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Christmas - the Whole Story


Christmas in Britain is all about nice food, presents and family reunions. Or is it? An alarmingly large number of British people would say that there is a lot more to Christmas than meets the eye (of a foreigner, of course).

Part 1. Shopping

Officially Christmas and New Year celebrations run from the 24th of December to the 2nd of January. However, for many Brits the Christmas marathon starts as early as the beginning of October with the first festive adverts on TV. By the end of November shops are so packed that only the gloomy realisation that Christmas is looming and there is nothing you can do about it can make you swap the comfort of a soft sofa and nice cup of tea for big crowds of panic-stricken people.

The idea of Christmas shopping is that you spend as much money as you can on anything you cast your eyes on, preferably something neither you or your family (friends, pets etc) will ever use. An average British family spends £670 or more around the Christmas period. The money is spent on a Christmas tree, presents, and essential food such as a huge turkey, hundreds of mince pies, Christmas cake, ham and lots of nibbles. Another big source of spending is Christmas cards with an average British person buying 46 greetings cards per year!

Some people just cannot stop spending. It is very easy to spend more money than you actually have as most people have a number of credit cards. Buying on credit is increasingly becoming part of British culture as people are constantly encouraged by banks and advertising to buy more. It is not unusual for someone to turn Christmas spending into paying debts for the rest of the year. And, of course, there are also January sales. Hung-over and exhausted the whole population of the British Isles rushes to shops to hunt for bargains and … next year's Christmas presents!

Part 2. Crime

Long live Christmas! - say pickpockets, car thieves and burglars getting their share of Christmas shopping through the dirty business of relieving decent citizens of their fully deserved possessions. Every year thousands of people get their wallets stolen in overcrowded shops and streets. Lots of lovely presents, which somebody spent so much time and money on, disappear without a trace when cars and homes are broken into. As much as 9% of people experience a burglary in December. Last year 44,000 homes were broken into costing insurers 47 million pounds. So what is the solution? Although it is impossible to prevent all thefts, it helps to be careful not to put wallets and presents somewhere where pickpockets and thieves can see them and to insure houses and cars against burglary.

Part 3. Family

Finally, the presents are bought, wrapped and put away in a safe dark corner and it is time to enjoy Christmas with your family. Although it is not a crime to spend the New Year with friends, British Christmas is definitely a family celebration. As, quite often, grown-up children live a long way (or what seems a long way) from their parents, some families only get together once a year, for Christmas. But even if all the family lives close by, it is a must to spend Christmas together. Normally this means three days: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

It seems like a short time but in reality it is not. Firstly, not all families get on well together. Secondly, even if it is not the case, it is difficult to stay calm and friendly amongst shouting parents trying to decide who knows better how to make Christmas dinner, screaming kids and grandparents perpetually giving invaluable pieces of advice. Besides, being such an old tradition, there are things that just have to be done at Christmas even if the whole family secretly hates it. For example, playing traditional board games, and eating Christmas cake. And if you do not see anything wrong with playing games, just imagine if you HAD to do it every year for the rest of your life. Doesn't sound like a jolly prospect now, does it? As for Christmas cake, heavy and overfilling it is not to everybody's taste. To make things worse, it takes weeks to make and when it is ready it can last until Easter, so even if you do not like it, you have to try and eat some at Christmas to avoid being haunted by it months after.

Naturally, all this creates some tension. According to statistics, the number of family breakdowns doubles in the post-Christmas period as a result of stress, debt and over-consumption of alcohol. As it is a well-known fact, some magazines publish tips on how to cope with Christmas such as yoga, meditation or holidays abroad.

Part 4. Weather

Who does not want to have a white Christmas? Playing snowballs and making a snowman with the whole family on Christmas Day is most people's dream (apart from the countries like Australia that celebrate Christmas in summer, on the beach). Although this dream is more than likely to come true in northern countries like Russia, for British people it is different. Although it is not uncommon to get some snow in Scotland and northern England, the rest of Britain is normally only lucky enough to get some frost. In most cases the weather is wet and gloomy. This is not to say that British people are not used to wet and miserable weather, but at Christmas it is just too depressing to bear!

However, there are some people in Britain who love horrible weather and these people are … travel agents. Unlike the popular belief, winter is a very busy time for companies selling holidays. People get so fed up with bad weather and stress that they just cannot wait to get away. Some people also buy holidays for the summer or even next year during the festive season as it can work out significantly cheaper than buying closer to the time of travel.

© Mary Moor

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