What NOT to Do at Christmas: A Guide for Brits


While we are, not everyone is a fan of Brussels sprouts. (SR)

So, as we’ve said, Christmas in the U.S. isn’t too different from what we knew back in Blighty, but there are a few things worth noting.

Don’t bother trying to get Americans excited about Christmas cake or Christmas pudding, your chances of success are slim to none. When you tell them that Christmas cake is fruitcake, you lose them right there. Fruitcake in the U.S. is typically much drier than Christmas cake and when you explain that many Christmas cakes have been sitting in alcohol for up to six months, somehow it doesn’t help matters. Christmas pud provokes an even stronger reaction, especially when doused in brandy butter and set on fire. And whatever you do, don’t hide a coin in the mixture unless you want a (very expensive) trip to the emergency dentist.

Don’t force Brussels sprouts on the uneager. Although some Americans like them, the ones that say they don’t usually can’t even be persuaded to try them. Granted, the boiled-into-submission sprouts many of us grew up with are truly terrible and their reputation precedes them, but even the posh recipes come up short for the sprout haters here.

Don’t leave it too late to get hold of Christmas crackers. Although they are more readily available than they were when I came here over twenty plus years ago, you still don’t see them everywhere and they’re often not cheap. Availability is also hit and miss so if you hear on the Brit grapevine that they’re in stock somewhere, do not dally.

Don’t leave it too late to send your Christmas gifts back to the U.K. If possible, think of an alternative, like buying them when you’re in the U.K.  or using a U.K. shopping web site. If sending items with a value of more than thirty six pounds, the recipient will be liable to pay customs and a handling fee. “… for goods imported from non EU countries, customs charges do apply, these may include import duty, excise duty and import VAT. Goods with a value exceeding £15 (for commercial items including internet/mail order purchases), or £36 in the case of gifts between private individuals, are generally subject to Customs charges.” By the time you’ve paid postage and reimbursed your recipient for the customs fee (if you’re nice), you’ve often spent more money than the gift is worth.

Don’t laugh at the very formal, fancy photo cards you’ll get in the mail. For many Americans, this is a way of catching up with people they don’t see from one year to the next and it’s serious business. If you think about it, since many parents stick a photo of the kids in Christmas cards anyway, it kills two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, some of them just miss the mark a little.

Finally, don’t expect a day off work on Boxing Day unless it falls at the weekend. Although you might be able to use a vacation or personal day, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the day off and you’ll have to ask for “the 26th” off, not Boxing Day.

Do you have any additions to the list? 

See More:
Christmas Traditions: Britain vs. America
A Brit’s Guide to the Holiday Season
Snapshot: 21 Photos of U.K. Christmas Lights


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • cynara0362

    Do not expect your American friends to be very enthused about mince pies either.

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

      I really don’t understand that one. They’re so sweet and yummy! I can’t think of an American food that’s anything like it though.

      • Sara

        I think the name ‘mincemeat pie’ turns off most Americans. And once you tell them the crust is made from suet the desire to even try it is gone. Suet, at least in the colder climates of the US, is mixed with birdseed and then put out in the winter for birds to eat.

        • frozen01

          As a resident of the colder climates of the US… I didn’t even link the two.
          Then again, I’ve had mincemeat pie and quite enjoyed it.

        • Aurelas

          Finding that out as a kid really made me feel sick to my stomach! But now I want to try mincemeat pies–I just can’t find a good source for suet anywhere.

          • Babette Damours

            Use lard or butter instead – will work fine.

          • Lynn Michael Rappolt

            last year at a Christmas party we went to someone brought a meat pie. I found it disgusting but I am always open to trying new food.

        • Kris Fehr

          I didn’t know suet was used for anything other than birdseed.

        • Dorothy Williams Crosby

          I make mince pies every year,as every female member of my family. Not one of us use Suet! That item is used only in Steamed Puddings never in our mince pie recipe. The pastry is a mixture of lard,vegatable shortening with flour etc. the lard makes the pastry flaky and soft.

