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10 Christmas traditions in the UK that confuse Americans

INSIDER logoINSIDER 12/10/2018 Ann Schmidt
a group of people sitting at a table eating food © Shutterstock
  • There are some Christmas traditions in the UK that might confuse people from the US.
  • The UK celebrates Christmas with pantomime, a campy family comedy show with roots in the Victorian era.
  • Christmas pudding, a popular dessert in the UK, might seem unfamiliar to people in the US.

The holiday season is a time for nostalgia, a time when families come together and traditions are remembered. Those traditions are often specific to individual cultures and can be confusing to people who celebrate the holidays differently.

And there is certainly no exception when it comes to Americans trying to understand British Christmas traditions.

Here are 10 Christmas traditions in the UK that might confuse Americans.

Christmas greetings in the UK are just different enough from the US to be a bit confusing

a group of people walking on a city street © Richard Stonehouse/ Getty Images

In the UK, you might hear "Father Christmas" to reference what people in the US call "Santa Clause" or, even more confusing, "Chrimbo" also sometimes spelled "Crimbo," is another word for Christmas in the UK.

According to BBC, the slang word for Christmas was first recorded in 1928 and is still used in the UK today.

Pantomime is a campy family comedy show with roots in the Victorian era

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One of the most confusing British holiday traditions is pantomime, or panto, eccentric musical comedies based on famous fairy tales. The family-friendly theater performances are produced all over the UK and involve plenty of slapstick comedy and loud audience participation.

The actors are bizarrely dressed - the "Principal Boy" is usually played by a woman showing off her legs and the "Panto Dame" is usually played by a man in drag - and the plot doesn't necessarily closely follow the plot of the classic fairy tale.

However, it has remained a classic British tradition from the Victorian era and has even spread to places such as Singapore and South Africa, according to the BBC.

Retailers release heartwarming advertisements to mark the beginning of the Christmas season and everyone gets excited about them

a man sitting in front of a laptop © John Lewis

Every year, British retailers including John Lewis, Sainsbury, and Tesco among others, release their Christmas advertisements, typically short films telling a heartwarming story.

John Lewis is probably the most popular and has been since 2011, according to The Telegraph, though the company has been making holiday ads since 2007. People even countdown to the day when the short films are released.

Christmas crackers aren't a snack

a red book on a table © George Hodan / PublicDomainPictures.net

If you're from the US, you might think Christmas crackers sound like a kind of snack. You'd be wrong.

Christmas crackers, another tradition dating back to Victorian times, are cardboard tubes wrapped in colorful paper that, when pulled apart by two people, make a loud sound. Families traditionally open their crackers together on Christmas Day.

Inside the tubes are small toys or gifts, a motto or joke on a slip of paper, and a tissue paper crown.

Everyone is expected to wear their paper crown on Christmas Day

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After opening your cracker in the UK, you are expected to wear your paper crown.

This tradition, according to Country Living, comes from the ancient Romans who celebrated Saturnalia in December by wearing crowns. The crowns were added to crackers in the 1900s.

Christmas pudding might seem a bit strange to Americans

a close up of a piece of cake on a plate © Shutterstock

Christmas pudding, also referred to as figgy pudding or plum pudding, is also a tradition from Victorian times. It's a boiled cake made with dried fruit, soaked in alcohol, aged for several months, and often set on fire before everyone enjoys some after Christmas dinner.

Every year, the Queen gives each member of her staff a Christmas pudding from Tesco.

Top of the Pops is a television special featuring performances of the year's most popular songs

a group of people holding wine glasses © BBC

On Christmas day, the BBC runs a holiday special of its music chart television program called Top of the Pops, that features performances of the year's most popular musicians.

The program actually ran weekly from 1964 until 2006 when it was canceled. However, people were so upset, the BBC decided to keep the Christmas special that airs mid-morning. Instead of performances of the biggest songs of the week, audiences in the UK are now treated to the biggest songs of the year.

Every year, the Queen gives a broadcasted speech on Christmas Day

Elizabeth II wearing a blue hat © Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Royal Christmas Message started in 1932, with a radio broadcast by King George V and has remained an annual tradition ever since, though it moved to television in 1957.

The Queen talks about current issues and reflects on what Christmas means to her, according to the royal website.

People in the UK celebrate the day after Christmas with Boxing Day, which has nothing to do with the sport

a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Getty

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is a public holiday in the UK. Though Americans sometimes wonder if the holiday is about getting rid of boxes from Christmas or about the sport of boxing, it actually has nothing to do with either of those things.

Instead, it's believed Boxing Day could have started as a tradition of giving a kind of holiday bonus to employees, or it could also refer to the alms collection boxes put out in churches during Advent, according to the History Channel.

Today, however, Boxing Day is more about shopping and watching sports, much like Black Friday in the US.

Read more: Photos show what 'Black Friday' looks like around the world

You're supposed to take down your Christmas decorations and tree within 12 days after Christmas

a christmas tree © Shutterstock

In the UK, it's tradition to take down your Christmas tree and decorations within 12 days after Christmas Day to avoid bad luck in the new year.

In the US, however, there is no set time for when you should take down Christmas decorations.

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