It hard not to judge and compare. I’ve never lived anywhere other than Alberta, Canada and one of my greatest curiosities about living abroad was whether I would like the experience. Would I find it better, worse, or just different? I used to be a bit of a travelphobe, and I also had been conditioned to believe Canada is the greatest country on earth. When I left on this extended trip I had no expectations in place. I left with an open mind and a question of whether I my unchallenged belief about Canada would still hold up by the end of my trip.
Living somewhere is different than vacationing. You stand a greater chance of getting up close and personal with a culture, then when you are simply hitting a destination’s high spots. I didn’t expect to experience huge amounts of cultural shock in England because Canada, after all, is a former colony. We are close allies and we share a queen. Next to the American’s I’d say no other country means as much to Canada as the United Kingdom.
I was right. No huge amounts of culture shock but there are differences to be sure. Some are better, some are worse, and others are just different.
The holidays in the UK
My first Christmas away from Canada and all my family and friends was very surreal. I had barely recovered from jet lag when I had to get into the spirit and celebrate Christmas. My family has taken to celebrate solstice but as we were all scattered to the winds this Christmas, Lyric and I decided that when in Rome) we would do as the Romans do (or in this case, the English).
Christmas in the U.K. is a much more subdued and secular affair than Christmas in Canada. It is similarly commercial. The stores (shops) are crazy but religion/Christianity is not as highlighted. There are carols playing in the stores, and simple light displays in town centers and main streets. There are no garishly, over-the-top, crazily decorated houses. Not a one. A single string of outside lights is about all you’ll see. If the living room curtain is open when you pass by you might get a peek at a tastefully decorated tree. No blinking musical lights and not a single mechanical singing lawn ornament anywhere.
Christmas Eve is a non-event. In our family Christmas Eve is just as important, and in some parts of our family even more important than Christmas Day. Mass is attended, gifts are opened. Company arrives. Christmas Eve is England was simply just the day before Christmas. All the stores were closed earlier than I expected. By 5:30 everything was shut down. Strangely, though, some pubs are open on Christmas day. They have shortened hours, but they are open. A quick trip off to the pub is not an uncommon event, especially for the men. I guess that is a similarity to Canada. Men have their Christmas traditions and they are seldom about the cooking and the preparations, and more about the socializing and relaxing.
The Boxing Day shopping frenzy is present here and the newspapers and radios were buzzing with talk about the sales. I never made it to any but I find the January prices on clothing to be super affordable. I’m finding great deals when I am out and about.
New Year’s Eve is all about the pub you wish to visit. We stayed in and watched the English version of the countdown, called the Jools Annual Hootenanny, done by Jools Holland. It was a great show and filled with tons of great English performers. At the end there are fireworks and Auld Lang Syne is sung just like at home. Out in the neighborhood plenty of fireworks were set off from backyards.
Overall we had a nice Christmas. It was lacking in people and snow but it was similar enough to get into the Christmas spirit. It was strange not cross-country skiing or sledding during the holidays but after stuffing one’s self with food, it was very cool to be able to talk a long walk outside and work off some turkey.
As far as whether Christmas is better worse or just different in the UK than in Canada I think I’d have to say celebrating in your own home, with your own traditions, and your own family and friends is always going to be better but you’ll never really appreciate it if you never try anything different. Lyric and I found out it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be and it was fun to experience and discuss what we do differently.
Next posting- Better,Worse or Different- Grocrery shopping in the UK