        • Tiffany Souza

          Not all of us. I would still try it. A friend of mine got me to try chicken hearts once. Her parents are Venezuelan and it’s a dish she loved growing up. They weren’t bad to be honest, but I’m more of a beef person and have always been picky with poultry dishes so the flavor wasn’t my thing. The texture was very pleasant though.

    • Merry Bond

      I have been wanting to try mince pies. My grandma used to make them and I haven’t had one in years.

      • Christine Wilt

        I make mince pies and mincemeat fruit bar cookies that have convinced
        friends that mincemeat is good to eat in small amounts!! I don’t use suet but use lard — that comes from my grandmother in Pennsylvania!!

    • Angela Mondor

      My grandmother makes mince meat (same thing I’m assuming) pies every year :) But, her parents came from Quebec, so I don’t know if that’s why…

  • maggie

    My husband loves my homemade fruitcakes and mince pies. One year I made a Christmas cake for church and everyone loved it.They couldn’t believe it was a fruit cake. I cannot however get him to eat brussel sprouts. Mind you I have given them him mashed up in mashed potatoes and he didn’t know :)

  • gn

    Overcooked Brussels sprouts are an art form!

    • Ian Hicks


  • trixiedarling

    Christmas must haves – now at Cost Plus (also in some Bed Bath and Beyonds) Cadbury’s selection box, Terry’s choc orange, after eights…sensing a theme? Chocolate!!

  • http://www.blogiota.blogspot.com/ Iota Manhattan

    Brussels Sprouts versus Green Bean Casserole. Who would be the winner in that tournament?

    • Sharon Stroud Broussard

      hmmm…depends on how they’re cooked. I make the green bean casserole with fresh green beans and mushrooms (not as soupy as the traditional version). This year, I’ve informed the family that I’m doing roasted brussel sprouts. So far, no one has declined the invitation!

      • Aurelas

        Roasted? That sounds like it might be edible. I am used to being around brussels sprouts that are cooked almost to a pulp. This is the first time I have ever heard of roasting them.

        • Sara

          I’ve been using Martha Stewart’s recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion and Apples for years and everyone loves it, including the children. It’s very easy: Brussels sprouts, red onion, apples and fresh tyme tossed with olive oil and roasted for about half hour. Simple and delicious.

          • Aurelas

            That does sound pretty good…I will look into that! Thanks :)

          • Ian Hicks

            I do that but I use sweet red peppers instead of the apples. It’s less tart and comes out really well.

    • Luigie

      Sprouts that have been sliced and sautéed with bacon and tossed with almonds and balsamic vinegar is quite tasty.

    • Merry Bond

      I am American and loathe green bean casserole, but I love Brussels sprouts.

      • Kristin Maze Carnes


    • http://www.anamericanhousewifeintexas.com/ Leslie Loftis

      Depends on the recipe and the cook. If well executed, I’d personally go for the Brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic mentioned. I don’t like creamy veg, and that’s green bean casserole. Of course, bacon and balsamic–like frying–makes most things yummy.

    • John Wheeler

      Green Bean Casserole. People will eat that, especially mine. :)

    • Kris Fehr

      No one. Everyone loses.

  • nappyvalleygirl

    I’ve mentioned a few in my latest blog post – being in the US for four years we missed nativity plays, panto, proper carol services and decent TV over Christmas. But Americans have better Christmas decorations….


    • frozen01

      I’m really looking forward to taking my British fiance around the richer neighborhoods for his first Christmas in the US. He saw a couple decorations on the way to a friend’s house the other night and nearly flipped out! It was pretty basic stuff for us, though, nothing too crazy. Can’t wait to find one of those places that probably has its own YouTube channel 😉

      • Merry Bond

        Are Christmas lights not put out as a general rule in the UK?

