Just bought my plane tickets to come home for Christmas!!
I will be arriving the evening of the 17th of December, departing again on the 29th. Both flights are through AirCanada, so I have to work on my accent, eh, and keep my fingers crossed that I avoid any major blizzards. (I had a lead on a slightly cheaper ticket that went through Minneapolis, and I just spent the whole time going, "I'm going to get stuck in Minnesota... I'm going to get stuck in Minnesota..." - as it turns out, that ticket went the way of "Oh, I'm sorry, that ticket is no longer available at that price - we do have the same ticket for $100 more, but you better hurry, because it's going fast..." - I'm no dummy, orbitz! I took my business elsewhere, and got tickets through Canada for only $8 more. So there)
Sooo yeah! :) I knew I had to come home for Christmas - not that the holidays here in the UK aren't lovely, but it would be coming home to an empty flat which is just not cool at all. That said, I'm getting a kick out of the Christmas season here in the UK. There aren't any real "commercial" holidays between, oh, summer and Christmas - no Thanksgiving [obviously], Remembrance Day [basically, the UK Veteran's Day - the only thing to buy is a poppy, which is a gift when you make a donation to the Poppy Appeal], Bonfire Night [celebrating the Catholics *trying* to kill people, the Catholics getting hung for trying to kill people, or somebody trying to kill government leaders - depending on your point of view ;) - again, nothing to "buy" - you go out to a fireworks show or, if you're out in the country, you make a big bonfire and set stuff off - 4th of July without resorting to massive flags or tacky red, white, and blue paraphernalia], they don't really "celebrate" Halloween (apart from the occasional school party or college kids doing a fancy dress party)... and, apart from the odd Saint day or Bank Holiday, nothing until you get back to summer clothing and barbeque gear. So, free from the guilt of starting the holidays before December, the British have already long since kicked off Yuletide celebrations.
The bridges are covered in lights (I *must* get pictures of this for you - it's just stunning gorgeous watching the lights flicker in reflection against the Thames), the city streets are strung up with lights and trees and general merriment, and the streets are PACKED. I made the mistake of going into town last Saturday to pick up some shirts for work - tourists are everywhere (I know that I'm becoming a resident of the city - I'm grousing under my breath at the stupidbloodytouristsstoppinginthemiddleofthesidewalk...), the stores are jam packed, and everything simply must go! The shop clerks are holding up tolerably well; I don't know how they avoid going postal though, between the throngs of crowds and the truly terrible Brit Pop Christmas songs playing ad nauseam over the speaker system. Everyone knows, after all, what the best Christmas song is, after all... :)
Still, despite the massive crowds, the constant sales, and the early start to the Christmas season, I've been amused to feel the culture shift between the States and the UK. It's hard to really put your finger on, and even harder to then put into words - I also don't want to claim anything definite, considering I've only been around for such a short time - but, although Christmas is still commercialized, it's a *different* commercialization than in the States. I feel like, in the US, everything must be bigger and better than the neighbors - going for a Christmas tree? Better be a 20-footer! And fill that sucker up with presents underneath: the bigger, the better! More high-tech, more wireless, more parties with more food than you could ever eat and way more alcohol than you should ever drink! So much of the focus in the States seems to be one-upping everyone else, overdoing it, creating a glut for the sake of proving that you can do a glut. The problem with gluttony is that, generally, it ends up being unfulfilling, because you're too overwhelmed to enjoy what's there (and/or you're passed out on the couch).
I don't mean to give the false impression that Britain is this sweet, family-orientated country that cares only about gathering in front of the fire, with a mug of mulled wine and Tiny Tim up on Scrooge's shoulder, basking in the Dickensian paradise of simple pleasures. But there is still a sense of restraint. Oh sure, you can still buy the massive surround-sound system with the 20 foot tree, but nowhere is it felt that it's required for everyone. Impulse items stacked around the purchase points are filled with warm socks, or boxes of chocolates, or bath items - not computers and ipods. Advertising focuses on presenting the family, around the table or the fire, enjoying a decent - but not gut-busting-sized - meal, behatted with their paper crowns, crowding around the telly to watch the Queen's speech, where she addresses the nation to speak - generally about volunteering, the power of faith, and the love she has for this small nation. Or, more likely, they tune into the new Doctor Who special. :D (Which reminds me that I'll have to find a torrent of it... oh, David Tennant, why must you leave us?!)
In any case, I do hate to make it sound like I'm idealizing one nation, whilst demonizing another - I just happen to find much more joy and satisfaction in the British standard of Christmases... and, ironically, embracing that standard of family and friends, I have to leave the country in order to do so. ;) So, look out Seattle, I'm coming back!