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Christmas in England
An essay by a Polish student


I suppose not many people would disagree that spending Christmas abroad is a major experience. Whatever you do, you just canít help comparing what you find with the things you are used to.

The first Christmas I spent away from home happened to be in England in 1989. At that time, shops in Poland were still pretty bare and decorations didnít appear in the shop windows until about a week before the actual celebration of Christmas. Therefore, I was amazed to see so many English shops beautifully decorated from top to bottom as early as November. I was enchanted and I loved it. By the middle of December, however, it had started to annoy me and when I could hear Christmas carols in every shop I went to, I started to feel sad and homesick. Never mind, I thought, as I was really looking forward to experiencing Christmas the English way.

I spent Christmas Eve with an English family in a small village in the north of England. The house was tastefully decorated, there was a Christmas tree, roaring fire in the fireplace and howling wind on the hills. My first shock on that day came when instead of going to church, everybody went to the local pub. Surely, I thought, there canít be anything special about it as they go there every Friday, Saturday and occasionally in the middle of the week. So I missed our Polish special moments that happen on Christmas Eve, our traditional supper, breaking the bread and wishing each other only good things. But when abroad, I thought, you have to expect things to be different.

It was Christmas Day that felt much more special. I enjoyed taking part in the preparations that were made from the early hours of the morning. The turkey went in the oven, carrots were topped and tailed and the brussel sprouts were prepared. The smell of apple sauce was hanging in the air and brought on a festive atmosphere. Christmas dinner was on the table. We had to pull Christmas crackers (of course, I didnít know what they were) which went off with a bang and put on a silly hat, which, I was told, was a symbol of party-time and celebration. The meal was never-ending and I found it hard to believe how much could be eaten at one sitting: roast turkey, carrots and sprouts, roast potatoes, apple sauce and then the famous Christmas pudding, which is literally a calorific bomb full of dried fruit, nuts and spices served with brandy and white sauce. The cheese and biscuits were followed by Christmas cake with a layer of icing sugar, mince pies, which I loved, and finally a refreshing cup of coffee.

When the feast was over, it was time to open the presents and I joined in with everybody elseís excitement. I recall that some people wanted to watch the Queenís speech and some didnít. As far as I was concerned, Christmas was over, because Boxing Day didnít feel like Christmas at all. But I did go to a football match together with my friends.

At first I thought that I missed spending Christmas the way we do it in Poland but looking back, I know that it was an unforgettable experience. Now, whenever I happen to spend Christmas in England, the thing I enjoy most is the way it differs from the Polish way of celebrating Christmas.

Bogusia Whyatt

Suggested Discussion Questions and Tasks

  • What do you like about Christmas in Poland?
  • Have you ever spent Christmas in a foreign country? If so, where? How was it different to a Polish Christmas?
  • Find a person from a foreign country and build a set of notes on their traditions and customs covering food, religion, and special customs


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