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Christmas is different ‘across the pond’

December 6, 2013
By Beth Christian Broschart - Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS - Christmas is not just an American tradition - there are often fun ways people around the globe gather in celebration of the holiday.

Most December calendars list Dec. 26 as "Boxing Day," a holiday celebrated in England. English pals Winifred Addis, of Liverpool, and Donna Hewitt, of Warrington - who are visiting this area from the U.K. - said they have fond memories of Boxing Day.

"Boxing Day is a public holiday in England," Addis said. "It is celebrated on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. It's tradition comes from medieval times when the priests would open the alms boxes and give money to the poor."

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
Donna Hewitt and Winifred Addis, friends visiting from England, take time out of their trip to talk about Christmas season traditions they celebrate in their homeland. Addis said the duo spent time in Elkins visiting her ‘Auntie’ Joan Williams.

Hewitt said the wealthy would wrap gifts in boxes to give to their servants.

"It was the tradition of helping the poor and less fortunate," Hewitt said.

Addis and Hewitt are spending time in Elkins visiting with Joan Williams, who also grew up in England. Williams is Addis' "Auntie."

"We don't think Christmas celebrations are that much different in England than in the United States," Addis said. "On Christmas Day, the children run to the tree to open their presents.

"Families gather together to visit, eat and drink. Our family always attends Midnight Mass. There used to be a law in medieval times that required everyone to go to mass on Christmas."

Hewitt said a big activity on Christmas Day in England is to exchange gifts with family members, and food is an important part of the celebration.

"The meals on Christmas offer many wonderful foods and flavors including roast turkey and ham," Hewitt said. "We also eat figgy pudding - a very traditional steamed pudding made from fruit.

"Everyone in the family takes a turn stirring the figgy pudding for good luck," Hewitt said. "When we stir the pudding, it is stirred from east to west in honor of the three wise men. It used to be a tradition to throw in silver sixpence for good luck, but not too many people follow that tradition any longer."

Another holiday commonplace in England is the eating of individual mince pies.

"We eat these yummy pies during the 12 days of Christmas," Addis said. "They are great."

"No matter how poor you are, everyone still has a Christmas pie," Williams said. "It is almost like an English wedding cake that is started six weeks prior to Christmas. It is very moist, with marzipan and little figurines like snowmen. It is very delicious and usually is served with a rum or brandy sauce."

Addis said on Christmas Day, many British folk enjoy pigs in a blanket.

"But they are not like in America," Addis said. "Our pigs in a blanket are sausages wrapped in bacon."

All the women agreed that they enjoy decorating their homes with lights and a tree, just like here in America. There is a problem, however with real trees in England.

"A real tree costs about 120 pounds, which equals to about $200," Addis said. "We decorate them with special ornaments that I collected over the years. Each one has a special meaning and brings back great memories."

Williams said her family always had real trees when she was growing up.

"We always had a fresh tree when I was young," Williams said. "Mother would light real candles on our trees. They were tiny ones on a brass holders at the ends of the limbs."

Hewitt said most folks put an angel or star on top of their tree.

"I like fairies, so I put a fairy on the top of my tree," Hewitt said.

On Christmas Day in England at about 3 p.m., everyone gathers in front of the "telly" to watch the Queen's Royal Christmas message.

"She talks about the things that have affected people across the world," Addis said. "It is televised on the BBC and after she speaks, they show a movie like 'The Wizard of Oz.'"

Addis said the tradition of a Christmas Day speech goes way back.

"The first one was in 1932 by King George V," Addis said. "It was written by Rudyard Kipling and talked about peace."

Another Christmas favorite in Britain is the performance of pantomimes.

"These are just fun and include lots of jokes, humor and slapstick," Hewitt said. "Primary school children enjoy the Nativity play during school and they love going Christmas caroling. Children leave a mince pie and a drop of whiskey or brandy for Father Christmas and a carrot for the reindeer."

Queen Victoria introduced another British custom, Christmas crackers. They are used to decorate the Christmas dinner table and are cracked open before dinner.

"These are fun items that are gold foil or bright colors and are 12 inches long - two people pull them apart," Williams said. "They let out a bang when they come apart. Inside is a hat, jokes and a small prize. The prize could be a frame, gift or screwdrivers. Before families begin eating dinner, everyone cracks open the crackers, wears their hat and tells jokes. It's lots of fun."

Each woman agrees that Christmas is a wonderful time of year with many traditions, mostly rooted in their religious beliefs.

"Religion plays a huge part in our Christmas celebration," Williams said. "Kids have Advent calendars and when they open the new box each day, they get to eat a piece of chocolate or see a new view of the holy family. When I was growing up there was another tradition. Before you left the house at any time, no matter if only leaving for a short time, you had to kiss your mum and tell her 'God Bless.' It is one of the traditions that I hope never grows old."



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