Having experienced our first American Christmas, many people have asked about the differences. Without our family and friends Christmas was always going to be different. In some ways Christmas was more relaxing without rushing off to visit relatives and in others a little of the Christmas spirit was lost. The good thing is that with Skype and Video Kinect we were able to talk to family and friends at various points through the day and the grandparents were able to watch the kids open their presents.
The Christmas tradition here is different in many ways, some take a little getting used to whilst others are a breath of fresh air.
It took me a while to get used to the American reference to Holidays rather than Christmas. At first it seemed too politically correct. Being invited to a Holiday party and school letters referencing Holiday gifts was very odd. The lack of emphasis on any one festival is nice but still feels a little strange; for me it will always be Christmas.
I took the children to see the switching on of the Christmas lights at the City Hall. This turned out to be simply turning on the Christmas tree lights, accompanied by a school choir singing songs about snow and jollity but not the traditional Christmas carols I expected. It appeared at first that the word Christmas was a taboo but over time I began to hear Christmas references more frequently. I read an article by a Jewish lady talking about how tiresome it was as a child to be asked what Santa was bringing and have to explain her faith time and again. I’m beginning to see the merits of the term ‘Holidays’ but I’m not a full convert yet.
Christmas decorations and lights started to go up in the neighbourhood as soon as Thanksgiving was over. Outside decoration seems to be as important as indoor, yet somehow it’s all a bit more tasteful than the UK . No house looks like it’s been adorned with the contents of Poundland. Lights are put around the roof or to light a pathway, beautifully lit ornaments are placed on lawns and every door displays a Christmas wreath. Perhaps it’s just that the houses and plot sizes are bigger that avoid them looking like they’ve been spewed on by the tinsel fairy. I’m slowly trying to blend in, I turned my old garland that I made when we were first married into a wreath and hung it on the front door and I’ve put a snowflake light in the window. Next year I think I need to research in advance how to power all the outdoor lights and decorations so we can sparkle with the best of them.
Once Thanksgiving was over I expected the supermarkets to be full of Christmas food. We found Christmas cookies, candy canes and egg nog but where were the beloved mince pies? It appears that Christmas cookies are an American tradition. Not gingerbread cookies or spicy lebkuchen that we would associate with Christmas but ordinary sugary cookies in Christmas shapes. Traditionally they were hung on the Christmas tree and left out for Santa.
My kids love mince pies, we would eat them every day from when they appeared on the shelves until we had exhausted our stack of reduced ones from the January sale. When the cashier at Waitrose told us that their bakery stock individual ones year round, the girls jumped for joy and we would sometimes pop in for a treat. So how would we cope this year?
After searching around and almost going as far as making mincemeat from scratch, I was relieved to find a jar of Robinsons mincemeat. The girls and I made a batch of mince pies. My pastry was a disaster, even the dog worried he may break his teeth. So I resigned myself to a Christmas without mince pies. That is until I discovered the delights of Cost Plus World Market, where we found mince pies (all be it at $7 a box) along with Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, Cadburys biscuits, pickled onions and other treats like Marmite and Birds custard. We were all set for a traditional Christmas.
One of the best things about living here in the Winter is that a 40 minute drive takes you to snow. You have all the fun and beauty of snow without any of the inconvenience. We had a wonderful time at Hyak Snow Park tobogganing and building snowmen and the view was just like a scene from a Christmas Card. Perfect for my 4-year-old who believes that there is always snow at Christmas.
Gifts and Cards
Rather than sending Christmas cards, the neighbours left little treats like cookies and chocolate brownies on our doorstep. What a great idea, this is definitely something we should adopt in the UK. We baked a batch of mince pies (they were substantially better than the first batch) and the girls and I delivered them to the neighbours on Christmas Eve.
In all our first Christmas in America was pretty special and hopefully in future years we will have family or friends to share it with us.