How Christmas is different between UK and US

How Christmas is not the same in Britain and America

If you expect the celebration of Christ’s birth to be the same all over, then you’re very much mistaken. There are big differences between the British,Irish and the American festivals.

  1. Duration Americans do Christmas in one day – December 25. In the UK and Ireland, it often lasts for 10 days and can sometimes go on for nearly a month. Americans have Thanksgiving in late November but also have far shorter breaks from work.
    The UK now combines Christmas and New Year into one big, unofficial, holiday.
    Add workplace parties from early December and you have a UK month of festivity.
  2. Boxing Day Nothing to do with pugilism, it’s the December 26 continuation of Christmas. This is unheard of outside the UK/Comonwealth. Boxing may have come from the British tradition of Christmas Boxes – gifts from employers and others such as refuse collectors and newspaper delivers. Boxing Day is now the start of UK store reductions or sales.

  1. Other Festivals Black Americans have Kwanzaa, American Jews do Hanukkah. Both are widely seen as equal – hence Happy Holidays. In the UK, Kwanzaa is unknown while less observant Jews have both Christmas and Hanukkah (there is even disagreement on the spelling). Church-going happens on all sides of the ocean but it’s less serious in the UK.
  2. Shutdown – Everything stops including public transport and almost all shops on Christmas Day in the UK. London transport restarts on December 26 but elsewhere, trains and buses have two days off. Few go to work between Christmas and early January in the UK. In the US, there are few interruptions to daily life.
  3. Outdoor lights, Brits used only to see these on American films but the advent of the low cost LED has seen a big UK catch-up. Still, the UK remains a long way behind.

UK Street

US Suburbean house

  1. Words – The use of Chrimbo is UK specific and quite recent – it’s unheard of in the US. Americans have Merry Christmas, Brits go for Happy Christmas. In the US, the pantomime (an after Christmas theatre entertainment aimed at children) is almost unknown, as is the Christmas Cracker (a roll of paper with a banger, a paper hat, a low value present and a stupid joke or motto).
  2. Food and drink
    Traditionally, the British and Irish have turkey or goose at Christmas lunch – a big meal which starts late and can go on for hours (which by French standards looks more like a snack or a quicky, if you want to have a detailed description of a French Christmas meal please check this blog ). Americans have turkey at Thanksgiving, perhaps beef or ham for Christmas. Christmas pudding – a mix of fruit, suet, and other ingredients is almost unknown in the US. It is usually served with brandy butter (a mix of butter and brandy), or cream or custard. Christmas in the UK is also seen as an occasion for excessive amounts of alcohol and allowing children to taste beer or cider or wine. Americans rarely drink fortified wines such as Sherry or Madeira.

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1 comment

Craig August . 7 . 2023 - 3:46 am

You didn’t mention ghost stories! I’m an American and when I heard that the Brits sit around telling ghost stories for Christmas I thought it to be bizarre. Of course Americans do a big deal about Halloween so maybe they get their ghost-story fix then, but I assume Britain also does Halloween?


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