Our Christmas in England

This holiday season got me thinking back to a few years ago when we lived in Europe.  Thought you might enjoy some of those holiday experiences…

22 December 2003

In England, holiday decorations have been in some shops since August – so I felt right at home. When Thanksgiving came around, it felt strange, because without a proper Thanksgiving Day it doesn’t feel like the Christmas season ever gets kicked off properly.

But the Brits definitely like Christmas. Each small town starts the season early in December by holding a big party on The High Street. “The High Street” is what they call the main shopping place in town. The businesses decorate their shops mostly by hanging live pine trees on the front of the buildings and stringing six or seven lights on them.

Most of the decorations that hang over the streets are giant gold or red metallic “things”. I don’t know what these “things” are but they are definitely shinny hanging strings of square objects. Similar smaller versions can be bought in the shops.

On the weekends there are Christmas “fayres” in the surrounding towns. The one for Hadleigh started on a Friday afternoon at Cat’s school with a “fayre” to raise money for special projects. There were tables with games of chance, and drawings for a big bottle of whiskey. After the cleanup we took our torches (flashlights) and walked to The High Street with the other kids and their parents for the lighting of The High Street Christmas tree.

In the brisk air everyone in the town square sang Christmas carols with strange tunes, but familiar words. The mayor wore an Elizabethan costume with a medal hanging on a chain around his neck and a puffy black velvet hat. The lights didn’t come on when he threw the switch. He said it was the delay between the switch and the electricity getting to the tree. Sometimes he thinks he is a comic.

The High Street was closed to cars, and loaded with lots of tables for selling potential Christmas gifts. The local radio
station had a machine blowing snow while the kids danced to rock music. A sickly looking Santa sat in the back of a van, called the “Santa grotto”.

We traveled to more “fayres” over a couple of weekends in Monk’s Eleigh, Sudbury, Leavenham, and Woodbridge. Tables were set up to sell pinecones, and weeds sprayed gold. Christmas cards and calendars that benefit charities were on sale at all of these little “fayres”, and in most of the tourist centers and churches we visited.

The “fayre” at Blackthorpe Barn, near Bury St. Edmund’s was an elegant very commercial version of the “fayres” we visited in the small towns. This thatched-roof black barn in the middle of nowhere was crowded with everything you would ever want for holiday decorating…plus loads of artists displaying blown glass, dried flowers and weeds, photos, leather goods and wool knitted clothing.

On TV there have been contests for the “most decorated house”. I haven’t seen many outdoor lights, and the ones I noticed were pretty pitiful compared to the ones in the US.

They also had short little informational shows to teach people how to make microwave stuffing and cookies from scratch.

Most people seem to wait until near the big day to decorate. The Christmas trees I’ve seen for sale were pulled up by the roots, and look like green monsters with lots of brown fingers sticking out at the bottom. There were plenty of holly and pine wreaths for sale with red and gold decorations.

We plan to have a quiet Christmas Day. I’m feeling a little nervous about not having family or friends around, but I am
hoping for some spur of the moment get-together invitations from our neighbors.

The New Year holds great promise. None of us knows what the future holds for sure though, so from our family to yours, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or a combination of beliefs we wish you two important things to get you through just about anything that comes your way…health and peace during the holiday season, and especially in the new year.



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Jay and Annie Warmke run a sustainability center in southern Ohio that features an Earthship (a passive solar home made of tires and garbage), straw bale buildings, various critters and more. Find out all about it at www.bluerockstation.com

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