Christmas in England: Differences between USA and English Holiday Customs

connor-8How do you wish someone to have a good Christmas?  “Merry Christmas” is typically what Americans will say when wishing someone to have a nice holiday.  However the English say, “Happy Christmas.”  Though the US and UK have vast similarities there are also some pretty different ways the English and Brits celebrate this festive time of year.  This blog will specifically focus on Christmas and the differences from an American point of view.  It should also be mentioned that the UK, Britain, and England are all different places, but they share similar holiday experiences, and we will be looking at them from a generality stance.


The Food

Here in America, we typically have food galore.  From Turkey or Ham to stuffing and plenty of pies.  The options are endless, and if you get a couple people in your family who love to cook then you’re in for a real treat with the amount of food you will have for leftovers.  However in England and the UK, food is much different.  Their main dish is typically turkey, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables and potatoes, and pigs in blankets.  For starters is typically a cheese board which includes multiple different types of cheeses with ham and crackers.  Lastly, for dessert is Christmas cake.  Christmas cake is a cake similar to a fruit cake, however the English will pour alcohol over the cake (typically brandy) and light it on fire.  Another thing the English love is their cranberry sauce, which is always a big highlight during the holiday season.

Christmas Day Festivities

In America, Christmas day is usually a day where we celebrate with family, unwrap presents, attend some religious festivity (if you’re religious), and watch movies while stuffing our faces with a big meal.  However, in England is quite different again.  Though they still do all the things that we do, they also have crackers and paper hats.  While eating Christmas dinner, they will place paper hats (usually different colors) on their heads while they eat.  They will also have crackers which is sort of like a wish bone.  There are two sides to the cracker which is shaped like a tube of toothpaste.  Two people will pull on their respective end and whoever gets the bigger half wins.  Inside these crackers are typically really bad jokes and some small gifts.  After dinner, most families and friends will make it a board game type of day and watch films.

Other Holiday Events and Traditions

Like in America, not everything happens just on Christmas day.  There are some festivities that happen throughout the entire month of December.  One of these traditions can be seen in the form of an “advent calendar.”  Advent calendars are calendars which countdown to Christmas starting on December 1, and whoever has the advent calendar will pop open the day of the month and inside will be some sort of candy.  Another big event is “Christmas Light Switch On,” which happens in every city.  Typically, each city will have their Christmas lights all set up, and the city will invite a celebrity of some sorts to come and “Switch On” their lights.  For example, Jeremy Clarkson (former host of Top Gear, and new host of the Grand Tour) was invited to turn on a cities lights.  A third holiday is the day after Christmas, which is referred to as Boxing Day.  Boxing Day is now used today as a holiday where people often return unwanted gifts, and is a day off.  However, the best (in my opinion) and final example of different traditions is the Christmas Markets.  Almost every city and town in England has a Christmas Market.  Originally adapted from Germany, these markets are homage to some of the cutest gifts and best food you’ll ever see or buy in your life.  People who operate in the Christmas Markets really get into the spirit of Christmas and these markets help set up why the holiday season is so special.


All in all, the traditions and food are different, the culture can be quite different, and the language can be different as well.  Christmas in England and the UK is a magical time, just as it is here in America.  So if you’re looking for a way to spice up your holiday season, or your aim is just to try something new (but still relatively close to home) I’d recommend giving the English Christmas a go.  You may adopt some new and beautiful Christmas traditions.

Connor Bechtol studies Management and Marketing at the University of Kentucky, and he just returned from studying for the full academic year at Oxford Brookes University.