        • frozen01

          Not with the degree of one-upmanship that some Americans go to (not that I can talk… I kind of go all-out with the Halloween decorations).

          • Tiffany Souza

            I love Christmas decorations! Especially the lights! They make me so happy!

    • Melissa

      most churches i know have Nativity plays…Im not sure what you consider decent tv lol..seems most is rubbish all year anyways

  • puddingsmatter

    Hi-I’d just like to put it out there that I am making Christmas puddings in Skaneateles, NY with http://www.puddingsmatter.com and they have been very well received at our tastings!

  • Aurelas

    I am an American who has been dying for a taste of a Christmas pudding since I was a child drooling over illustrations in old books. I want to make Christmas pudding and Christmas cake every year but have never managed to track down the ingredients It is definitely true though that many Americans have an irrational fear of fruitcake. I think it may be because some people make either soggy, wet ones with marshmallows in them or dry crumbling ones with little flavour and (alas, again!) marshmallows. I love a good fruitcake but try to steer clear of the truly disgusting ones described above. And I admit, I am afraid of trying brussels sprouts–it’s their smell. I have a rule that if I can’t bear to get it near my face, it is not going in my mouth. I would be wiling to try them if they were appetizing though.

    • LMJ

      I’ve not seen a fruitcake with marshmallows. Kinda glad I haven’t run into that one.

      I’m right there with you on the Brussels sprouts. I can’t get past the smell, either.

      • Lynn Michael Rappolt

        when I was growing up my (step)dad loved brussel sprouts so we were subjected to eating them and had to eat all of our serving before we could have seconds of anything else. I still hate them. I did not know fruitcakes contained marshmallows.

      • MBDElf

        I have a friend/co-worker who claims to have an appetizing recipe for Brussels sprouts; I tend to question it a bit, since, when he was an avid every cyclist, he’d FEAST on PowerBars (UGH!!). But he HAS fixed some good dishes, too, so I wouldn’t run away if he brought some to work.

  • Iluvmincepies

    We eat Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding and cake , and make mince pies but we are American with British ancestors- so it depends on who you descend from in America.

    • Dana Colburn-Gallo

      Same here

  • YankBird

    Well looking at this list and none of this applies to me. Here is what I know as Christmas being raised as a Greek-American. Yes, my Brits not everyone eats fruitcakes, ham, or surname is Smith. 😉 Roast lamb with potatoes flavored Greek style or Mediterranean for that matter: olive oil, oregano (ρίγανη pronounced “rígani̱”), basil, salt, lemon juice real lemons not the bottled. Eating sweet Greek Christmas bread “Christopsomo (Χριστόψωμο), Kourabiedes (Walnut Sugar
    Cookies), Melomakarona (Honey Cookies), and for an added American influence sugar cookies in the shape of snowpeople,ornaments, pinetrees, with sprinkles and frosting. Christmas themed or peppermint flavored chocolates as stocking stuffer treats. Oh, yes, no gingerbread houses, never made them growing up and no eggnog oh,no just go straight for the beer and wine. hehe! Singing carols in Greek and English. Also, be Merry and loud with the company you are with. That is what I know as Christmas traditions to me growing up in a Greek-American household. Ya, my family stuck out in our neighborhood for that reason alone. Lol! Cheers!

  • Allison Lansberry

    Americans decorate much more than Brits. A lot of it is rather tasteless & offensive. How do they pay their electrics? ?. There is much too much emphasis on Santa & expensive gift giving.

    • Heather

      Offensive must mean something different in the UK. Loud, obnoxious, even tacky can describe US decorations, but not offensive.

      • Melanie Eshom

        Offensive does describe some Christmas displays. They have nothing to do with the real reason for Christmas.

        • MBDElf

          That’s some thin ice you’re stepping on, Melanie; LOTS of mistaken beliefs form the whole “Christmas” holiday theme.

