This is my sixth Christmas season living in the UK, which means I long ago learned to refer to this time of year as ‘Christmas’ instead of ‘the holidays.’ While I adore living in Scotland year-round, there’s definitely something magical about it in December: the smell of smoke in the air, the biting cold, the cosy fires (and cocktails!) and festive decorations all over town make Edinburgh feel like Santa’s own village.
But somehow it’s also this time of year when I miss home the most. I’m from Florida, and there’s part of me that will always feel like Christmas should be celebrated in short sleeves with Christmas lights decorating the palm trees in the garden. Maybe the best part of having lived in two different countries, then, is learning to combine my favourite traditions from each… and how to avoid the ones I’m just not that into. Here are some of my favourites from this time of year, gleaned from 25 years in the US and 5 years here in Scotland:
Thanksgiving is rad, let’s face it. You don’t have to buy gifts for anyone, if you don’t like to cook, you just have to show up somewhere and eat. If you DO like to cook, you get a really good excuse to cook all your favourite recipes for one meal. It’s fully expected that you’ll be eating literally all day, and the leftovers are pretty much just as delicious as the main meal. The downside: it happens on a Thursday every year, which means it’s workday, so I celebrate with my ex-pat friends (and newly converted Scottish friends) the weekend before the real day.
These aren’t very popular in the US, but I love them. It’s so fun (even as an adult) to get into the festive spirit with a tiny gift each day, and I love looking for cool new ones each year. This year I’m particularly looking forward to tearing into a cheese-themed advent calendar… ‘mon December!
Ok, so these definitely exist here in Scotland, but I don’t feel that they’re quite the same revered treat that they are in the US. Growing up, we ate homemade cinnamon rolls every year for breakfast on Christmas morning, and they were such a treat we didn’t even mind taking a break from playing with our new toys to gobble down as many as we could. Luckily, I have my family’s trusted recipe in safekeeping and whip up a batch (or two) every year around this time.
Mimosas are fine, but Buck’s Fizz is where it’s at. Less orange juice means less of a sugar rush (and crash) and less of a headache later. As far as I’m concerned, this may be Britain’s best contribution to Christmas drinking culture.
While mulled wine is starting to appear at bars and restaurants in the US, it is by no means a staple the way it is here in Scotland. A shame, if you ask me, as nothing warms you up better after a cold walk home around while you do your Christmas shopping than a steaming mug of spiced wine from a Christmas market, yet another invention that hasn’t really made it to the US yet.
Before you get too excited thinking that Scotland makes the best Christmas bevvies, let’s not forget about egg nog. I know, it sounds weird: does it contain eggs? Are they raw? Why are you drinking milk-based cocktails, and what even is a ‘nog’ anyway? The answers to those questions, in order, are: yes, no, because it’s Christmas and no one knows. Homemade egg nog, though, is the best: a creamy, lightly-sweetened drink with all your favourite winter spices blended in, topped with fresh whipped cream and served steaming hot or fresh from the fridge. Put it in your coffee in the morning for a latte-type treat! Have a cup of it warm before you go to bed while you sit by the Christmas tree! Spike a mug of it for a cheeky sip at a cocktail party! Truly, no drink is so versatile, or so delicious, and every year around this time, I miss it enough that it’s only a matter of days until I crack and make myself a batch.
I’m noticing that almost all of my favourite Christmas traditions are food-related, which isn’t that surprising, really… I guess on that note, I’m off to the kitchen!