An American Christmas: Why are we sacrificing British traditions for a yankified yuletide?

Candy canes a-plenty and silver lanes aglow; Christmas is undergoing a transformation, but it's not too late to stop it
  • @katieforster

Anyone dreaming of a trip across the Atlantic to experience the glitzy zeal of an All-American Christmas may not need to buy a plane ticket after all. It’s beginning to look a lot like Bing Crosby’s Christmas everywhere you go on this side of the pond too, with candy canes a-plenty and silver lanes aglow.

The popularity of American-style trends over here is nothing new. Yet we now seem to be nearing a point where our yankified tastes cease to be imitation and we begin to believe that we are, in fact, American.

The warning signs appeared earlier this year: in some stores (sorry, shops), Halloween pumpkins were advertised as 'Jack O' Lanterns'. Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid at this drastic and unannounced change in terminology. More puzzlingly, this year was the first in which I saw friends I grew up with earnestly wishing each other 'Happy Thanksgiving' on Facebook.

Christmas seems to be undergoing the same transformation and even the jolly old St Nick has changed his name to get with the times, as can be seen on this week's prime time Channel 4 show, Bad Santas . RIP, Father Christmas.

One of the takeaway coffees that we are all now clutching on the way to work could well be an Eggnog Latte. We are assumed to know and like this concoction: the Starbucks UK website describes it as "the festive favourite" and claims that eggnog has its origins in 19th century England . Yet this is misleading. Eggnog is best known as an American drink that has been unheard of here for hundreds of years, which people are more likely to buy because they have seen it on The Simpsons than because of its ancient English heritage.

Other changes may seem less obvious, as we have become used to the metamorphosis of our high streets from diverse channels of local character to brash, identikit branded highways. Take Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland, for example: bigger and sparklier each year, this orgiastic fête of Christmas consumerism will sate your desire for over the top festive fun.

You can enjoy a seasonal Texan BBQ at ‘The Grill’, skate on the Hollywood-cartoon sponsored ice rink, and round it all off with a ride on the Carousel – the merry-go-round’s louder, showier Yankee cousin. Poor old Father Christmas is nowhere to be found here either.

Maybe an injection of the excitement of Americana into the slow pace of Christmas past is exactly what we need. Also, it would be wrong to suggest that there is a particular ‘British’ tradition that must be preserved at all costs: British culture is a complex, multi-layered mix of many different influences. It is, in fact, this diversity that is overtaken by the one-size-fits-all American model. Not everyone in this country celebrates Christmas, but the yearly celebration of consumption and kitsch is open to all.

The reality is that the Americanisation of Christmas is a symptom of aggressive globalisation and the steady homogenisation of culture in the UK and worldwide. By marketing these Americanised products as 'traditional', we are encouraged to buy more stuff in the name of fake nostalgia.

Some may point out that the UK and the US have a long history of cultural exchange: Turkeys were brought to Britain in the 16th century and Father Christmas’ red suit is another American invention. Yet cultural norms can now be transmitted, and advertised, through a TV screen or an internet connection faster and on a far greater scale.

When Christmas is over and the inflatable snowmen are all thrown away, don’t breathe a sigh of relief. The adoption of American culture as our own continues: bigger portions, cars and bodies, the new-found popularity of beauty pageants, and casual Americanisms such as 'Can I get..?' or ‘take-out’ all add to the illusion. Sipping Sex and the City style cocktails in a zinc-lined bar is perhaps now more desirable than going for a pint down the pub.

Why spoil the fun?  These things are popular because people enjoy them. However, let's not become the 51st state just yet: regardless of whether or not we like them, we should not to be fooled into embracing these new cultural imports as 'traditional'.

We should be able to enjoy American traditions, but as just that – American traditions, not our own. Christmas means something different to everyone and we should be able to enjoy it in the way we choose to, not just in the way that it is sold.

Happy holidays, kids!