Often when one speaks to a person from the UK who has been transplanted to another country, they will reminisce about how nice Christmas is “back home”. When asked why, the best they can articulate is that Christmas is a bright spot in a dark winter. This sounds utterly depressing coming from many sunny, summer Aussie Christmases. I was therefore keen to see what the fuss is about!
Christmas in the UK is like Christmas on steroids! There are a LOT of decorations and lights up. All the main shopping streets and fancy shops like Harrods, Fortnum and Masons and Selfridges compete with their Christmas light and window displays. These draw the crowds. Walking around in the evening in prime locations whether on the streets or in these major shops is a desperately slow affair as you have to constantly negotiate the throngs of people. The window displays in particular are really special, interesting and well thought out. Lots of restaurants and businesses will decorate both the interior as well as the exterior, usually with an arch of foliage, flowers and decorations over the entrance. It is all a lot of effort!
There are many Christmas markets dotted around London in the Christmas period. Some of the smaller markets will have crafty, small business type stalls whilst the big Christmas markets e.g. London Bridge, Leicester Square etc. will have what looks to be franchised type stalls selling the same commercialized items at every market e.g. Christmas baubles. In every Christmas markets, you can be assured to get mulled wine, churros, bratwurst in a bun, hot chocolate and the other usual suspects. So although the markets are pretty and well decorated, they can get a little repetitive if they are selling the same kinds of over-commercialized junky things. It was all still a sight to see and added a lot to the festive feel around town.
It seems like many households decorate a real tree. Real Christmas trees (instead of plastic trees) are sold in lots of places and it was not uncommon throughout December to see someone lugging home a huge tree on their backs.
Onwards to the highlight of Christmas, the main Christmas meal! For most families, the usual suspects will be on the table. Roast gammon or ham, roast turkey or chicken, brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, “snips” (parsnips), swedes, carrots, bread sauce and gravy. A nut roast is a delicious addition to reduce meat consumption. Most of the vegetables will be coated in duck fat for extra deliciousness! The UK classic of “Pigs in Blanket” will also be lurking about during Christmas time. These are tiny sausages wrapped in streaky bacon and are delicious. The Scottish refer to these as “Kilted Soldiers”. A variation is “Devils on Horseback” which are prunes wrapped in streaky bacon. Also very fatty, salty, sweet and delicious! For dessert, the Christmas pudding is brought out after being doused with alcohol and set alight. It is usually served with brandy butter, a strange whipped “sauce” of butter, icing sugar and brandy.
Strangely, the famous UK roast accompaniment of Yorkshire Puddings are not part of the Christmas meal despite the meal being very roast-like.
Following somewhat in the Christmas theme is mention kindness. In our time in the UK, we have found everyone to be warm, welcoming and kind. Worthy of mention are the medical staff working for the NHS. There are constant reports of the system being in disarray and staff being overworked and burnt out. In my experience, whilst the systems and processes could be improved, every single individual I dealt with within the system was kind, professional, competent and did their best for me. This covers doctors, nurses and general staff.
The Royal London Hospital is a maze and as I was negotiating the various turns and signage to get some blood tests done, the signs stopped. I stopped too, looking around confused, clutching my blood test request stickers. I didn’t even have to ask when a kindly staff member just told me where I needed to go as if he read my mind. I wonder how many times he has done that and they really need an extra sign in that spot! Unfortunately, the blood test signage led you straight into the area where the samples are being taken without directing you first to the required sign-in station. The nurse there re-directed me to the sign-in area. I suspect she has to give the same redirection to almost every new patient. Despite how annoying that must be, she was patient as it was quite a complicated route to find the sign-in area. At the sign-in area, there was someone to assist people with the sign-in touch screen and various directions. Her job must be incredibly repetitive but nevertheless, she did it with patience and good cheer. Potentially, there could be some small improvement in the signage but to be honest, considering how maze-like the place is, confused people are unavoidable.
This is not saying that the system is perfect because it is far from perfect. For example, the wait for medications at the hospital pharmacy was at least an hour. Waiting was not an issue for some but I felt for the mother of the young disabled toddler. An hour was just too long to wait. They would return the next day for their medications but with a disabled toddler in tow, this was no small ask. However, considering the sheer volume of people that they service, I suspect that the pharmacists behind the counter rarely get moment to sit or eat during their shift. The NHS has it’s problems but despite all the many frustrations that these problems cause, the individuals working within the system still work everyday maintaining, as best they can, a good level of service, kindness and professionalism. It is to be applauded.
For those wishing for a white Christmas in London this year, it was not to be. The snow came a week or so before Christmas. It was quite a lot of snow and it lasted for a few days. It was really rare and magical! You can hardly believe these photos are of London!
Hope that you and your loved ones have enjoyed a lovely Christmas and 2023 is good year for all.