Student, professor share how holidays are celebrated in the British Isles

James St. in Cookstown is one of the many streets decorated in Northern Ireland. Christmas in Ireland is a big holiday, according to Coney. Photo contributed by Shannon Coney
James St. in Cookstown is one of the many streets decorated in Northern Ireland. Christmas in Ireland is a big holiday, according to Coney. Photo contributed by Shannon Coney

The University of Indianapolis brings together people and houses students from many different walks of life and from all over the world, such as the British Isles.

Junior business administration major Shannon Coney is from Ireland and came to the United States to study abroad for a year. Head Women’s Soccer Coach Holly Cox is from England and came to the United States to start a new life and career here. Both women said that the holidays in America and those in the British Isles are very similar, besides Thanksgiving. Both Coney and Cox celebrate the Christmas holiday with their families back home in a much similar way that many families do in the U.S.

Coney said she feels that Christmas is actually much bigger back home in Ireland, but she still shares the same basic traditions.

“For Christmas, my younger sister is still in ‘Santa mode,’ so we’ve got that,” Coney said. “We go to Christmas Mass in the evening on Christmas Eve, and then we come home and open one present each. And then you open the rest of the presents the next day. Then I have [to do] Santa at six o’clock in the morning, because she [my sister] is banging on the door. My whole family gathers at my granny’s house for dinner, and then we all go out to nightclubs on Christmas.”

Cox, on the other hand, was surprised coming to the states and seeing how extravagant Christmas is compared to in England. She has spent the past two years in the United States for Christmas and has been able to experience both cultures. While still celebrating the same holiday as so many people in the United States, she also has her own cultural traditions, and family rituals back home.

“You guys really know how to celebrate your holidays. So it’s a little different than it is back home,” Cox said. “I have a small family, and we tend to stay at home with my immediate family. So me, my dad, my mom, my brother and our dog, