However long I am lucky enough to live in coastal Georgia, I don’t think I ever will get used to preparing for Christmas in temperatures of 80 degrees like we enjoyed earlier this month.
Believe me, I am not complaining — sunshine and warmth suits me just fine whatever time of year it is, and I certainly don’t miss it going dark by 4 p.m. like it does in England in December.
As we stood watching the recent Christmas parade in Richmond Hill, with United States flags everywhere and even more being handed out by local politicians, it occurred to me just how “American” an occasion it was. And when my husband and I sat down later that day to write our Christmas cards, many of which were going to friends in other parts of the world, I thought about differences in yuletide traditions across the globe.
Back in jolly old England, my friends will celebrate by singing Christmas carols, kissing under the mistletoe and drinking eggnog. All of these traditions originated in Britain and found their way to the New World with the vast numbers of British pilgrims and immigrants that made the journey.
However, unlike their American cousins, they also will be dressing up as Father Christmas (a slightly skinnier version of Santa), pulling on Christmas crackers (a paper tube containing a hat and small gift that explodes like a cap gun when pulled apart), and listening to the Royal Message, the reigning monarch’s annual speech given at 3 p.m. every Christmas day.
They will eat mince pies (little sweet pies containing raisins and other dried fruits) and Christmas pudding (sweet fruit cake served hot with brandy butter), and wash them down with mulled wine (a hot, spicy, high-alcohol wine). They also will take the day off after Christmas, a national holiday called Boxing Day.
This originated from a tradition amongst the nobility who, after requiring their servants work on Christmas day, graciously gave them a day off and presented them with a “box” (a gift) to take home to their families.
In Japan, our family friend, Mechi, will do something that millions of other Japanese will do on Christmas Day — sit down with family and friends to share a large bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Yes, it’s true, following on from a hugely successful marketing campaign by KFC in the early 1970s that basically translates to “Christmas equals Kentucky,” fried chicken has become the nation’s top choice for Christmas dinner. People wait in line for hours and many order their buckets of chicken weeks in advance. Don’t believe me? Have a look at the news service www.japantoday.com.
Norway is a land of witches, trolls and other assorted goblins, at least in folklore, and Christmas Eve is when they most often come out to play and torment good people. Our friends, Carsten and Hanne, in Oslo will, along with most other Norwegians, hide all the brooms in their house before going to bed Dec. 24 because that is when their traditions dictate that witches steal them to go joy riding.
My Uncle Pete comes from a small village in Wales, where they celebrate something bizarre known only in parts of this small country called Mari Lwyd. Young men cover themselves in a ghost-like sheet, complete with a horse’s skull for a head — yes, a real one. They then prance through the village for Christmas and a few weeks beyond, singing at the doors of houses and pubs, hoping to be rewarded with a drink or some food. Maybe they are being bribed to go away!
Here’s one to rival our own sunny, warm Christmas in the Coastal Empire. My cousin Ruth, who is British but married an Australian, lives in Sydney. They go to the beach for a barbecue with friends every Christmas, and the next day (Boxing Day, you’ll remember) they watch the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Sounds like a really g’day to me!
Dr. Normal Vincent Peale, minister and author of the best-selling classic “The Power of Positive Thinking,” once said “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” What a perfect sentiment to wrap up these thoughts on Christmas around the world.
God bless America and, as the British say, Happy Christmas!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 . She can be contacted at email@example.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.