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Christmas traditions: Christmas Day, British style

Andy Bradshaw has fond memories of pulling open the Christmas cracker for the prize inside and everyone wearing the silly paper hats around the dinner table. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Andy Bradshaw has fond memories of pulling open the Christmas cracker for the prize inside and everyone wearing the silly paper hats around the dinner table.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

When Andy Bradshaw was growing up in England, his Christmas Day started in a pub.

But this isn’t some heart wrenching Frank McCourt tale of alcohol-tinged squalor and depravity.

The Cricketers pub was like a communal living room and at noon on Christmas day everyone from Bradshaw’s London neighbourhood gathered there to greet old friends, and raise a pint to the season while the kids noshed on crackers, cheese and vegetable snacks laid out along the bar.

“It was packed and festive,” recalls Bradshaw, who runs The British Shop on Columbia Street. “The whole scenario of getting together at the pub with family and friends you hadn’t seen in months created a real feeling of love and warmth.”

Even as that glow was regularly interrupted whenever someone had to scoot out the door to go baste the turkey roasting in the oven at his aunt’s house.

When the pub closed at 3, everyone drifted off to their family dinners, which for Bradshaw’s clan meant about 16 people gathered around four turkeys, bowls heaped with roasted potatoes, carrots, peas, brussels sprouts and “lots of gravy.”

But before anyone could dig in, the Christmas crackers had to be snapped and the colourful paper hats they contained placed upon everyone’s head.

Dessert consisted of Christmas plum pudding, each prepared with a six pence coin or two buried deep within, a treasured treat for the kids.

“You’re always looking for the coin,” says Bradshaw.

“You’d spend it at the sweet shop.”

Their bellies full, the Bradshaw clan then retired to the living room, decorated with paper chains hung from the ceiling and an artificial tree in the corner because live ones weren’t readily available in the city.

They watched TV and played board games like Monopoly, card games like Hearts.

At 8 p.m. everyone paid attention to the Queen’s traditional Christmas greeting, broadcast over the BBC.

It was a ritual, says Bradshaw, that was as typical and unspectacular as they come.

But that’s what made it special.

“It’s something you enjoyed and you always wanted to bring it back.”

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