Everything I know, I learned from Peppa Pig.
Maybe not everything, but if the talk is about how to have a traditional English Christmas -which we found some inklings of down here in Sydney-then Ms. Pig is my go to source.
The English are strict about their traditions-as we’ve learned from Downton Abbey-so I can’t believe in the last four (gulp) decades I’ve been alive I’ve never heard of English traditions like mince pies or Christmas crackers.
Here is how I learned:
This is Peppa Pig.
When our three-year-old wakes up every morning at seven, he gets the special treat of two episodes of Peppa Pig-imported from England on the Australian Broadcasting Company or ABC for kids. We love to sleep-preferably in the morning-so Peppa could be a nice distraction for our son while we catch a few more z’s. Instead, we love her so much, we all get up to watch her. Her episodes are a scant five minutes long which makes perfect sense as the English encapsulate everything about the saying, Brevity is the soul of wit.
Now, If you have five minutes to spare, kick back and watch this little Christmas episode. The whole family snorts before they speak, they fall down with laughter at the end of every episode and Grandpa Pig has random maritime themed flashbacks.
Imagine my surprise to learn it’s quite customary to leave Santa a mince pie and a drink on Christmas Eve.
“Aren’t mince pies savory?” I asked myself.
It turns out they are not. Savory pies are mince meat pies, and while I’m sure Santa wouldn’t say no to a mince meat pie and a pint, he has to wait until Christmas dinner like the rest of us.
Why the sweet mince pie? In the 1200s the English brought back some ‘cooking tips’ from their crusades in the Middle East. While my research ends there, my guess is they also brought back dates, figs, cloves and cinnamon-the primary ingredients in mince pies. I also imagine, once they returned home they couldn’t remember what to do with their new found ingredients. Since they didn’t have Food52 back then, it looks like they just threw it all into a pie as the English are known to do. Either way, mince pies have survived as a holiday tradition to this day.
The tradition of the Christmas cracker is our absolute favorite. We thought they were crackers, as in the vessels that aid the delivery of cheese into our tummies. No. In England what we refer to as crackers, they call crisps-because they are crispy. What they call crackers are giant bonbons that when pulled apart make a cracking sound. The Brits are a very literal people. Once a Christmas cracker has been cracked, inside you will find a paper hat, a joke (When is a door not a door?) and some other little treat. Generally, they are found next to your plate at Christmas lunch and popped open as a festive treat. We cracked ours as soon as we woke up.
Our favorite part of the cracker tradition is its origins. In the 1800s, a man named Smith was in the bonbon biz. Business was slow, one night he heard a log crack in his fireplace and he thought, “I’ll invent a bonbon cracker.”
The rest is history-his family has a memorial water fountain named for them in a park in London. The story is too good not to wear your Christmas crown with pride.