Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Resident Alien's Christmas Eve -- back in England

This will be our fourth Christmas since moving to the United States from the UK. But on all four occasions we have been back in the UK to celebrate. Perhaps one day we will experience a truly American Christmas, but it's difficult to imagine, at least at this point. Christmas is such a family occasion, and our family is all here in England. And other than the summer, it is the only time that we can get enough time all at once to travel as a family. The girls have two weeks off school; I have two weeks with no teaching at Duke; and Viola travels with her work and manages to find the time to mix work and pleasure.

Although Viola has blogged Christmases past (Christmas 2007, Christmas 2006), I have not done so myself here, other than to talk about the Doctor Who Christmas special, of course. But digging out some old diaries of mine has made me a little nostalgic for Christmases past and it makes me think that one day I may be nostalgic for Christmas 2008 and curious about what we were doing. I stopped keeping a diary some time ago, and blogging partly takes its place. So this is a little self-indulgent and likely to be of interest to the future me, so the rest of you feel free to tune out at this point.

I am blogging late on Christmas eve. We are at my parents' place in South Derbyshire. It is the same house I was brought up in. Almost all of my memories of Christmas are in this house. Now it is a bit more full of people, but not a lot has changed. My mum still works too hard; we all try to help as much as we can; we all eat a lot, laugh a lot and enjoy the Christmas telly. The telly is absolutely central to a good British Christmas, and it is a major difference from the US, which does not appear to have any new programming over the Christmas period at all. In Britain, it's the best time of the year for telly.

There was a lovely piece in today's Guardian by Lucy Mangan, Tinsel and Telly, which gets it exactly right:

Some families, of course, push their chairs back from a table strewn with turkey wishbones and cracker trimmings, and head off for a restorative walk. Off they go, breathing deep lungfuls of crystalline, wintry air before returning home for a quick game of charades and a snifter of brandy before bed.

It must be awful. In the Mangan household, the countdown to Christmas never begins with the first day of advent, but with the advent of the two-week edition of the Radio Times . . . .
That was the same in our house too. No publication could ever be so thrilling as the Christmas Radio Times and TV Times (you had to buy both back in the day), and my brother and I used to create our own Christmas TV times, with little "breaks" or "rests" occasionally written in to a day full of wall to wall entertainment. I have grown up a little bit since then, but I still got the same thrill today, working through The Guardian's highlights for the next few days.

In fact, the great TV already begun for us tonight, with the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special. We are recent converts to Gavin and Stacey and watched both series back to back on BBC America, so this was our first chance to see a new episode, and it was as good as we had hoped. But Christmas Eve is less about telly than tomorrow or Boxing Day will be. We drove up from Peterborough earlier today, and our major outing of the evening was to see the Christmas lights in a local neighbourhood. Several houses in a particular cul-de-sac have joined forces to create a fantastic exhibition of how to decorate your houses. Several people were out viewing the scene, and those who had put up the lights were collecting money for charity, air ambulance.

We had game pie and mulled wine when we got back. Much of the rest of the evening was low-key. Several people still had lots of presents to wrap. I am lucky in that the kids actually enjoy wrapping presents so the amount of wrapping I need to do is pretty minimal. Nevertheless, I quite sympathize with Clive James's delightful article, also available as a podcast, It's a wrap. But I think the best tip came from Smithy in tonight's Gavin and Stacey, who wrapped his presents in tin foil -- no need for scissors and sellotape, and they are still wrapped and shiny.

In other news, we couldn't help being surprised to see the Queen's Speech reported, with footage on tonight's news. What's up with that? It's not that interesting when you watch it on Christmas day, even if it is something of a tradition in our house to watch it, but how much less interesting is it if you have already got the gist of it the night before? Seems a bit spoil-sportish to me.

My sister's kids, down the corridor from us, are doing Christmas properly. I have just spotted Santa arriving up the stairs with two enormous sacks of presents which appear to have been delivered to their bedrooms. It's not quite so old-fashioned or romantic for ours. Resident aliens end up having Christmas present opening in a variety of different places, first back in America before we leave, and then in different places as we tour around here.

It's gone past midnight while I have been typing, so merry Christmas to you all.

No comments: