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My First British Christmas

Case Study: Christmas in Britain

My first British Christmas
by Giuliana from Italy

Giuliana exchange student

Giuliana is an Italian exchange student with MyEducation and she is currently living in the Birmingham area with her host family. Giuliana just experienced her first Christmas in the UK, which was also her first Christmas away from her natural family, so we asked her to share some of the customs she experienced and how this differed from her usual Italian Christmas

What differences did you notice about Christmas in the UK and Christmas in Italy?

In the UK, families usually celebrate Christmas together, they have a Christmas tree in their house and the decorating of the tree is a family occasion where everyone helps. So far is all similar to Italy.

The first difference are Christmas lights: in the UK cities and towns are decorated with Christmas lights from November until the New Year’s Day. In Italy the decorations are on from the end of October to 7 January.

The second difference is that children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus leaves presents in stockings or pillow-cases. They leave out mince pies and a glass of brandy for Santa. In Italy, children receive their presents usually under the Christmas tree and they leave out biscuits and a glass of milk for Father Christmas to eat and drink during his visit.

Christmas Eve is not so important as the Christmas Day, instead in Italy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are important in the same way. Another thing, that I have never heard before coming here, was the existence of the Boxing Day, a very old custom. The last thing that I have noticed is that in the UK there is a TV channel only about Christmas. You can watch Christmas films all the day. Wow!

How did you spend Christmas Day?

I spent my English Christmas Day going to all my host parents’ relatives. My host family and I went to all their 3 children’s families (my host parents are grandparents) and I had a lot of fun with their children. They were running up and down the stairs, the house was full of presents and I was trying to learn how to cook a turkey. I felt as at home as it was one of my normal Christmas. I felt an integral part of that family and of that situation.

What did you eat on Christmas Day and what would you usually eat in Italy?

In the UK, the main Christmas meal is usually eaten at lunchtime or early afternoon on Christmas Day. That day, I ate roast turkey, roast vegetables (runner beans, peas, carrots and tomatoes), sausages, roast beef with cranberry sauce. It was delicious! For me it was unusual to eat Brussels sprouts but I understand they are often used for Christmas meal. I loved them although they are not really loved by people and especially not loved by children. For dessert, I had Christmas Pudding, a very famous English pudding which needs a whole year to be made.

In Italy we usually eat a lot both during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We usually eat a little bit of everything: tortellini (which are stuffed with a hearty meat filling and typically served in broth or cream sauce), passatelli (which is kind of pasta formed of bread crumbs, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese), lasagne (which are long, flat, broad noodles which are ideally suited to layering in a baking dish to make a sort of noodle pie with an assortment of ingredients which include meats, cheeses and tomato sauce) and chicken or another kind of meat (like beef). To me, that I live in the North of Italy, one of the most famous thing to eat is canederli (bread balls with speck in a meat soup) and spaetzle and strudel (which consists of an oblong strudel pastry jacket with an apple filling inside) as a pudding. However, the most important Italian Christmas Pudding is Pandoro (which contains plenty of butter and eggs) and Panettone (which is similar to Pandoro but this contains candied fruits).

What did you do in the lead up to Christmas?

During my Christmas holiday I went out, several times, with my English friends and with the other exchange students. We spent a lot of time talking, doing shopping and taking photos to each other. I went also to some really nice places as Birmingham, to see German Christmas Market, Stratford-upon-Avon, to watch a theatre play, and to Warwick Castle, one of the most visited castle in England.

How did it feel to be away from home?

To be honest is been very strange staying away from my natural family during Christmas Holiday and feeling very well: I didn’t miss them so much as I thought, and this is happened thanks to my host family that is fantastic. I have spent my first Christmas by myself in the happiest way that I could. I got a lot of presents and cards!!!

What did you do for New Years’ Eve?

New Year’s Eve was a fantastic day, that my host family and I spent altogether. We went out to eat in an Italian restaurant and it was really nice. We talked about my experience here and how the time is passing by quickly, in fact this is already my 5th month here in the UK. Both my host parents and I know that I am changing: I am becoming more responsible, more independent and self-confident. We also talked about their grandchildren and how they were happy that day. An important thing in the relationship between us is that we say everything to each other. And at the end we saw fireworks….Happy New Year everybody!

My Christmas holidays here in the UK are been unforgettable. This is an experience in a different country, with a different language, a different culture and different people. I spent a lovely holiday and I am really happy of this amazing Exchange Programme. The thing that I most liked of these holidays was to be surrounded by lovely people.

Giuliana with host sister

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