1. Christmas preparation starts the the day after Thanksgiving. Many people decorate their homes, buy their Christmas trees and put up their outdoor lights that weekend and start playing Christmas music.
2. TV stations begin the lead up to Christmas on December 1st with the exact same TV movies as before. There will be at least one every evening but on too late for children on school nights. All of the following will be on TV during December. Some will be on several channels at different times in case you missed them: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life… The list goes on. There are also many Christmas themed episodes of current television shows, but they will all be shown during December and not one of them will be shown on or after Christmas Day when you finally have time to sit and enjoy them.
3. Most people refer to the festive season as “the holidays” so therefore we are doing our “holiday shopping” and wrapping our “holiday gifts”. In greeting it is considered least offensive to say “Happy Holidays” but some are offended that you didn’t judge them on their appearance, their invisible auras or their accents and give them their correct religion-appropriate greeting. (The Christians are most likely to be offended.)
4. When Americans send Christmas cards, they are often photo cards depicting their children, their pets, the whole family or just themselves. These cards are sent to friends and neighbours as well as family. However many people don’t send cards at all. When received, the cards aren’t hung from strings so each card can be seen and enjoyed as in the UK, instead they are often placed in a box or basket and hardly displayed at all. The photo cards usually end up on the household bulletin board (ie the fridge).
5. While Britons are making Christmas puddings and mince pies (or, more likely, buying them from Marks and Spencer’s), Americans bake cookies. Hundreds of them. In all shapes, sizes and flavours. Sometimes there is a cookie swap when everyone bakes cookies and then they go to someones house to drink coffee or wine and swap them for someone else’s cookies.
6. Americans are very generous. If you go to a neighbourhood Christmas party you are often asked to bring some canned or packaged food to donate to the local food bank to help the needy. If you host a party, rather than (or as well as) bringing a bottled beverage, your neighbors will bring lots of extra party food so there is a good chance you will end up with more food than you started with.
7. In Britain, December 25th is the first day of Christmas, where the fun and celebrations really begin. In America it all ends abruptly that same day. While Britain enjoys their TV Christmas specials, the Queen’s Speech and enjoys turkey and crackers while wearing their best clothes, America is languishing over lasagne and watching football (American) or going to the cinema.
8. Despite the recent trend of opening shops on December 26th in both countries, the 26th in Britain remains a holiday for most, while in the US it’s back to work as usual.
9. Retailers in the US make it very easy for people to return things, and not just because they are faulty, or defective. When shopping the post-Christmas sales, watch out for the hoards of people lining up to return unwanted gifts! If Auntie gives you an ugly sweater - no problem - the store will take it back and give YOU a refund! Seriously. Regrettably, for many people, returning gifts has become a ‘holiday’ tradition and one which I actually find offensive.
10. Finally, as all good Brits know, all Christmas decorations must come down by January 6th and usually stay up at least until after New Years Eve. Americans often do the same, but a surprisingly huge number go to one of two extremes: either everything comes down on the 26th, or nothing comes down before Valentines Day. Since some of those trees have been up since the end of November, they are a big brown fire hazard by the end of January!