Holiday Season Abroad: UK Edition

It’s hard to be in the holiday spirit when I’ve only worn my winter jacket a handful of times so far. It’s not warm (40’s to low 50’s) mostly, but the grass in every lawn is still bright green, and most plants are still green and lively. They rarely get snow, and it’s only just started to frost during the night, so it doesn’t feel like December at all. It’s like late October in the Northeast is just stretched out for three months. This year will mark the first green Christmas, and I’m definitely not missing the driving conditions!

The British LOVE the holiday season, and since Thanksgiving doesn’t exist, the holiday ads and sales extend to early November. Since I am abroad sending presents across the Atlantic is a bit of a hassle, especially on a budget. So, this year for Christmas, I am collecting gifts along my travels and will haul them back to the states when I return in late February. The Christmas markets fill the centers of nearly every city across the United Kingdom, often providing entertainment for millions of people every week, and I am exploring those in Cardiff, Wales, Nice, France, and Bristol, England. These markets recreate German Christmas markets (which are apparently the best), but it gives the feel of Christmas + Oktoberfest with all the Bavarian decorations. In little log booths there are brownies drenched in caramel, fudge, and filled with coffee liqueurs, traditional pasties (flaky pastries filled with cheese, meats and veggies), full turkey legs, mulled (warm) wine and cider, handmade craft beers, and hot chocolate with Bailey’s Irish Cream that warms my limbs from the cold of the brisk winds that whip across country. Alternating the food and drink market booths are crafts, gifts, antiques and toys. They are mostly priced very reasonably, and I’ve found several souvenirs and gifts that are made locally. There are small ice rinks packed with inexperienced skaters (ice hockey is a foreign sport for the UK), and carnival rides that fling you above the city, with views that only compare to penthouse suites. These holiday markets are a delicious UK holiday tradition, one that I will miss next year.

On Christmas day, I’ve been told that it is tradition to open presents in the morning, have Christmas “dinner” together (they actually eat around noon) at a family home or often reserved at a restaurant, and the rest of the day is spent socializing, attending gatherings, drinking, and general fun. Most pubs, bars and restaurants are open on the day, which is quite unlike the states, in which nearly every business is closed.

Christmas is a holiday that I look forward to not because of the gifts, the music, or the shopping. I really enjoy it for my own family’s weird traditions. Unpacking our strange homemade ornaments, hours of games, and searching for the same peppermint stick that get passed along as a gift each year. These things are what I will miss this year. Yet, I am in another country with enough friends to properly celebrate the holiday. Jackie’s hockey team had a dinner a few days ago with games and food, my team will do the same this week. A teammate has asked that we come over for a holiday dinner before she returns to Ireland to see her family. My relatives have sent over a few small gifts and of course, our hosts have planned a dinner on Christmas day and socializing to follow, so we should have an alternative, yet entertaining holiday.

My teammate has asked that I bring along food or drink from traditional American Christmas, any ideas that won’t take me ages to bake? 

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