Monday, 16 December 2013

The Great Transatlantic Christmas-off

Not my neighbour's partridge; but it's a good old English tradition
"Look, it's a partridge! In a pear tree".

This was about the third time I've pointed out to Littleboy 1 this most inventive outdoor Christmas decoration from a house near us. A stuffed bird sits atop a tiny tree, which is hanging with golden pears, outside their house. (While America still wins on the classy decoration front, England is definitely improving - I've seen lots of fairy lights on trees and bushes this year, and not so many flashing garish reindeer).

When he finally managed to see the thing, he asked quite simply: "What's that got to do with Christmas?"

The boys have certainly missed out on some English Christmas traditions during our time in the US, but they're making up for lost time now. Although sadly too old to actually be a shepherd/wise man in the Nativity, they've sung in choirs at school as younger children perform it. We're one carol service down, two to go (Littleboy 1's was at a large London cathedral, a really special experience, while the other two will be a tiny country churches). Although I realise I'm a hypocrite for wanting them to experience carol services, given that I'm the most Dawkins-eque critic of religion, I do feel they missed something in the US, with its strict banishment of anything religious from school. After all, you can't be critical of something you've never been exposed to, can you? (And after all, I like singing carols).

Littleboy 2's been to one pantomime with school, and I've booked tickets for all of us to go to the Theatre Royal, Stratford, to see Dick Whittington. I'm not sure panto even exists in New York where the Christmas theatre experience is either The Nutcracker, or The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

This week we're off to The Snowman in Covent Garden (at least they know what this is, having watched it repeatedly on video since they were babies and played the theme tune in their piano recitals in America). In a fit of Christmas enthusiasm I bought the DVD of the rehashed Snowman (The Snowman and Snowdog) in the supermarket, having not seen it on television last year. Disappointingly it was a far inferior version; Littleboy 1 immediately announced that music wasn't as good, and the adults among us were dismayed that the original house in the film was now depicted in the midst of urban sprawl. We don't want realism from our cartoons!

Work-wise, I've been incredibly busy, mainly because my American colleagues are fascinated by the glut of over-the-top Christmas ads coming out of the UK. Why, they asked me, are British Christmas ads such a big deal? I tried to explain that in the UK, Christmas IS the really one really big occasion of the year when we go totally overboard. Americans have so many; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine's, even Mother's Day have special advertising created just for the occasion, and then of course there's the Super Bowl.

The UK has also has Special Christmas Telly for advertisers to get their teeth into, with guaranteed large audience numbers. We show special episodes of all our favourites on the 25th, whereas in the States it's all repeats of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. Hell, America has to wait until March to get the Downton Abbey Christmas Special. While I've gone off Downton rather, I'm looking forward to Call The Midwife and the return of Benedict Cumberbatch (sorry, Sherlock).

Yes, for all that I miss about America, in the great Transatlantic Christmas-Off, the UK definitely has the edge.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure panto even exists in New York where the Christmas theatre experience is either The Nutcracker, or The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

Well, it's definitely an import, but we've got it now!

The tickets are even "suggested donation", which is awesome. I read Ballet Shoes over and over until it fell apart in my hands as a child and I am ludicrously excited about this. Those girls were always auditioning for or acting in Christmas pantos, and once I worked out that there was no way the books meant mime I always was curious about it!

But, you know, the experience is for the nieces. It's, um, educational.

Muddling Along said...

Is a good point, Christmas really is the only time we get to go nuts over here (which may explain a great deal…) - have been trying to explain why panto is so fab to Americans and the whole 'well it's for the children but they do a lot of jokes that only the grown ups get and it's a bit risqué but very family friendly' doesn't seem to work...

Iota said...

A friend of mine was lamenting that her daughter is in a Nativity play for the last time this year (aged 8), and I said that mine had never had the chance to be in one. I suppose I feel a bit sad about that, although in the great scheme of things, it's not a huge childhood loss.

My kids get to to go a panto with the boarders at school, and I must say I'm sad because I don't get to go too (tried to muscle in this year, but wasn't allowed). I remember going to a Christmas panto or show with my family as a highlight of Christmas. Last year I found something else to go to as a family, but this year, can't seem to find anything that everyone will like (age range 9 - 16, plus both genders).

I'm making up for carol services too. I think they're lovely whatever your faith position - they speak of hope, love, peace, beauty, community tradition, etc.

I miss the ridiculous Christmas lights outside, but yes, you're right, Britain is beginning to catch on. Haven't spotted any giant inflatable snowmen and Santas as yet though.

nappy valley girl said...

Conuly - that's interesting - I wonder how it will go down in the States? Pantomime is brilliant for kids, all sorts of audience participation and songs that they can join in with. The really good ones are fun for adults too - they usually have lots of topical references/satire. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Well, they've been running a few years apparently. I don't know how authentic it is to the way you do it over there, but I won't be able to tell the difference anyway :)

And yes, at the level of ecstatic I have reached it would have to be really, truly AWFUL for me to not enjoy it!

Almost American said...

Oh - enjoy The Snowman! We went to see it the last time we were in the UK for Christmas.
I've seen the sequel, and I agree it didn't measure up :-(
We watched The Nativity last night (BBC, from 2009, about a school nativity play) My kids were bemused, having no idea that Nativity plays are such a big thing!)

Geeks Diet said...

We've been in the USA for about 5 years now and I miss all those Christmas things too. I also don't consider myself religious, but really miss carol services and my kids being in Nativity plays. I hope to get back soon too.