|Myself, drinking a pint of Christmas cheer in a pub in Skipton, Yorkshire, during the festive season.|
Below is a list of the main things that I've noticed:
- For sure, Thanksgiving steals the thunder of Christmas in the U.S. to some extent. Relatives often make a long journey to meet up for Thanksgiving and don't repeat it for Christmas. In Britain, there are no nearby festivals to rival Christmas (November 5th is a very different sort of event) and so it is usually the only big meet up point for families during the Autumn and Winter months, perhaps even the entire year.
- Maybe surprisingly, given that America is a much more religious place, most of the public holidays tend to be secular, presumably due to the separation of church and state. In the U.K. the longest and most important holidays of the year are Christmas and Easter, when the country closes down for at least two or three days.
- In the U.S. workers maybe get to leave work early on Christmas eve, then they have Christmas Day, but it is straight back to work on December 26th. In Britain there is Boxing Day straight after Christmas Day, so the holiday is automatically longer.
- On top of that, the work culture is much more laid back, so Britain effectively semi-shuts down for the entire period between Christmas and New Year, making the holiday period feel much longer. I also suspect that the Christmas period generally involves more work social events, extended lunches, and finishing early, than the more work-intensive U.S.A.
- For better or worse, a British Christmas tends to involve more alcohol.
- Perhaps linked to the above, Brits generally tend to be more reserved in everyday life, but they go a little crazy when they party and really let themselves go. Americans tend to be more balanced in that they are more outgoing in general life and less crazy when it comes to partying.
- Most of the connotations of Christmas tend to be Wintry: reindeer, snow, etc. This fits in well with Britain and the Northern U.S., but it can seem incongruous in the Southern states where the Winters are much milder. Sorry, but seeing a snowman displayed next to a palm tree in Florida just looks wrong.
- Americans are way more outgoing, and even brash (according to British tastes) in their decorations than the more conservative folks across the pond. It is not uncommon to see entire houses, even streets lit up for the festive season in the U.S., which is much rarer in the U.K. There often even appears to be a competitive element, with American neighbours attempting to outdo each other.
- The U.S. "Culture Wars" often play out in the festive season, with high profile constitutional disputes over nativity scenes at public buildings etc. In the U.K., where religion is less powerful/controversial and there is no legal separation of church and state, such disputes don't generally exist. Although there is to some extent a politically correct movement in the U.K. that sometimes challenges the dominant role of Christianity, especially in non-Christian areas of the inner cities. The disputes are minor in comparison, however, and not on the same scale as the U.S.
- America has produced some of the great classic Christmas movies: It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, etc. but there is not quite the same tradition of T.V. Christmas specials which go on for about a month in the U.K. Generally speaking, the modern U.S. tends to be a more movie orientated country, and the U.K. is more focused on T.V. and radio.
|A pair of Christmas crackers. Source: Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons|
Finally, one tradition that you won't find in the U.S. is the pulling of Christmas crackers, which is done in the U.K. usually during the festive dinner. The cracker is pulled by two people, one at each end, it makes a crack/bang, and then the central cardboard chamber is ripped open to reveal a small present or puzzle, a festive paper hat in the shape of a crown, and a written joke that is traditionally read out to the other guests.