Brits and Americans share a lot of Christmas traditions—such as bringing a tree indoors and hanging stockings in the hope that they’ll be filled with gifts overnight—but the first time I went to my British in-laws’ house for Christmas, I discovered a lot of traditions I’d never heard of before.
In my Christmas novella, Mine Under the Mistletoe, California-girl Ashley fulfils her lifelong dream of spending Christmas in London. If you can’t spend this Christmas in Britain, here’s how you can make your Christmas a little more British.
Christmastime is also known as panto season in Britain, the time when B-list (and C- and D-list) celebs find work as cross-dressers in the country’s theaters. Pantomimes are based on classic children’s tales, like Puss in Boots and Cinderella, but with lots of naughty jokes for grown-ups. The main character is almost always a boy, who’s played by a woman. Camp men don padded bras and strut around the stage dressed as older women.
Pantos are hilarious and probably my favorite British tradition—which is why some of my favorite scenes of Mine Under the Mistletoe take place at a pantomime performance of Jack & the Beanstalk.
2. Christmas pudding
British puddings aren’t the same as American pudding. In Britain, pudding is like a cake, but it’s steamed instead of baked.
When you picture Christmas pudding, think of a fruit cake. It’s doused in alcohol—brandy, whisky or rum will work—and then set on fire. Once the alcohol burns off, it’s ready to eat with cream or butter. My mum-in-law makes delicious rum butter which I could eat by the spoonful!
3. Christmas crackers
I once took a box of British Christmas crackers on a flight to L.A. When I arrived, the airport security guards called me aside and asked me what was in the box. “Crackers,” I told them. They looked a bit confused but waved me through anyway.
That’s because British Christmas crackers are not edible. They’re paper tubes covered with beautiful wrapping paper. Inside, they have cheap toys and terrible jokes—and a paper crown, which you’re supposed to wear at lunch. Like party poppers and noisemakers, they also have a little device that sort of explodes when you pull the two ends apart…so, yeah, I really shouldn’t have taken them on a plane.
4. The queen’s speech
Every Christmas, the queen gives a televised speech to her subjects. I’m not sure what she says, because my husband is a staunch British republican (he’s embarrassed that his country still has a monarchy), so we don’t watch it.
This shouldn’t be too difficult for you to replicate at home. Just give Granny a few shots of sherry and tell her to refer to herself as “one”.
The Christingle is a special advent tradition for children in the Anglican church. It’s not an old tradition—at least, not in Britain. According to Wikipedia, it started in the 18th century in Moravia (the eastern Czech Republic) and was introduced to the Church of England in the late 1960s.
A Christingle is an orange with a red ribbon wrapped around it. You stick a candle in it as well as candies or dried fruit on toothpicks. I’ve been to one Christingle service, and it was very moving watching all the kids light their candles and sing carols. Then I remembered I’m scared of fire, so I spent the rest of the service thinking, “Nobody trip!”
If you can’t get over to Britain this Christmas, I hope you can find a few ways of bringing some British Christmas spirit into your home!
Do you know of any other British Christmas traditions? Have you ever been in Britain at Christmas? What are your favorite Christmas traditions?
Thanks to a transatlantic house swap, California girl Ashley Turner is finally going to fulfill her lifelong dream of a proper English Christmas. Her holiday plans did not include a sexy stranger climbing into her borrowed bed in the middle of the night. But in the light of day, Ashley can’t help but wonder if Santa has delivered early…
Game designer Oliver Stansfeld can’t wait to leave dreary London—and all its difficult holiday memories—for sunny San Diego. But a freak ice storm and a grounded plane have forced him back to his already-occupied flat. To make up for the mix-up, the least he can do is show his pretty houseguest where to get the perfect Christmas tree before he leaves.
The more time they spend together, the more their attraction grows, and soon Ashley is tempting Oliver to give in to the spirit of the season and snuggle up for the rest of the winter. As the ice melts and flights start taking off again, he must choose between giving in to the past or risking his heart on a chance at love.
Also available in All I’m Asking For: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology
This Christmas, the producer of a small town holiday spectacular is swept away by a handsome Hollywood director. Being stranded in a snowstorm offers a couple a second chance at a future together. And an American in London helps a brooding Brit put the ghosts of Christmas past behind him.
Wherever you are, however you celebrate, this collection of three festive novellas will bring warmth to your holiday season.
Edited by Angela James, this anthology includes:
Tinsel My Heart by Christi Barth
Season of Second Chances by Brighton Walsh
Mine Under the Mistletoe by Kat Latham
Stories also available for purchase separately.