Mulled Wine Anyone?
In general, Christmas in England and the rest of the UK isn't all that different than what you're probably accustomed to experiencing in America. Christmas trees, twinkly lights, candy canes, Santa Claus … it's all here. And of course with the whole Dickens vibe in parts of London and the south-east along with the lasting traces of the Victorian era, the ghosts of Christmas Past never seem too far away from any seasonal festivities.
Of course, there are some traditions specific to celebrating Christmas in England. Here's a list of a few that stood out most to me as an American when I first moved to London back in 2001.
These are ubiquitous. Most folks love them. Some find them revolting. Everyone has to eat them. They're little sweet pies made with dried fruits (lots of raisins) and a bit of spice (cinnamon and clove definitely). Freshly made at local bakery or pre-packaged in decorative box at a major chain supermarket, you'll find inexpensive versions of mince pies throughout the land. If offered any, it's considered fairly rude not to at least try one.
Mulled Wine and Cider
Mulled essentially means spiced and heated. A steamy serving of this aromatic drink is an ideal winter warmer too. Red wine or cider with a touch of cinnamon, more than a hint of clove and other seasonings, you wouldn't be too far off the mark to think of a hot mug of mulled wine or cider as the liquid (and alcoholic!) equivalent of a mince pie.
Christmas crackers are cardboard tubes wrapped in colorful paper twisted at the ends to look like oversized sweets. They are opened by pulling apart the ends either by one (for small cracker) or two people (for a larger one) like you would a wishbone. Cracking them open comes with a “bang” (like that of a cap gun) with paper crowns and jokes inside. Wearing your crown during your dinner is obligatory as is reading your groan-worthy joke (often of the “so bad it's good” variety”) aloud to the rest of your party.
Usually there's a large roast turkey at the center of the table with all the trimmings (think of a feast along the lines of an American Thanksgiving) orbiting around it. However, a ham or even roast beef isn't out of the ordinary. Brussels sprouts are a mandatory side (and deliciously worth rediscovering if you've disdained them since some bad childhood experience).
More sweets spiced up with cloves and such … are you sensing a Yuletide theme? Ever since 1714 when King George I commanded that this age-old even then dessert be served as part of his royal feast in his first Christmas in England, it's been a stalwart of traditional English Christmas feasts. Robust, infused with lots and lots of brandy and some would say downright stodgy, it's often served set alight for a spectacular end to your celebratory meal.
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