What do people from other parts of Europe think about Christmas in the UK?
Last year I produced a podcast about Christmas traditions in the UK. This year, I wanted to do something a bit different, so I interviewed a number of people from other parts of Europe who have lived, or who are now living in the UK. I wanted to know when they usually celebrated Christmas, whether they had discovered any new traditions, whether the food in England was different to the food that they usually ate, and whether there is anything that they miss from their home country. This is what they told me.
Andrea is from Germany and she has spent some time living in England. You can find out more about Andrea on her blog.
The important day is Christmas Eve (“Heiligabend”), the 24th December. While this is in fact a normal working day (only the 25th and 26th of December are official holidays), most shops close at 2pm and most families attend church service in the late afternoon and then it’s time for the presents.
I was used to the Christmas tree being brought into the house on the morning of the 24th December, and then we would all help with the decorations, then have lunch and then the room would be locked until the evening.
In England, my housemates bought a Christmas tree at the beginning of December and started decorating it, and also already putting presents there. Also, there’s the tradition of hanging up Christmas cards on the wall above the chimney which my Mum has since picked up, so this has become part of our own tradition now.
In Germany, we also don’t have Christmas crackers. One year, I brought them home for my family, but they were not too impressed ;-)
Germans love their Christmas cookies and gingerbread. This is a very big thing here and I didn’t get quite the same impression in England. However, bringing the whole family together for Christmas and having a real feast (turkey in England, goose in Germany) is something that is rather similar.
I didn’t really miss anything since my Mum made sure that I received a parcel with gingerbread and “Stollen” (a kind of fruitcake). I invited the neighbour’s kids round for several cookie baking sessions, so this was covered, too. With all the decorations and new traditions to discover, I never had the feeling that something was missing.
Madleen is also from Germany and she is now living in England. This is what Madleen has to say about Christmas in the UK:
Whilst in England Xmas is celebrated on 25th with a main meal and Christmas pudding and family get togethers, In Germany we actually celebrate Xmas on 24th, Xmas eve and 25th Xmas Day.
We get together with family and friends on 24th sit around the Christmas tree with loads of cake *the traditional Xmas Stollen* and home made cookies and ginger bread men to celebrate Xmas eve.
Some people attend Christmas church services and come home a bit later to share out the gifts “bescheerung”
Santa Clause will make an appearance For the young ones in the family, and if it snows he might come in a sledge pulled by horses of course with his huge sack of gifts and in the Santa costume.
The children have to recite a poem or sing a song before they receive their gifts. All gifts will remain unopened until everyone has had their share and then the big “unpacking” will begin.
Afterwards platters of fruit and sweets will be put on the table accompanied by wine and drinks.
A traditional Christmas eve dinner is potato salad with German Sausages *Wiener wuerstchen or Bockwurst*
I will never even begin to understand the rush and excitement of Boxing day sales.
For me, Xmas is all about creating a peaceful home, eating good food *even there we differ, more about this later, But here in England many people run out to pubs with their friends, and Xmas is not such a “stay at home affair” as in Germany.
On 26th people hit the stores to grab a good Xmas bargain in the boxing day sales whilst in Germany all shops remain shut for 3 4 days at the least.
Also we don’t hang up stockings for Santa to fill, And we don’t give a mince pie and milk to Santa on 24th in the evening and no carrots for the reindeer, however this is a custom I make my daughters do at all times every year!
Yes, although as the years go by, everything is changing a bit. We in Germany would eat Goose, or Duck, and in England its mainly turkey. In Germany our festive food is mainly accompanied by red cabbage and here we have all sorts of vegetables.
In Germany we bake Xmas cakes *the festive Christmas stollen with or without marzipan and currents and sugar icing* But in England we eat Xmas pudding also the biscuits are different.
I miss stollen, I can buy them here, but I like them home baked so I go to bake my Stollen every year with a really good friend in Leipzig! ;-) We bake 20 Kilos in one sitting *it takes usually 1 day* and we prepare the dough for the same in a huge baby bath tub!
I miss Domino Steine *a sweet, fruity, jammy filling surrounded by marzipan and chocolate.
Lebkuchen *ginger bread men*
But I miss the traditionally prepared Xmas duck only my mum and grandma know how to prepare with a plumb and apple filling, and red cabbage to go with it accompanied by potatoes or traditional dumplings ;-)
I learned to cope without it, if I’m here and mix my Christmas meal. I cook a turkey crown with red cabbage and potatoes and bake the Christmas cookies that my children enjoy decorating. So I bring Germany that little closer to our home in England.