          • Tiffany Souza

            I can’t TELL you the number of times I’ve gone to church during Christmas and witnessed some pastor performing an obviously Pagan ceremony (like Candlemas. That one always makes me laugh!) thinking what they are doing is 100% Christian! Like Christmas trees! And feasting. And gift giving. Even Jesus’ birth! (Somewhere, the Roman god of the sun Mithras is glaring at Jesus for stealing his thunder.) I can name a Pagan influence for every last one! It’s pretty funny. We humans love to think we’re so original, but we so rarely are anymore.

        • gn

          … and what is that?

          • Tiffany Souza

            Celebrating the Regeneration of the Doctor! Duh. 😉

      • MBDElf

        Loud, obnoxious, and tacky pretty much DEFINE offensive, dear Heather. But then, I’m more old-school than you are, I’m sure.

        • PS Gifford

          Cheesy paper decorations, tinsel,inflatable father Christmases and plastic silver Christmas trees are the height of tacky, and those Blackpool lights are the height of elegance. I am a Brit living in California. Things, for the most part, are a bit more subdued over here.But, also consider America is a vast area…You cannot compare California with New Jersey for instance- not stating one is better than the other, but I hare when people lump all Americans as the same.

  • Jagwizkid

    Really beginning to wonder if someone didn’t tell me that I coukd be British? Between my grandmothers love for tea and articles like this… What aren’t they telling me?!

  • Kelly Erickson

    I love Brussels sprouts, pretty much any way they are cooked except boiled to mush. I love fruitcake, mince pie, puddings, and Christmas crackers. I agree you have to start looking for them in November, though. But you couldn’t pay me enough to get me to eat green bean casserole.

  • IanH

    Be prepared to be asked to show your ID when you buy crackers. There are some stores (Target for example) that treat them as fireworks.

  • Derek

    Never worked Boxing day in the US.. I always take it off. The thought of going back to work the day after Christmas is just awful.

    • MBDElf

      Beats the day BEFORE Xmas, if you’re in retail; trust me.

  • Else Marie Ayala

    Love brussel sprouts, fruitcake and mince pie, no. just imagine Tom Hanks eating caviar in the movie BIG. Lol

  • Kevin McColl

    Don’t mind the veggies you speak of, fresh preferred.
    And fruitcake, it is dry and not very well made in the USA. Finding a good place that makes it is hard. I prefer moist, fermented, and as it sounds in the UK….

    PLEASE if that is as it is made int the UK Has anyone found a vendor who makes it that way in the USA?
    The few bakeries I found have closed… nothing to do with the fruitcakes by the way…

  • Penny

    I was surprised to see Christmas crackers at T.J. Maxx, but I’m not sure if that is a good thing…

  • Pat

    As far as I’m concerned, Christmas is just a few days off work and some peace and quiet. I don’t eat any differently at this time of year than at any other …

  • FaerieBad

    Those brussell sprouts look good!

  • Norma Hunt

    Love the pud, and some cakes not all are equal, brussel sprouts if young and tender some are so big you could use for slw,those are bitter. Canadians get boxing day, so move here ,and defenitly buy on line and have it ship to EU. Merry Christmas

  • Harry

    Brussels sprouts aKa Fart bombs….I love them.

  • Wayne Lunkwitz

    I prefer my Mom’s recipe for “fruitcake”. It is actually mincemeat cake with nuts stored tightly sealed for as long as possible (not less than a month).

  • Shelle Perry

    I would do a lot for brussel sprouts. I love them lightly steamed or boiled into submission or even just stuck in a recipe somewhere. However I don’t know many people who like them.

  • PS Gifford

    Target has/had Christmas crackers this year, cheap and not too shabby. I got a box of eight for six dollars.

  • Irené Colthurst

    Is roasting or sauteing considered a “posh preparation” for Brusssels sprouts? Because it really would be just the overdone boiling (which leeches away the nutrients) that would turn most Americans off of sprouts.

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

      For the most part, most Brits grew up with boiled sprouts. Posh in this case really only refers to them being gussied up a bit.