It is around this time of the year that many English people reflect on a sort of paradox gripping our country. In our 24/7 “everything you want, when you want” society we are suddenly confronted with the prospect of a total shut-down over Christmas which for a not-too religious country is rather perplexing. For many this is is an unsettling inconvenience – for others it is a welcome change of pace. The last underground train in London to run on Christmas day for example, ran in 1979 and it is similarly difficult to catch any sort of overground train or bus on the days surrounding (and on) Christmas day as the transport system isn’t running.

For many in Europe this is probably considered relatively normal but for English people it is an adjustment and for people like myself, flying back home for Christmas, it can present a bit of a challenge upon arrival at Heathrow airport!

Then again, some would argue that it’s no big deal as in England we barely have a functioning transport system the other 364 days of the year either!

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They could be waiting a long time. Around Christmas in England, public transport grinds to a halt.

Of course, it is not just the transport system that shuts down, the shops gradually start to close too as the wheels of commerce finally (and perhaps begrudgingly) grind to a halt (before starting up in Earnest on the 26th of December in the form of the Boxing Day sales). Having lived in Bavaria for a while now, where shops are required by law to close every Sunday, I am rather used to this now. However, as the supermarkets are normally open around the clock in England, the thought for many English people though of a shopping “blackout” of a few days, is still a strange concept.

But for those who are not left stranded at the airport on Christmas day and/or don’t starve from leaving their food shopping too late, what does Christmas mean to them?

It is a religious time, isn’t it?

For some, like my parents, the main purpose of the festivities is indeed still a very Christian one but I think this is more to do with tradition for many English people than deep religious sentiment. Normally when I arrive back in England, the first thing we do is head to our local church for a candle-lit evening service, where my parents sing in the local village choir. Even for the non-religious, or perhaps the semi-religious, you cannot help but be moved by the beautiful scene of the villagers coming together, reflecting on the year ahead and the year which they will be leaving behind us in the flicking candle light. Faces young and old, etched with feelings of hope, happiness and of course, sometimes sadness. The church is inevitably packed and is “standing-room” only. This is normally when the vicar makes a joke that Christmas should be held twenty times a year as then perhaps he would see more of us.

After this, we head home and have a candle-lit dinner (Christmas is a great time for candle shops in England, as you might now be guessing) where we make our own Mulled wine and then have a cold dinner of mostly cheese, bread and fish. This is normally when my family looks at me to see if I’ve brought with back with me an Ahle Wurst from Germany and of course, I never disappoint!

Christmas day

The next day, on the 25th, our “real” Christmas begins. We would normally get up quite early and begin the Christmas day preparations by getting the turkey ready and peeling what seems like enough potatoes for the whole of England. In the background we play some nice classical music and everyone is normally in a good mood. Around 12.30 (or sometimes later, depending on the quality of mulled wine consumed the night before) the turkey is carved and we all sit down for lunch. Lunch is served with the traditional Christmas trimmings of roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, bread sauce, mini-sausages wrapped in bacon and gravy. In the days when my grandmother was still alive, she would always say at this point “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t feel like Christmas this year”. She would say this every single year. It could be snowing outside, Santa Claus could be making his way down the chimney, we’d be swapping presents between mouthfuls of Christmas Turkey and in the distance three wise men could be walking towards a manger…but that wouldn’t stop the “I don’t know why but it doesn’t feel like Christmas…”

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It's Christmas. That means we're all about to get a lot fatter.

It’s Christmas. That means we’re all about to get a lot fatter.

After the turkey, we would all normally take a deep breath as we were confronted by the most horrible of Christmas traditions – the Christmas pudding. Honestly, I don’t know anyone who actually likes this. In the past, my mother would hide coins in there, and the winner would find 50p (the loser usually ended up finding 2p and chipping a tooth). She would also pour rum over it and set it on fire. Each year we encouraged her to pour more and more rum on it, in the hope that it would burn away to nothing, but alas it was always there after the flame died down. Efforts are made each year to make this pudding more palatable – a Scottish fish and chip shop has even tried battering it this year – but in the end, you just need to “grin and bear it”.

We then pull the Christmas crackers, inside of which is normally a terrible joke and a paper crown. Speaking of crowns, shortly after lunch, like most people in England, even if you are a fan of the monarchy or not, we crowd around the TV to listen to the Queen’s speech – a 10 minute broadcast where she talks about the significance of the year we are about to leave behind us. This tradition dates back to 1932 which is when King George V gave a speech on the radio. This year is said to be particularly interesting as there is considerable speculation that the Queen will step down and give the crown to Charles. According to the Telegraph, all bets are off!

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Even the Queen hates Christmas pudding

After the speech we exchange Christmas presents with each other. After the disappointment fades of getting the usual garish jumpers, shower gel and socks we then settle down to play some “friendly” boardgames. This for me is probably the best part of Christmas. Old sibling rivalries flare up and the chance to beat my brother at monopoly/trivial pursuit and have bragging rights for the whole next year is all the incentive I need. As the evening approaches and Christmas draws to a close a sort of melancholic feeling takes hold of the house as Christmas draws to a close for another year. We light a fire in the lounge, open a few beers and drink to the future whilst reflecting on the past.

So, what is Christmas in England today? Is it a religious festival? A time to eat, drink and be merry? Perhaps a combination of all of these things. But for many in England, it is simply an opportunity for family and friends to get together at least once in a year, even if they work on the railways.

London School of Business English München wishes all its students past, present and future a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year!

All the best,

Chris L.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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