Christmas Traditions: USA v. UK


Harry Cracknell

Leslie Cluskey, Harry’s grandfather, holds a UK flag while Susan Cluskey, Harry’s grandmother, holds a USA flag with a traditional Christmas tree in the background.

Harry Cracknell, Contributing Writer

From singing along to Mariah Carey to unwrapping the presents on Christmas Day, you can’t help but feel jolly. Christmas, an annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, is celebrated on the 25th day of December. Although, you might be somewhat surprised to hear that almost every country has its own way to celebrate this famous holiday. From a British citizen’s perspective, who’s been fortunate enough to have experienced the season in both countries, I’m going to compare and contrast the American and British Christmas traditions.

Let’s begin on December 1st, where the majority of Americans have their Christmas decorations up shortly after their Thanksgiving celebration. The Brits, however, cringe at the thought of having them up so early. Traditionalists believe the right time is 12 days before Christmas, although most will have them up some time after the 11th. It must be added that, in terms of the display of Christmas lights outside homes, the British are still very far behind the Americans. That being said, those delicious chocolate advent calendars, reminding us each morning that we’re closer to Christmas Day, are shared between the Brits and Americans. Don’t get me started on which country has better quality chocolate, that’s for another article. *Cough, cough… UK*

Next is Christmas Eve, the time for last-minute shopping, preparations and present-wrapping. Both nations can agree that this day is both exciting and stressful for obvious reasons; however, the Brits like to calm their nerves with a few drinks at the pub (if they’re over the age of 18, of course). Many, religious or not, will attend a Christmas Eve Church service to allow them to sleep in the next morning, while some even stay up late to attend “Midnight Mass”. This tradition is common for Americans too, and surprisingly, it’s technically not a public holiday in either country.

Christmas Day is where it really differs. Traditionally, British Christmas Day lunch is later and its main component is a turkey or goose. Americans have just had a turkey at Thanksgiving, so they might opt for beef or ham instead. In the UK, an important part of Christmas lunch is the Christmas Cracker, which is a roll of paper with a banger, a paper hat, with a low value present and a stupid joke or motto inside. They are placed at every seat and are pulled before eating. Prior to this, though, families will gather around the television at 3 p.m. to watch the King’s speech to the nation which lasts ten minutes and almost always brings out some tears of the proud British people.

Americans have a very relaxed schedule – there are far fewer interruptions to travel which means families are much more likely to go out. However, if they choose to stay in, board games and Christmas movies seem to top the list for sources of evening entertainment. Brits can enjoy a good Christmas movie too, but they prefer drinking alcohol in the kitchen with the music blasting until the early hours of the next morning.

Lastly, after all those Christmas Day celebrations are over, Americans will head straight back to work but Britain celebrates a public holiday called Boxing Day. And, no, the British do not get in the boxing ring and fight. It’s traditionally dedicated to servants – a day when they received a special Christmas box from their masters. Nowadays, it’s a day for football (soccer) and hangovers.

Harry Cracknell is a second-year Communication major at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.