As this was my first holiday away from my own family and home, it was an opportunity for me to realize that though Christmas traditions don't vary too much across the globe, there were definitely some major differences - some cultural, some family - that make my American Christmas traditions actually quite special. And they primarily revolve around food.
First off - no cookies. I am sure that some British and Irish families make Christmas cookies, but the Irishman's family doesn't. Traditional Christmas desserts here are Christmas puddings, Christmas cakes, and mince pies - all boozy, fruity cakes without an inch of chocolate in them. Cheese is also big here (see my previous post), so it's not as if there is nothing to end a meal with. But there aren't the hundreds of cookie varieties I'm used to, or the sweets, or any of the delicious, pop-in-your-mouth seasonal delights.
Foodwise, the other really weird food was an addition to the festive meal - celery. Apparently, it is a traditional Irish side dish to serve boiled celery in cream alongside the Christmas turkey. No way. I tried it - I'll always try everything once - and it was a no-go. But the Irishman's family loves it and to not have it would have been a serious omission. Speaking of the festive meal, in Ireland just like in the UK, turkey is the main course. In my family, turkey is reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas might be roast beef, fish, or ham. The Irishman's mother served both turkey and ham, with stuffing, some amazing roast potatoes and brussel sprouts. It was like having a second Thanksgiving for me!
The other interesting addition for me was smoked salmon. The Irishman's mom loves smoked salmon, and his cousin prepared it three ways for our starter. Smoked salmon is a really traditionally British and Irish holiday dish, and it is really lovely and light for a seasonal meal.
Overall, Christmas in the British and Irish islands isn't too radically different from the holiday in the US. It is a bit more overtly Christmas (no Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings here!), and religious carols are played all over the town, but at the end of the day the holiday is really all about having family and friends gather for a special and delicious meal and to celebrate together.