Celebrating Christmas the Expat Way

“Oh, we put a coin in our Christmas pudding, too!”

Really?? I freeze. Not sure if I should be embarrassed or surprised at this, new to me, piece of information. Yup. Living in Britain for fourteen years, and, still, never knew they put a coin in their traditional Christmas puddings! So, hey, celebrating as an expat is fun!

Yesterday Ellen Hawley thoroughly explained on her blog Britain’s Christmas traditions from an American expat’s point of view, so I won’t ditto her. Just make sure you do click on the link to read her post, ok, otherwise you may miss my point.

So, some of you may have vaguely gathered from my posts that I am a Bulgarian settled in the UK. Therefore, I do get asked a lot: “How do you celebrate Christmas?” As an Orthodox Christian, that is.

This question always throws me in quiet panic. Well, I do try to follow the traditions I have been brought up with. Although, strictly speaking, I grew up during communism when there was no Christmas at all, as religion was banned… But, anyway, for us the big night is Christmas Eve. We prepare vegetarian dishes only, and have to make sure we have either seven, nine, or twelve varieties of those on the table. Quite a challenge, I know! “What do you cook to make it so many??”, I am usually asked.

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Well, I do cheat. To an extent. Salad, a bowl of dried fruit (obligatory – no idea why) as well as some nuts count as three separate dishes. But, then, there is still lots more to cook. For mains it’s usually vine or cabbage leaves stuffed with spiced rice. You should also have beans on the table – not the type you buy in a tin, but cooked in a tradional way with typical Bulgarian spices. This is a symbol of wealth: as many beans there are in your bowl, as much money you will have. If only…. For what I know, any pulses you may want to cook on this occasion carry the same symbolics. Lentils, wheat, anything you fancy.

Another typical ingredient of our festive dinner is dried fruit – normally soaked in water, in a sort of compote consistency. Not too sure why this is, but I am sure Google will have a plausible explanation.

Homemade flat bread is another compulsory component. It has got to be made with baking soda rather than yeast, as yeast is considered a living thing, so to speak, so not strictly vegetarian. I know!! Oh, and damned I be if I forget to mention the coin. You hide in the bread before baking, and whoever finds it, will be lucky, wealthy… you name it. The head of the family splits the bread and gives everyone their piece. First, though, he puts to one side a piece dedicated to God, another one for the home, third one for work, and then, and then only, he gives everyone their own pieces. Starting from the oldest family member and working his way down to the youngest one.

I could go on and on… Thing is, being an expat is tricky when it comes to “universal” holidays. Even more so when you have kids who grow up in the country where you are a foreigner, while they are born and bread locals. So, crackers and mince pies it is, then!

Thanks God that Christmas trees are traditional in both countries. At least this is when you can wholeheartedly teach your kids what to do. Oh, and Santa travels around the globe, so yupee – sigh of relief, we are not that different, after all. Although, again, technically speaking, under communism he used to be called Father Frost, and used to dish out his presents on New Year Eve.

Still, we are, surely, not that different!

Until a friend living in Bulgaria decides to ask me: “How do they celebrate Christmas in Britain??” Which is when I cringe (again). But from now on I can just give them the link to Ellen Hawley’s Guide!

9 comments

  1. It’s a celebration so come on, I am a stuff shirt that’s why we go away every other Christmas, this one is Jamaica, I can’t wait. The sun, it’s to cold here. A coin in the bread, I know that some put a hard boil egg in the top of bread, I think it’s a Easter thing

    Liked by 1 person

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