As a French Erasmus student, I have only a limited amount of time to visit Britain and to enjoy all its beauties and secrets. In this column, I will tell you my astonishments, wonders and the interesting and unusual things I have noticed in Britain. This first piece is dedicated to the magic of celebrating Christmas in England.
The Christmas atmosphere
A giant-Scandinavian-inspired tipi, under which hot wine and chocolate are served that you can drink around a big bonfire: this is the start of York Christmas market. Then you walk along the place, in the middle of wooden chalets: homemade advent wreath, mulled wine, spicy gin or whiskey, Yorkshire food specialities, jewellery stands run by hippie-style women wraped up well in fur coats. In the middle of the market, close to the fountain, a charity choir is singing. Going away from the market, entering the centre of town, you can hear the carols in the shops, whether they sell food, clothes, video games or stationery. You can definitely feel the Christmas atmosphere.
This is so unusual to me. In my country, secularism is paramount. Obviously, you have quasi-Christmas markets in all towns, but they are quite small and when you say “why not go to the Christmas market ?”, it’s more of an excuse to go shopping and, if you have time, going afterwards to have mulled wine before going home.
I was so astonished that they were all here to enjoy the Christmas time.
The first time I became aware of the lack of Christmas atmosphere in my country was when I went to the Christmas Carols organized by York’s universities’ Christian unions in the Minster. This was an adventure. When I arrived, fifteen minutes before the beginning, there was a queue that surrounded the whole cathedral. I wasn’t searching for my friends for more than ten seconds along the queue that already more than fifty people added themselves to the line. The groups of friends were smiling and laughing, happy to share this time altogether, even if it was cold – you can fight everything with fur and a Christmas jumper.
Oh, and I have to say something about that. Seriously, Christmas jumpers ? I was so astonished when I saw, for the first time, people wearing this proudly. You’ll definitely never see someone in my country with a Christmas jumper, except children in school, and unless you want to be seen as an old-fashioned teenager.
Coming back to Christmas Carols: when I finally succeeded to entering in the Minster, I had some difficulties in finding an empty seat because they were so many people. After a while, I saw that my friend had kept a seat for me in the middle of the church. It is only when I sat and started to appreciate the mood of the concert that I began to look around me. There were no more seats. And five lines had to be added on the sides on the cathedral because more and more people were entering. The most surprising was that they were all students. Only young people in a church. Obviously, they were not all Christian, but they had no shame to be here and all they wanted was to enjoy the Christmas time. I had rarely seen anything like it. From my point of view, it was practically unheard of. I am pretty sure that in my country, if the Christian unions organize such an event, only people from the union would go.
English Christmas as an example?
With the Erasmus Society, we have been to several Christmas markets around the country. The biggest one we saw was in Manchester. It was so crowded that we had to push and shove to force our way through the masses of people. Everyone was enjoying being with family, drinking a hot chocolate, a glass of wine, taking a ride on a merry-go-round, or simply having a walk through the market, that stretched throughout the whole town. I definitely want to bring the English Christmas atmosphere into France.