This Side of the Pond – Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman – Nov. 29

By Sarah Pridgeon

Those of you I have not yet had the privilege to meet may be unaware that your dedicated roving reporter is not, as they say, from around these parts. Originally from England, I have been doing my best to embrace the Cowboy Code for two years… with varying degrees of success. I am, for example, a dab hand at fried chicken, but my snow driving is appalling.

One American tradition I have cheerfully accepted is the apparently official starting date for the Christmas season. I am impressed at the efficiency of having all relevant parties informed and prepped ahead of time, including the weather.

I woke up this weekend to find my dear husband trundling back and forth, carrying large boxes and trailing tinsel. Meanwhile, snowflakes flurried from his beard and festive songs tinkled from the television – Yule had arrived.

On English shores, we’re not entirely sure when to start being Christmasy, because we lack the Thanksgiving starting block. If you ask the supermarkets when the festivities begin, they’ll tell you it’s somewhere around May, when there’s empty space on the shelves where the Easter eggs used to be.

If you ask the television channels, on the other hand, they’ll tell you it’s in September, when they’ve successfully snuck the first holly twig into an advert about socks. If you ask my family, they’ll claim it’s in mid-December, when the panic shopping begins and somebody remembers there’s supposed to be a tree.

If you ask me when Christmas begins, I’ll tell you it’s on December 19: the date of the final Christmas post, when I suddenly discover I’ve missed my chance to send out cards… again. With all these conflicting opinions, as you might imagine, it’s a challenge to get into the Christmas spirit.

I’ve always found there to be a tipping point between, “far too early” and, “a bit late to do things properly,” a single moment when it feels right to have festive feelings. For the rest of December, I’m not entirely sure whether it’s Christmas or not – although I do suffer a vague knot of worry throughout the month regarding wrapping paper.

On this side of the pond, as you know, Christmas begins as Thanksgiving ends, making the latter holiday a handy indicator for the former. I’ve discovered during my residency that, as soon as I’m done shoveling turkey into my mouth, it’s time to send out to the garage for the decorations and check the local stores for gift-giving bargains, while the snow begins dutifully to fall.

It’s a schedule I wholeheartedly approve of: I can plan my seasonal agenda, confident in the knowledge I haven’t got it wrong (although I will inevitably still fail to send out Christmas cards.) I can now skip through December with tinsel on my head and Santa in my heart, free to embrace my mental age of eight.

Such clarity of season gives purpose to the lights we’ve strung from every window, rewarding the hours of effort with more than a day or two of enjoyment. Thanks to the reliable weather, I can also enjoy a white Christmas: a mythical event not experienced in England since I really was eight years old.

A fixed Christmas reminds me to start the search for gifts in time for them to actually be delivered – gone, we hope, are the days of, “Sorry Dad, it’ll be here by New Year.” It also gives my cat a full month to steal all the baubles, a challenge she accepted less than a minute after we finished decorating the tree.