In my humble, personal experience, I’ve found that people in the UK tend to approach the holiday season differently to the average American. (See my blog about Halloween.) Sure, Christmas is a big deal in Britain, and people get into the spirit of the season, but it’s not quite on the same scale as it is across the pond, where the trees tend to be bigger, the decorations more elaborate, the cards more personal and the baking more essential. My mother, for instance, is given an obscene amount of baked goods from her various friends, relatives and neighbors – it’s probably enough to kill an elephant.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, the Christmas season picks up a gear – it’s when many Americans dig out the enormous decorations they’ve been hiding in the garage and start decorating their houses with the glee of carolers singing Frosty the Snowman. Some of the decorations are so over the top, you would have thought Liberace himself had overseen the whole process from his palatial, gold-encrusted house.
When I was growing up, my neighborhood was very much from the Liberace school of thought. Almost every house had some crazy Christmas light display – if you didn’t, you were very much in the minority. Even my dad, who embodies the antithesis of domesticity and is practically molded into his armchair, would risk breaking a limb and would precariously climb up to the second story to drape some fairy lights. (They’d also stay up there until February when we’d get a letter from the housing association threatening us with a fine if they didn’t come down.) As Christmas approached, the neighborhood would become a destination for busloads of people, in caravans, who would circle the 1970s track housing and gape in admiration.
This has waned in recent years, and there are no more caravans. I don’t know if it’s the rising cost of electricity or the fact that the neighborhood has aged considerably, but not as many people deck their homes out in festive cheer. There are still plenty of exceptions, and I took a little tour of the neighborhood to see who has already put lights up as of December 1.
Feeling a bit like a creepy Christmas freak, I crept around and took some rather underwhelming pictures under pressure. I was a little worried that someone was going to ask me what the hell I was doing trying to zoom in on Mary and Joseph in the manger from a parked car. My brother, who is a more accomplished photographer than I am, took the main picture (above) on Monday night while we were out in a neighborhood called Bankers Hill in San Diego. It’s more affluent than the suburb where we live at the moment – and, with a name like Bankers Hill, it does sound like the residents are rather rich.
Made in America
Meanwhile, ABC’s evening news program with Diane Sawyer is on a mission to try to get families in the United States to buy at least one gift that is made in America – and they have come up with some statistics to drill their message home. First, we’re told that the average American spends a whopping $700 on Christmas or gifts. Then, the dewy-eyed Sawyer – who has a touch of the emotional chatty breakfast presenter about her – reveals that, in the 1960s, nine out of every 10 products Americans bought for the holidays were made in America; but, today, easily more than half of what gets bought is foreign-made.
An anonymous group of economists have come up with this equation: If every American spent $64 on something made in America, it could create 200,000 jobs right now. They also helpfully feature products made in the USA in a recurring segment, although I can’t exactly remember what they were. I have a vague recollection of nails and Bundt cake molds. Not sure the kids would be very impressed if I gave them that in their stocking, but I’m going to try to find alternatives. I already have my brother ticked off with a one-liter bottle of American whiskey or bourbon. I figure I’m already halfway to $64, although I feel slightly uneasy about spending this money on homegrown Jack Daniel’s – he’s probably one American with profits coming out of his ears.