One thing I miss over here though is everything we’d buy at a German Xmas market/advent market. Gebrannte Mandeln *sugar coated roasted almonds* or cashew nuts and Mutzen and hot waffles / wafers are just a few to name here.
I believe the German markets bring the atmosphere we all need to get into the Christmas spirit.
But if we miss it too much, maybe we can all go to “winter wonderland!” or to the traditional mini German markets all over the country another good tip is: http://www.germandeli.co.uk ” a German supermarket where we can order our German food online.
Salomi moved from Greece to the UK. This is what Salomi had to say:
In Greece, Christmas Day is celebrated on 25th December.
I’ve thought about this question for a while now, but no, not really, there’s nothing new I’ve discovered in the UK.
There are no big differences in terms of food. The meat is the same, roast turkey and potatoes, we don’t have Brussel sprouts in Greece and we don’t have pigs in blankets either.
I can’t think of anything that I miss from Greece at Christmas time.
Angelika is a German teacher who lives in England. You can find out more about Angelika on her her website.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day are Bank Holidays just like in the UK, but the Christmas celebration starts on Christmas Eve, where the shops and most companies finish around lunchtime. Many people go to church and they also open their presents on Christmas Eve.
Apart from the Queen and some Germans (and possibly other foreign nationals), English people open their presents on Christmas Day and not Christmas Eve. Also it seems that only churches have an Advent wreath but unlike German Advent wreaths which have four candles for the 4 Advent Sundays, the churches have a fifth one for Christmas Day.
One big difference in terms of food is that the English Christmas dinner is turkey where as in Germany it varies. Also I had never heard of mince pies and Christmas pudding until I came to England.
My first Christmas in England in 1982 was the only time I was ever homesick. I was used to opening presents and going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve but in England I got taken to the pub before church. That just didn’t seem right to me.
During the first few years I couldn’t get any typical German sweets, so my parents used to send me ‘red cross’ parcels. In return I used to send them some mince pies … until I found out nobody actually liked them :-)
Thanks to shops like LIDL and ALDI, nowadays I can get almost all the German Christmas sweets I like so much. Now I only need red cross parcels with Marzipankatoffeln, those little marzipan balls that look like potatoes. I wish I could get them here!
Carmen is from France and she spent a number of years living in England.
In France, the main celebrations are on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Some people go to mass on Xmas Eve. The Christmas Eve meal starts around 8:30 pm and lasts until Santa comes at midnight.
Boxing Day, Xmas crackers, minced pies, and The Queen’s speech were all new to me.
There are more shellfish in France, such as oysters; the main dessert in France is the Christmas Yule log. In France we also eat goose liver paté and boudin blanc (white meat with port or truffle in a sausage skin) at Xmas time. These are the things that I missed when I celebrated Christmas in the UK.
Nic moved from Germany to the UK.
The main celebration is on 24th December. Shops are open until mid-day but then preparations get underway for the evening (cooking, decorating the tree, putting everyone’s presents underneath), as that’s when we have our actual Christmas dinner. The 25th and 26th, both public holidays in Germany, are usually reserved for visiting family, having even more food and exchanging gifts.
Christmas crackers were new for me! And wearing the hat that comes with them. And Christmas jumper days at work, which I love. Also eating Christmas pudding, which we don’t have in Germany.
Duck or fish might be more prevalent in Germany but turkey is definitely popular. No Christmas pudding but some sort of festive dessert or the home-made Christmas biscuits: some similar to shortbread but thinner, lots of “lebkuchen” (which you can get in more and more UK supermarkets, it’s a dark dough, similar to gingerbread but less gingery), cinnamon stars with icing…
Foodwise, I definitely miss the cinnamon stars, but I also miss the romantic, promising festivity that comes with having the actual Christmas in the evening, rather than the morning.
Christmas markets are missing, although I haven’t tried the ones that the UK has to offer yet.
Honza is from the Czech Republic and he now lives in the UK.
The main date for Christmas celebrations in the Czech republic is 24th December
Opening presents in the morning is a new custom for me. We open them in the evening plus the day before the British do.
Carp is the typical christmas meal. Quite often you would buy it while its still alive and have it as a “pet” in the bath before it gets served on a plate on christmas day.
Christmas is not that much of a big deal for me and I don’t celebrate it much since I am never home for it so all it is to me is just a busy period at work so I’d say I miss being on holiday during christmas as a child.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these interviews. If you want to find out what some people from the UK have to say about celebrating Christmas in other parts of Europe, check back next week, or sign up for my monthly newsletter using the contact form.
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