English Christmas looks to start as soon as Halloween is over – that is not to say that there are no Christmas decorations, cards etc. in the shops before then. Part of an English Christmas is seeing Christmas goods in the shops from early September onwards. The retail trade starts getting restless once the August Bank Holiday is over and each year we play the game 'who can spot the first Christmas goods in the shops'.
Unlike the Americans, who have the Thanksgiving weekend, we have no major festival between the last weekend in August and the Christmas festivals, so people start to yearn for a celebration, which could explain why the preparations for an English Christmas start so early.
How you would celebrate a typical English Christmas is not an easy question to answer and does, to an extent, depend upon where in England you live. An English Christmas in a town or city is quite different from an English Christmas in the country. Certain customs are observed wherever you happen to live, such as the Christmas Carol Service. As England is a predominately Christian country the Carol services are either Protestant or Catholic. If you are living in one of the larger cities you might attend a Carol Service in one of the splendid cathedrals, whereas in the country many of the villages have a beautiful old church which will have been decorated, by members of the congregation, with seasonal foliage and flowers and the red berries of the holly seem to go particularly well with the gray stone, out of which many of our churches are built.
Midnight mass is the other big tradition for an English Christmas and both, the Protestant and Catholic churches hold Midnight Mass late on Christmas Eve and many Christians will take Holy Communion at the service in preparation for Christmas Day.
An English Christmas means that you have your presents on Christmas morning, either before or after breakfast. The custom of not having presents until after Christmas lunch is no longer as common, as it once was. It seems cruel to make the children wait that long for their gifts and it makes more sense to let them enjoy their Christmas lunch or dinner without being in a state of high excitement.
English Christmas dinner these days usually means roast turkey, the roast goose so favored by the Victorians seems to have gone out of fashion and a turkey does feed a lot of people. The traditional Christmas pudding is still ateen, but nowdays it is quite often bought but rather made and there is an extra choice of luxury puddings to put on your table.
Part of the fun of an English Christmas is the run-up to it and the many pre-Christmas events we attend, such as Christmas Markets and Christmas Fairs, as well as the seasonal foods and drinks offered by hotels and restaurants. What could be nicer than a day's Christmas shopping and enjoying a good pre-Christmas lunch or afternoon Christmas Tea.
Those of us at work usually have a number of social gatherings to attend. There is quite often a departmental Christmas lunch or dinner or, if the organization is not too large there might be a firm's Christmas 'Do'. A word of warning about the 'Office Party' – letting your hair down might seem a good idea on the night, but you still have to face the boss and your other collections in the morning. Whole couriers have gone up in smoke for the want of discretion and if you're hiring for promotion any time soon, it might be a good idea to keep the alcohol take to a minimum. One thing you will not be thinking the next morning is 'I wish I had had another bottle of wine'. And another thing – you mind where you're standing – we all know what the mistletoe can lead to!