Dan and I took a red-eye flight to arrive in England on Christmas day. We were utterly exhausted, but had a wonderful Christmas dinner with family at Dan's sister's ( Ali) house. This was my first time experiencing Christmas in England, and although many aspects were similar to the traditions that I was raised with in America, there were some notable differences.
Ali made a delicious roast dinner. Growing up, my mom would make the exact same meal for both Christmas and Thanksgiving. Not only was the meal exactly the same for both holidays, it was exactly the same every single year. We ate turkey, stuffing ( Mom argued that it was called dressing, same argument every year), fruit salad with Cool Whip, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, yeast dinner rolls, and candied yams. Christmas dinner in England, had turkey and corn, but the rest was different: roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, carrots, brussel sprouts, broccoli, sausages, stuffing formed in balls, gravy, and bread sauce. About a week before we visited, I saw a Facebook post regarding bread sauce, and how people outside of England, have no idea what bread sauce is. I was clueless. I can now report that it is a savory, slightly sweet, thick sauce made from bread, milk and seasonings. I can't say it was my favorite part of the meal, but it was tasty and definitely something different.
Before we ate, I was taught the proper way to open a Christmas cracker ( crossed your arms and reach opposite arms over to your neighbor's cracker, creating a circle, pulling all at once) and we wore our paper crowns and read our jokes. My American Christmas dinners were informal, in that it was okay to wear shorts and flip-flops, but they lacked the silliness and fun of having the jokes and crowns.
In America, we always had pie for dessert, always pumpkin and cherry. Ali made her amazing triffle ( multiple layers of boozy and chocolaty yumminess), but we were too full from dinner to eat it, so it was saved for later in the week. Dan and I were so sleepy from our long flight, that we fell asleep on the couch after dinner.
Christmas pudding is also a traditional dessert, it's a fruity, boozy cake that is made months, even a year in advance, and is served with brandy butter. Dan has ordered this from England and we have eaten it in America. It's rich and decadent. Also traditional, is this version of a fruit cake covered with marzipan that my mother-in-law made. I'm not a fan of marzipan, so I didn't try it, but isn't it pretty? I love the look of marzipan fruit.
I'm not sure if this is necessarily traditional for the holidays, but we drank this sparkling pear drink with a cute name and logo: BabyCham. It was sweet and delicious. The picture didn't turn out, but it is served in specific Babycham glasses with a gold rim.
Our traditional Christmas also included my first Pantomine show, a gift from the Higgin's family! As much as I've studied theater, I really wasn't sure what defined a Pantomime, and I was eager to find out. I was warned that it would be a highly audience participatory experience, and that I'd better participate or I'd risk getting singled-out by the cast. I was a little nervous and perhaps over-zealous in my participation as a result. No way was I getting picked on!
The show was a twist on the classic fairytale, Cinderella.
The venue is the Corn Exchange ( where a long time ago, corn was actually exchanged, but the historic building is now a performing arts center) located in the middle of Newbury's high street.
Here is a picture of the stage.
From what I can tell from watching the show and speaking with my British relatives, here are some things that are key to a Pantomime show.
1. Audience participation: lots of audience participation. The characters speak directly to the audience, you cheer the heroes, boo the villains, clap, sing-along, perhaps even dance. The audience is part of the show, including the characters approaching audience members for questions and non-participation. Watch out!
2. Men in drag. In Cinderella, the ugly step-sisters were played by men. This also includes completely over-the-top, outrageous costumes to match their outrageous behavior.
3. Songs. Cinderella included original songs and new lyrics for songs that everyone knows like pop hits.
4. Along with the audience participation, a call-back line. This has been very popular with my step-kids, we now say it to them when we Skype and they shout back the response. In Cinderella every time the servant character would say "Fancy a Tuttle?" the audience would yell back, "Don't forget your trumpet." This occurred a lot during the performance.
5. Theater Magic/spectacle, such as low-level pyrotechnic effects when the fairy godmother made Cinderella's pumpkin and dress.
6. Humor that is sometimes slightly naughty and sometimes completely groan-worthy. The show is very much for the whole family, as the adult humor would go over the heads of most of the kids in the audience. Our group had a wide-range of ages, from 7- mid 70's and everyone enjoyed the show.
7. Disco ball. Okay, I don't actually know that a disco ball is at every pantomime, but it should be. What in life isn't made better by the addition of a disco ball?
I throughly loved the pantomime and the next time we go to England for Christmas, I hope we will go again. It's a holiday tradition that I would look forward to keeping.
This has nothing to do with Christmas, but I came across this picture Wilf, the Higgin's family dog. He is the cutest, most lovable, good-natured dog in the world and this picture is too adorable not to share. As we spent much of our holiday at my sister-in-law's house ( thanks for hosting us Higgins!), we couldn't help but take a million pictures of Wilf. This is my favorite.