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Christmas in England
Report to Moderator Old 06-02-2002 09:13 PM
MMC Editor
 
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By Chris Wilson

The man, dressed as a woman known as the dame stands at the front of the stage. Behind him, the villain approaches stealthily his menacing footsteps exaggerated like a cartoon. Children in the audience shout "Behind you!". The dame feigns deafness with a hand to his/her ear. The children scream louder "BEHIND YOU". It's an exchange that's repeated until the children can shout no more and the play continues with the ribald tradition of bad jokes, pun and innuendo that makes up modern day Christmas Pantomime in the United Kingdom.

Based on an ancient, stylized set of conventions, panto as it is commonly known, is a hugely popular theatre show for children and their parents. There are performances in most towns throughout Britain in the weeks before and after Christmas. The popular ones feature celebrities in the starring roles to attract the crowds but they all must follow the same pattern, including a cross-dressing dame, lots of audience participation (Oh no it isn't/OH YES IT IS) and a woman playing the male lead. The same few plays based on fairy tales or fables such as Puss in Boots or Cinderella are firm favorites year after year.

Despite the most fervent wishes of children all over the country, it hardly ever snows at Christmas in England. Bookmakers take a lot of money from the annual tradition of betting that we will have a white Christmas and the odds are usually 1:5. to win the bet, all it requires is that a single snowflake fall on a designated meteorological station. But this year it's likely to be another grey, mild, damp Christmas, the kind that keeps families indoors. As well as overcast conditions, most Brits agree that Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without the tree and the decorations. A few diehard traditionalists still go door-to-door carol singing but that is on the way out, along with the ancient Yule traditions and Father Christmas who is being replaced by the much jollier Santa. It wasn't long ago that children used to burn their letter to Father Christmas in the open fireplace - if the flame was blue that meant he had received your present wish list of presents but now we just post them to Santa at The North Pole like everyone else.

Like many things, Christmas is becoming the same in England as in many other countries; turkey is far and away the most popular dish on Christmas Day, recordings of Christmas carols and Bing Crosby waft around the shopping malls from the middle of November and lots of people worry that we are losing the spirit of Christmas under the piles of presents. But why shouldn't Christmas change? The fact is, in England, we love Christmas anyway we can get it - the office parties, the Christmas parties, the nativity play in schools, the shopping, the cooking, the feasting and most important - the fact that it's a time for families. There is no other day in the year when families all get together in England. This helps us to remember what a special time Christmas is for children. Who can forget that unbearable excitement of Christmas Eve as a child? And who wouldn't want to offer the same joy to their own children?

One of the most important Christmas traditions in the UK is the day after Christmas known as Boxing Day. Christmas Day is such an intense period of feasting and family that we have an official day to get over it. It prolongs the magic, keeps (most of) the shops shut and allows everyone a day to recover from their excesses. How other countries manage without it, I can't imagine.
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