Many international people I work with based in the UK would normally be planning to travel at this time of year back to family, friends or taking the opportunity to explore while living in the UK.
Covid means that many people are staying in the UK & still want to make the most of Christmas festivities & celebrations. So here’s my guide to get into the spirit of British Christmas traditions at home, & where possible, out & about in London.
Christmas Lights: bringing some twinkle to the darkness
The most famous ones to visit are Oxford Street & Regent Street, but you will also find lovely lights in St Christopher’s Place & Carnaby Street, without forgetting the Diwali-inspired lights this year on the Tate Britain, or the amazing Christmas tree display on the Churchill Arms pub in Notting Hill. It is an important part of winter for us, especially as sunset edges towards 3.50pm on the shortest day, 21st December. Plan to avoid the crowds by visiting the lights on a weekday, either as it gets dark at 4pm, or later on after 9pm when some of the shops close.
Christmas Trees: creating an eco-friendly tree feature
If you’re in London for the first time this Christmas & want to get festive with a tree, then find a great choice of artificial trees in John Lewis or Homebase, or natural ones from a range of outdoor tree markets across London at Pines & Needles. I am a huge fan of the mini trees from Bloom & Wild, which even come with their own decorations & lights, all deliverable in the post. For adding glamour to your tree, Selfridges & John Lewis have an excellent range of decorations in their Christmas shops, but I am also a fan of Liberty’s unique, creative ornaments. If you go for a real tree you don’t need to feel eco-guilty, as most councils have drop-off points where you can leave your tree after Christmas to be picked up & recycled.
Christmas jumpers: crazy patterns, flashing lights & colours
Traditionally these sweaters were something your granny knitted & gave you as a gift, but Christmas jumpers are now officially trendy & a must-have item. There is even a Christmas Jumper Day, on 11th December this year, which is a key part of British Christmas tradition & a great way to raise money for the charity, Save the Children. So even if you are working at home, put on your best jumper for your online meetings & raise money for this worthwhile charity.
Christmas Cards: Greetings & sending love
Many people remark on how the British love to send Christmas cards at this time of year but many people are switching to online greeting cards to be more environmentally friendly, except for their very nearest family. In Business sending Christmas cards is still a common way to thank clients, teams & suppliers. My feeling is that this season more physical cards will be sent as people make the effort to connect & remember each other at the end of this challenging year. I often get asked by clients about what to write inside the card, so here are a few typical greetings:
- ‘Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!’: traditional
- ‘Season’s Greetings’: if you know the other person does not actively celebrate Christmas & you want to avoid a religious message
- ‘Happy Holidays!’: common in the US & also used in the UK to avoid a religious message.
If you receive a card from somebody, it’s usually polite to send them one back, even if you hadn’t planned to!
The online Christmas Party: navigating the new rules
You may have already experienced or been invited to a Christmas online party, either for work or by friends.
The British office Christmas party has a certain reputation for food & drink, but this year will be a bit different in our socially-distanced celebrations. It’s probably more likely to last a couple of hours only, with no meal, but will certainly include drinks, games & possibly dressing up.
- Dress to impress: Find out what the dress code is, likely to be either glam or fancy dress (e.g. Christmas costume). If fancy dress, you can put on your Christmas jumper again, or crazy, flashing Christmas-themed jewellery, Santa hats or reindeer headbands are also popular.
- Virtual Drinking: Pace yourself if you are drinking alcohol, which is easy to forget in virtual social events. Or explore some of the fantastic alcohol-free beers & spirits, e.g. Seedlip & Lyre’s.
- Online Party Fun: You may find quizzes, bingo, remote karaoke, or even silent discos & virtual dance-offs, but the best online events also allow time for relaxed chat & catch ups in breakout rooms.
Christmas Day, 25th Dec: still celebrating in style
Many people will take an extended break for the Christmas holidays from Christmas Eve on 24th December until the New Year. So, if you are in London on Christmas Day, what should you do? Well, here are my top British Christmas tips for this year, even if you can’t get together with all the family & friends you normally see:
- Plan in advance: almost everything is closed on Christmas Day. Yes, everything! The tube, buses, most shops & some restaurants. So, if you want to go anywhere you will need to drive yourself, or book a taxi at least 48 hours in advance & certainly make a restaurant reservation by mid-December. Just remember with the UK current Covid rules (as of publication date 08.12.20), you can form a Christmas bubble with 2 other households for the period 23-27 December, which means it will be very busy on the roads & travelling around/ out of London on those dates.
- Food & Drink: If you want to eat a traditional Christmas dinner, you can have a go at cooking it at home yourself & an easy, very good option is to buy it pre-prepared from M&S or Waitrose. Or if you are feeling up to the challenge, get inspiration from British TV chefs, Jamie Oliver for modern British or Delia Smith for traditional British Christmas dinner, but remember nobody actually likes eating Brussels Sprouts, they are just for decoration. For sweet treats, try British mince pies (not actually made from mincemeat, but with lots of raisins & dried fruit), or try German lebkuchen & stollen, as well as Italian panettone, which are popular in the UK too.
- Watch Christmas TV: TV is central to most people’s days at some point & highly watched are the Christmas specials for popular TV programmes, like EastEnders, Coronation Street or Doctor Who. These TV programmes have been around for decades & the Christmas special episode includes some incredibly dramatic & extreme incidents, such as a murder, death, weddings or a break-up.
- Christmas Crackers: British people love crackers & usually have them at any Christmas meal. Inside you will find a colourful paper hat in the shape of a crown (must be worn during the meal), a little toy & a joke. The joke is not really that funny & usually relies on some play on words, but we always still like to giggle at them.
- The Queen’s Speech: for the traditionalists everybody must be watching TV at 3pm on Christmas Day for the Queen’s Speech which is a pre-recorded 10-minute message broadcast, including the Queen’s reflections on the past year. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about 2020!
- Playing board games: Now this is a tricky one. Board games are a great way to spend time with family on Christmas Day, think Monopoly, Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. It can keep the family entertained for hours but can end in conflict if everybody takes it a bit too seriously, in which case I suggest…..
- Go for a walk: Everybody benefits from a breath of fresh air & relief from the indulgence of eating, drinking & sitting down throughout the day, so why not head to your nearest park for a gentle stroll as long as it’s not too wet.
- As the light fades on the day & you head back to your cosy, warm home for more indulgence, TV & board games, don’t forget the tradition of the chocolate tin (e.g. Quality Street, Celebrations or Heroes). A permanent feature in most British homes over the festive season, a large box or tin of chocolates will sit tempting you throughout December & mass consumption peaks on Christmas Day. But remember nobody likes the one in the pink wrapper & you will always find at least ten of these lying abandoned at the bottom. Chocolate-eating etiquette: putting your empty wrappers back into the tin is likely to annoy everybody, & all chocolates must be consumed or disappeared by the start of January, when Easter Eggs will immediately start appearing on the supermarket shelves, ready for April.
Whatever you are up to over the festive season, I wish you a very Merry British Christmas & a Happy New Year!
Victoria Rennoldson, Founder of Perfect Cuppa English
Holidays x Christmas E-Gift Cards:
As we head towards the holiday season, if you are thinking about your present list, then consider the gift of learning & personal development for yourself or somebody international you know! Find out more about or buy e-gift cards.
Take a look at Perfect Cuppa English training courses:
Book your initial consultation for your personalised recommendations
You might also like reading: