Why the Brits come over all German at Christmas

Level-B2 to C1 Advanced

Now normally it's fair to say that we Brits aren't big on things German: we prefer France and Spain for our holidays, croissants to pumpernickel and the Costas to Cologne. That is until the festive season, when an invasion of all things German breaks out on the streets of Blighty.

Suddenly the streets of Birmingham echo to voices from Frankfurt and Friedrichshafen, and the city centre is colonized overnight by wooden huts straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale, lit by countless flickering candles in glass holders showing snowy scenes of forests and mountains, that in no way resemble the slushy, muddy lanes of England in the winter.

Midlanders, who would normally turn up their noses at anything more foreign than a Balti from their favourite curry house turn out of the office early to nibble on a bratwurst ( bearable, after all it's a hot-dog really), and some Gluwein ( it's alcolhol, so who cares?).

So who is to blame for this bizarre Germanification of the Christmas season? Well it was royalty of course- Queen Victoria in fact- and because she fell madly in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, we all have to vacuum up the needles from under the tree every December. In 1841 Albert had a Christmas tree imported from Germany, decorated with real candles, and it was placed in Windsor castle to the wonderment of all. A picture of this heart-warming scene, the royal family ( they had nine children) all gathered around the exotic tree, covered in candles, baubles and tinsel was published in the 'Illustrated London News' in 1848. It was a 'Hello' magazine moment. Everyone wanted to celebrate like celebrities, and the Christmas industry was born. You too can turn your hovel into a castle, just add a tree and all the trimmings! Even the Americans got in on the act, after a similar illustration was published in America, with the royal crowns removed from the heads of the Queen and Prince of course.

Now we want all things German to make our Xmas special- we want the tree, the alpine huts, the wooden toys, the candles and even the bratwurst. Just don't bring the snow. Or the sauerkraut.

 

VOCABULARY

Pumpernickel-a type of heavy German bread

Costas-the Spanish coasts

Blighty- a nickname for Britain

to colonize- to take over a place, often another country

flickering-an intermittent, unsteady light

Balti- a special curry cooked in Birmingham

to nibble- to eat in small bites

beloved- much-loved

heart-warming  ( adjective)

baubles- round decorations to hang on a Christmas tree

tinsel -shiny decoration for Christmas

fairy lights- the small lights used to decorate at Christmas and parties

hovel- a very poor house like a shed

Trick or Treat?


'Trick or Treat'- or how the Americans ruined our Halloween....              
( Level B2/C1, Upper-Intermediate/Advanced)

They're back- the pumpkins piled high, racks of witches' outfits with sparkly green trimmings, rows upon rows of Harry- Potter-style wizard costumes, and of course whole forests of broomsticks and wands. A nip is in the air and as the nights draw in, so do the profits of our local Tescos. Yes, you've guessed, it's Halloween again!

Time was in my youth when Halloween was a harmless bit of fun, mostly involving apples and cardboard. Apples to put in a bowl of water, ask a few little mates round, and play 'apple-bobbing'- a ridiculous game where you have to bite into an apple bobbing about in a bowl of water, and get it out of the bowl without using your hands, ie in your mouth. The result was a lot of wet kids and a lot of laughs! Quantities of cardboard were required to cut into the brims and cones of witches hats- these all got painted at school, and black skirts were fashioned out of crepe paper- easy, cheap, and saved the teacher bothering to plan a proper lesson-what  joy!

Fast forward to 2013 and such innocent fun seems a lifetine ago, as gangs of feral children roam the streets dressed as something out of Michael Jackson's Thriller, knocking on doors to demand money with menaces. ''Trick or Treat'' they cry as you reluctantly open your door after multiple rings. If you then fail to hand over A) some sweets B) a fairy cake with cobweb icing on top or C) your life savings, who knows what will happen? A curse from beyond the grave? An egg on your window? Or just massive guilt that you, yes you, are the biggest party-pooper in town?

Well dear American cousins, Halloween in Britain just 'ain't what it used to be' so'' trick or treat, suckers!''


Vocabulary

Trimmings the extra bits to decorate or complete eg. on clothes/food
Tesco a massive supermarket chain in the UK
mates (British English) friends
crepe paper soft paper-like material used for crafts and hobbies
feral wild
to roam to walk about like an animal roaming its territory
to demand money with menaces the mafia do this- to extort money
cobweb a spider's home
Party-pooper the person who spoils the party
Suckers US slang for idiots

 

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