Christmastime in London

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… especially if you’re in London!  The lights are all coming out, and the stores are decorated with festive trees, wreaths, and Christmas ornaments.  I’m loving the general feel of it all; you can smell winter in the air, although some trees are still clinging to their leaves.  I took a walk down Regent Street the other night, and it’s absolutely magical.  Harrods is always fabulous, but in its Christmas best it’s better than being at the North Pole itself.  I’m just loving everything about Christmastime in London, and I’ve been learning a couple of things about Christmas in England.  First of all, how could I not try some mince pies?  I was actually surprised to learn that “mincemeat” does not necessarily have meat in it!  For those of you who don’t know, it’s mostly dried fruit, spices, and distilled spirits.  It can have meat in it, but the variety I tried did not.  The idea of meat and berries in the same pie is not an appetizing idea to me, but then again I haven’t had the opportunity to try it.  In general, I liked the mince pie.  It does have a very distinct flavor, not like anything else I’ve ever eaten (I mean that in a good way).

Another Christmas tradition I’ve observed, being sold in every supermarket, is Christmas crackers.  For the Americans reading this, no, it doesn’t mean snowflake-shaped Ritz crackers.  Christmas crackers are these things:

Christmas-crackers1

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this Christmas tradition: “A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an over-sized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, often with arms crossed, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a mild bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a shock-sensitive, chemically-impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun).”  Why don’t we have these in the States??? We need to make this a thing.  Imagine being around the dinner table on Christmas night like this:

Crackers 13

So the lights, the mince pies, the crackers… everything is heading in the direction of December 25th (or as it would be written here, 25 December).  Obviously, Thanksgiving is not an obstacle the marketers of Christmas goods have to overcome here in the UK, so Christmas shopping is in full swing.  I’ll admit, I’ll very much miss the huge Thanksgiving feast with my family and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, but I’m planning to have a little Thanksgiving feast of my own with both my American and British friends this Thursday.  Some American traditions absolutely must be observed, no matter where in the world you are.

In addition, I hear the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is pretty great!  Something I’ll be checking out later this week…

To expand on what I’ve just mentioned, here’s a good BBC article on the differences between an English Christmas and a good old-fashioned American Christmas: http://www.bbcamerica.com/mind-the-gap/2013/12/04/christmas-traditions-britain-vs-america/

One funny little difference is the use of “Happy Christmas” here in the UK instead of “Merry Christmas,” which we’re used to hearing in the States.  It seems like it should be the other way around, as “merry” isn’t a very common word in the American vocabulary…

Also, I was speaking to my British friend this week and found some more words to add to the list:

33.) turn signals (of a car)- indicators

34.) trunk (of a car)- boot

35.) hood (of a car)- bonnet

36.) windshield- windscreen

37.) RV/trailer- caravan

38.) bangs- fringe

39.) gasoline- petrol

40.) diaper- nappy

I’m so excited to see what other exciting Christmas markets and events I discover in London!

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Clicking and Commercials

I was very quickly corrected yesterday when during a performance assessment I said “snapping” instead of “clicking.”  To keep time and demonstrate rhythmic understanding of the songs we were performing, we were supposed to snap our fingers while singing.  When I said “snapping,” however, fifteen pairs of eyes looked at me like I had three heads.  After a few awkward seconds and a couple mutters of “what…?” my professor finally said, “Oh, you mean clicking.”  Therefore, today’s addition to the list is:

33.) snapping- clicking

The big news in British pop culture this week is the release of the John Lewis Christmas advert, apparently a much-anticipated moment in the UK around Christmastime.  There is really no equivalent to this commercial in the U.S.; the closest I can think to equate are perhaps the Hess truck or USPS commercials.  It’s quite a touching advert:

Judging by the response to the commercial, I’d say it was a success. Good thing, too; the advert would’ve been an anticlimactic disappointment following the enormous hype preceding its release.  Everyone anticipated an emotional response to the John Lewis commercial, and it seems they were right:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/11214534/Is-this-the-best-John-Lewis-Christmas-advert-yet.html

Of course, one of my all-time favorite Christmas commercials is this incredibly simple, but nevertheless adorable, Hershey’s ad:

It’s apparently also the longest-running Hershey’s commercial, having been aired every year since 1989.  Perhaps it’s the continuity of the commercial that explains its appeal.  All I know is that it’s not officially Christmastime until I see the Hershey bells on TV.  Anyway, I must admit that I’ve been really impressed by the British Christmas commercials I’ve seen.  Most Brits and Americans agree that American TV and movies are the best in entertainment worldwide.  However, when it comes to Christmas commercials, they might just have us beat.  Here’s a few more of my favorites I’ve seen this year:

And then, of course, this happened:

Now who could’ve predicted that “Let It Go” would be used in at least one Christmas commercial?

“London Weather” Has Arrived At Last

Since arriving in London, I’ve been extremely lucky with the weather.  For the first month I was here, I could only recall maybe two rainy days.  For the most part, it was sunny and rather warm.  I was told time and again that this weather was unusual for Britain and that I should expect to see many cloudy, drizzly days ahead.  I came prepared with my rain jacket and “Wellies” (a.k.a. rainboots), but I haven’t had much use for them… until this week.  It seems fall has finally arrived in London, and we’re having a spell of perpetual clouds this week.  Yesterday, it was quite rainy; today was more just cloudy with a light misty drizzle.  If I had 50p for every time someone said to me, “Welcome to Britain,” this week, I’d have made quite a bit of money.  This is the weather Londoners have been anticipating (and, it seems, dreading), but I have to say I don’t mind it right now.  It is, as my voice teacher said, the “quintessential English weather,” and I really feel like I’m in London now.  Needless to say, I’m getting my money’s worth out of my raincoat and my Wellies, which already took a beating last fall/winter during the seemingly endless wet and snowy winter we experienced in New Jersey.

Today I wore a pink sweater, and one of my classmates said to me, “I like your jumper!”  I was incredibly confused for a good five seconds, until she said, “Do you call it a jumper or a sweater in the U.S.?”  So I’m happy to say I’ve added another British word to my vocabulary today:

25.) sweater- jumper

Funny, because the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the term “jumper” was this scene from That 70’s Show:

jumpsuit

… although technically, these are “jumpsuits,” not “jumpers.”