Christmas in the United Kingdo

Christmas in the United Kingdom vs South Africa: which is your favourite?

The differences between a South African and United Kingdom Christmas. Which is your favourite?

Christmas in the United Kingdo

This last weekend saw winter arrive in full force in the United Kingdom. The sun is setting before 4pm and the icy winds leave no doubt that Jack Frost is loving life right now. Ironically, every second photo on expat Facebook pages show sunny beaches, braais, flip flops and the gorgeous summer of the homeland.

Believe it or not, the great part about a UK Christmas is the cold. The mist and fog and icy wind certainly bring to life every moment of every Christmas movie ever. But after six weeks of ice cold wind, slushy grey snow, and not having seen the sun for an eternity, those braais on Cape Town beaches seem like true heaven.

Christmas lights

Arguably the UK does have the upper hand in the Christmas light department. The is always a festival of sorts to light the street lights in almost every town in the UK. When London’s Regent Street lights up, the road is packed with families. It is a festive time and certainly starts off the Christmas season for most people.

In South Africa, the malls set up the most elaborate festive lights and decorations to try make it cheery. There aren’t as many street lights on display in smaller towns.

Trafalgar Square

Year upon year, Christmas carols are sung in Trafalgar Square as people gather to watch the festivities under an enormous tree. There are carols services in malls around South Africa as well as schools, community centres and churches, but something about Jack Frost nipping at your nose as you hum or sing along to “Silent Night” does make London feel a little more Christmassy.

Christmas Markets

Almost every town in the UK holds a Christmas market of one kind or another. Some towns will close the high street and people come out to enjoy the lights and the local produce and mingle with their neighbours. Some towns have community halls where they have their festivities but it is a community style event where the people you don’t see every day get together and enjoy a fun night, laugh and support local people selling local products. I am sure the South African equivalent exists and hope that many people are our supporting local craft makers.

Harrods and the major department stores

No Christmas in London is complete without a trip to the major department stores. The cheer, the festivities, the frantic people trying to not lose their minds shopping — what’s not to love? Christmas windows are a highlight: Fortnum & Mason’s, Liberty, Harrods, Selfridges, and Harvey Nichols (to name a few), pull out all of the stops for the festive windows. Although the scenes created are meant to entice people to spend their money, the creativity is awe-inspiring. Stuttafords, Edgars Woollies and the like also take a stab at  window displays, but there is something so competitive about the London Christmas windows that attracts a touch of genius.

Home decorations

More and more UK residents are following in the USA’s footsteps and decorating their homes with Christmas lights. In some areas the lights can take up to five full days to erect, creating festive viewing spots for people to enjoy.

Christmas tree decorations

The UK provides thousands of options for decorating your tree. These range from inexpensive plastics to ornate and intricate glass decorations that are not as expensive as one might think. The selection and choice available is staggering. The prospect of not having a Christmas tree in the UK seems ridiculous, while in South Africa large number of people do not invest too much in Christmas trees and their bling. The difference in the trees themselves is telling. I have never seen a real live Nordic Spruce in even the most lavish Sandtonite home. Availability and cost again play a big part of that. In the UK fresh eight-foot trees are a few hundred Rand (£25-£35) while in South Africa it would be considerably more than that.

Festive coffees

World over, coffee is the only reason some people get out of bed. Both South Africa and the UK have festive coffees offered by a number of different stores for the desperate consumer to enjoy. But something about a Starbucks drink, being sipped on a freezing cold day, does leave the patron a little more smug. They may even enjoy the warm yumminess a little more than a sun bather on Camps Bay.

Father Christmas

Christmas is not complete without a visit to Santa. Spare a thought Santa in the hot African sun. I bet he would love to be in London in that outfit.

Beach Time

Most people in South Africa end up taking their festive breaks down at the beaches. Any person sunning on that beach would think that the people freezing their good selves up in London are silly. Equally, every Londoner will look at photos of home and think “I hate those people right now”, and will instantly get a quote to see if the finances would stretch for a trip out to the sun. A photo of Brighton beach on Christmas day doesn’t help.

Mot much more to say really. A photo speaks a thousand words.  And South Africa wins every time.

Christmas Meals

In the UK, turkey orders are placed in mid October. These people are dead serious about the Christmas meal. Food gods and goddesses are insisting that three side dishes are not enough, and yet and no person preparing a Nigella Lawson style Christmas will deny halfway through the 36 hour prep time that a braai wouldn’t have beeen easier.

So, in conclusion, it would be wonderful to have the best of both worlds — to attend the UK Christmas markets, watch the lights being switched on, go caroling with hot mulled wine while looking at the festive Christmas windows, and then fly off to Cape Town, visit a vineyard, go to the beach, get a tan and enjoy the very best SA has to offer.

Either way, no matter where you are, Christmas is about the ones that you love and who love you. Spend your time with them and enjoy the cold or warmth because its the people that matter most.