An English Christmas

Everything I know, I learned from Peppa Pig.

the view from our terrace on Christmas morning
the view from our terrace on Christmas morning

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 very strict about their traditions as we’ve all learned from Downton Abbey, so I can’t believe over the last 4 (gulp) decades I have been alive I have never heard of English traditions like mincemeat pies or Christmas crackers.

Here is how I learned.

This is Peppa Pig.

she likes to jump in muddy puddles
she even jumps in muddy puddles with the Queen—>

When G wakes up every morning at 7, he gets the special treat of 2 episodes of Peppa Pig on the Australian Broadcasting Company or ABC for kids (analogous to PBS in the US).  ABC imports Sesame Street and other shows from the States, but Peppa Pig is from England. Her episodes are a scant 5 minutes long which makes perfect sense as the English encapsulate everything about the saying ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’

Now if you read this blog it is probably because you know me and if you know me, you know I love to sleep—preferably in the morning. So Peppa could be a nice way for me to catch 10 more z’s except I love her so much I get up instead to watch her.  So, if you have 4 minutes and 31 seconds to spare (I know, why would you—but maybe you’re still in a holidaze I can take advantage of), kick back and watch this little Christmas episode.  The whole family snorts before they speak, they all fall down with laughter at the end of every episode and Grandpa Pig has random maritime themed flashbacks.   It’s just good.

Whether you watch the video or not, allow me to explain the English tradition of puddings and mincemeat pies.  Just before Christmas everyone helps prepare these goodies and when it’s your turn to stir you get to make a wish.  There are sweet versions and savory versions of mincemeat pies, but the sweet ones typically have no meat.  Who knew?  In the 1200s the English brought back some ‘cooking tips’ from their crusades in the Middle East, and while I haven’t researched any more than this, I will venture to guess they also brought back dates, figs, cloves and cinnamon as these are the primary ingredients in mincemeat pies.  I also wonder if they forgot what to do with it all once they returned home and since they didn’t have Food52 back then, 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. It’s quite customary to leave Santa a mince pie and a drink on Christmas Eve, but we didn’t make our pies until Christmas Day.

are you sure we should leave Santa cookies?  that's not what Peppa does.
are you sure we should leave Santa these cookies? that’s not what Peppa does.

We did a couple of other things out of English traditional order as well.  We opened some presents BEFORE Christmas lunch.

a bottle of orange syrup for M's pancakes sent all the way from Paris by Marine
a gift of orange syrup for M’s pancakes sent all the way from Paris by Marine

In fact, we even opened a few before Christmas breakfast.

a favorite recipe from the Times  Magazine—>we used to make it at Deborah’s 

Now the tradition of the Christmas cracker has to be our favorite.  I thought it was a cracker, as in the vessel that aids the delivery of cheese into my tummy.  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 (with the exception of meatless mincemeat pie, of course).  Once a Christmas cracker has been cracked, inside you will find paper hats, jokes (mine was-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 open as soon as we woke up.

note the Christmas Crown—ignore the Lego—that’s a whole other post entirely.

I think the best thing about the cracker tradition is it is just one of those weirdo things invented by a guy named Smith in the 1800s who 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 and he and his family have a memorial water fountain named for them in a park in London.  That story is too good to not wear your Christmas crown with pride.


One comment

  • Oh those Englishman/ Who new??? When you come home I hope you will make me some of these things, they do look interesting but you n ever said you really loved them, did you? Good Blog.
    Gray is still adorable and so is his Mama. I’m sure Papa is too but not in this set. Hugs toAll,GG

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