Saturday, December 28, 2013

Making Merry in England

The holiday season is an excellent time to put on one's Unofficial Anthropologist glasses. At Christmastime, so many of a culture's most engaging traditions come out to play -- and it's also easy to step back and look at how they align, or differ, from what's going on back home at this time of year.

In fact, when the idea of moving here first became a gleam in our eyes back in May, I texted one of my best friends back home to the effect of "EEK! We might be moving to England!" or something similarly eloquent, and her immediate response read along the lines of "CHRISTMAS IN THE LAND OF CHARLES DICKENS!!!"

So I feel that I owe her, and anyone else who's interested, a little rundown on what we observed and experienced this year. I have a feeling we'll be remembering this time for a score of years to come.

1. Shopping. Not to make anyone at home feel bad, but riding your bike into a centuries-old town, walking along cobblestone streets, stopping to listen to carolers and brass ensembles on nearly every corner, and emerging from shops to see a lavender dusk descending over august stone university chapels is pretty much in a different universe from fighting for a parking space at the mall and having to listen to "Santa Baby" while you elbow your way through Crowded Chain Store X. (At home, I just try to stay out of the stores in December so I can preserve a degree of goodwill toward men.)

2. Christmas Crackers. These are a hoot! We got a few rounds of these, but my favorite was when our next door neighbors invited us over for dinner with their grown children, and every plate had a cracker on it. We all crossed arms and grasped one end of a cracker, then on the count of three, yanked them open. With a snapping sound, confetti and paper crowns and little tchotchkes and jokes came flying out. The jokes are corny and family-friendly, and make for a good five minutes of table-side entertainment, especially if you have someone at the table who likes to take the corny joke idea and run with it. (Not that I'm looking at my husband here. Not at all.) Such silliness and fun.

3. Sightings of Father Christmas. As anyone who's read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knows, he's not called Santa Claus over here. He's Father Christmas. Our kids understand that by any name, it's just a game. They enjoyed their visits (and presents!) from Father C at the Professor's office party and at the hotel in Scotland where we stayed this past week. It was particularly comical because both of the Father Christmases were pretty recognizable through the red suit and beard as a coworker and a waiter, respectively, but we all had a good wink and a laugh.

4. Advent Services. We were in the walled city of York, home to the famous and beautifully Gothic York Minster cathedral, on the Sunday before Christmas, visiting some friends and seeing a bit of the sights on our way to Scotland. The Minster was closed to sightseers, but lo! It was open (for free!) for worshippers, and so we stole quietly in and caught the second half of the Nine Lessons and Carols, which is a program that originated right here at King's College in Cambridge but is now enacted all over the world, especially here in the UK, during Advent. Scripture readings are interspersed with various hymns and carols -- some familiar, some lesser known. We won't soon forget the sound of voices raised in harmonious song in a space so majestic.

5. The Queen's Speech. Her Majesty, bless her, addresses the nation via the telly every Christmas Day, offering a prim word of good cheer. It's short and sweet -- we almost missed it. But this year was a great one to see, because she talked about the birth of Prince George (with a photo montage), and how new life coming into the world reminds us of the joy and wonder of the One who came to be with us and save us. (I paraphrase.) You can find it on YouTube or at the link above, my royal-watching friends.

6. The Christmas Day walk. This might have been my very favorite thing. As I mentioned, we were in Scotland, my mother's ancestral home, over Christmas, staying at a castle of sorts that had been converted into a hotel out in the countryside. (We planned this back in September, when we knew we'd be missing our family back in Texas and needing something special to look forward to.) We joined the proud British tradition of going for a family stroll in the countryside, and while there was no snow to tramp through, there were peace and quiet and the beauty of God's green earth. And as if those weren't gifts enough, I had my favorite people in the world to share it all with.

And wonders, wonders of His love!

Hope your week was a blessing, friends, wherever you are and whatever it held for you.


  1. I will not be surprised if you NEVER come home! I'm not sure that I would!

    1. Don't worry, Kristin, I have a thirteen year old keeping me strong! ;-) And people like you to come home to, of course.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed HRH Elizabeth's speech! However, it also made me so sad. Her message of Christ's birth, bringing hope could never be spoken here in the states, in the land of tolerance. It makes me want to move!