, drinking, eating and drinking, and gathers snugly around its television sets en masse, sated and happy, joined together in a wonderful shared moment of calm and continuity, and falls asleep.
      • Since 1993, the commercial terrestrial TV station Channel Four has broadcast an "Alternative" message at the same hour, featuring a controversial celebrity. In 2004, this was Marge Simpson. More recently in 2008, just to give an idea of how "alternative" it can get, the Alternative Christmas Message was given by President Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
      • This speech is shown live (the same time it is shown in the U.K. at least) in the USA on CSPAN apparently

    Boxing Day. A holiday the day after Christmas, mostly to get over Christmas. Technically, the 26th of December is always called "St. Stephen's Day" (hence the mention of "the feast of Stephen" in the carol) after the Protomartyr of Christianity -- the First Martyr, which is why his feast day is the day after Christmas -- whereas "Boxing Day" is (traditionally) postponed a day if it would fall on a Sunday. This derives from the original meaning, the day when the Church charity boxes would be opened and the proceeds used for the poor -- the extra day's wait was so that the Sunday collection would be included in the distribution. Nowadays most people just ignore this; in practice the name is generally just applied to the 26th.
    Well-known for a cricket match taking place on this day, although some take advantage of the heavily lowered prices everywhere known as the Boxing Day Sales. Sporting calendars put on hiatus for Christmas Day get back up and running: there is generally a full programme of football league games nationwide. There is also the annual act of Northern lunacy known as the Boxing Day Dip, which involves running into the North Sea, some people doing so in fancy dress.

    • Some people (read: lunatics) do this in the south as well. Apparently it's fun.
    • Done in Dublin at the "Forty Foot". Traditionally naked.
    • A particular club of lunatics in London hold an open-air swimming race in the Serpentine (a long snake-shaped pond in Hyde Park) on Christmas Eve. They continue swimming there all year round, apparently, even when they have to break the ice to get in.
    • Also a traditional day for horse racing, game shooting and fox 'not'-hunting.
    • In the West of Ireland an old tradition known as Wren-Boying takes place. This originally involved the killing of wrens but thankfully has evolved into a trick-or-treat style event.Children dress up and walk from house to house receiving money from the locals. This tradition is sadly beginning to die out.
    • Boxing Day Sales would be the more accurate description of what have traditionally (but no longer accurately) been referred to as the January Sales -- they've gradually crept earlier over recent years. Some of them finish within a few days and you can expect the adverts for these to crop up round about mid-evening on Christmas Day, or even Christmas Eve.
      • The rough American equivalent would be Black Friday, and the huge sales put on the day after Thanksgiving Day, only the Boxing Day sales haven't resulted in any retail staff being trampled to death. Yet.

    I feel tidings of comfort and joy already!

    1. 2010 sighting: October 31st
    2. a last remnant of "meat" meaning "food" and not "animal flesh" specifically
    3. Note that pudding in this case is not the North American custard-y stuff, but rather a sort of booze-soaked spice cake
    4. So these two crackers walk into a bar- NO NOT THAT KIND
    5. Standard American eggnog is supposed to include whiskey--both for the purposes of intoxication and to reduce the risks of drinking something containing raw egg (yes, eggnog is supposed to contain raw egg: see Good Eats episode 913)--though this is often forgotten. Blame Prohibition.
    6. Strictly speaking, this is legal all year round; not many people know this. Or care for that matter.