White Christmas – An English Christmas Abroad is No Trifling Thing to Achieve!

Unlike Narnia under the white witch, where it is endlessly winter and never Christmas, here in the UP, Christmas turned up right on time.  And of course it being the UP, it was a very white Christmas indeed, thus making all my British dreams come true.

In the UK there is always much wagering on whether there will be a white Christmas. But since the  official definition by the British Met Office and British bookmakers is for snow to be observed falling, however little, (even if it melts before it reaches the ground) in the 24 hours of 25 December, it can be a bit of a cop out.  According to the National Climatic Data Center the official definition of a white Christmas in the USA, is that there has to be a snow depth of at least 1 in or 2.5 cm at 7:00 a.m. local time on Christmas morning.

It being my first Christmas ex patria, and the first time ever without my sisters, JT suggested making it a traditional British Christmas, with turkey and all the trimmings. I accordingly planned a menu of:

Scrambled eggs, homemade gravadlax, homemade crumpets and mimosas for breakfast

and

Turkey, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, bread sauce, sausage and chestnut stuffing, sprouts, sage and onion stuffing and cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, followed by sherry trifle.

I am now an old hand at gravadlax, following Felicity Cloake’s advice from the Guardian on how to make the best one. So apart from the odd occasion where I ran through the house shrieking “I forgot to turn the fish”, it mostly went without a hitch.  In fact everything went smoothly until I got the the trifle and discovered you can’t get powdered custard over here.

I then had the following conversation with my husband:

JT: So what is custard?

ME: Well it’s made from eggs and sugar and creme like ice cream, but not frozen and is usually served hot over pudding like a gravy, but sets when cold, which is how I use it in trifle.

JT looks non the wiser.

JT: Is it like vanilla pudding?

Me: I don’t know what vanilla pudding is.

Then a Christmas miracle happened, right there, at the tills in Target.  The woman on the till asked me where I was from? My mind still on the custard conundrum I absentmindedly asked in return how familiar she was with the UK, as that generally alters my answer. She replied: “I’m from there!”

I immediately shared our “is custard the same as vanilla pudding?” question to which she firmly responded it was nothing like.  We briskly dealt with where to buy Christmas crackers (she found some at target, I got mine from an amazon link provided by Kylie at Between England and Iowa) and then moved onto the holy grail Birds custard powder!

Rarer than hen’s teeth was the consensus and how foolish I felt not to have realized this, and put it on my “brought by sister” list in November.  Target Lady had stocked up on her last trip home in anticipation of Christmas and she had more than enough, so if I could meet her after work on Christmas Eve, she would let me have a plastic baggie of the marvelous powder.  Much buoyed by this news, we set off home in high spirits and anticipation of a dodgy looking, custard powder deal, in the Target carpark.

Sadly a large part of the next day came and went without a call, and not wishing to be making the trifle on Christmas day, I gave in and made the custard from scratch.  Which no doubt, is what most people think I should have done from the start. I also made homemade mince pies as they are another British tradition you can’t find here.

The rest of Christmas Eve was spent decorating the tree as a family, (using decorations I brought with me , some of  JT’s,  some of my parent’s old decorations and some new ones we bought specially for a Trumbley tree), playing card games and watching Love Actually.

IMG_0920
The completed tree

Christmas Day was lovely, breakfast went well, the  teens enjoyed their presents and I even persuaded them to try the sausages in bacon (big thumbs up), the chestnut stuffing (like meatloaf, yum) and the trifle (seconds were had) .  Although I convinced no-one that bread sauce is the food of the gods and turkey is naked without it. Christmas crackers were declared to be a good thing and everyone wore their hats and told their jokes. The dog made out like a bandit with a chew approximately twice the size of him. (April edit: he is still finishing it now with the help of the fantastic beast.)

I was lucky enough to get the Hoosier Cabinet of my dreams, as well as enough snow to satisfy any number of official definitions.  And while it wasn’t exactly the Christmas of my childhood, there were enough elements brought with me from England, to make me feel that old traditions had been continued, and new ones started, and that was enough for me.



White Christmas is one of the best musicals ever made starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. If you haven’t seen it you should, it is truly glorious and if you are especially lucky you won’t watch it with my sister and me, and will therefore be spared our rendition of “Sisters”.

IMDB describe it thus: A successful song-and-dance team become romantically involved with a sister act and team up to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general.


One thought on “White Christmas – An English Christmas Abroad is No Trifling Thing to Achieve!

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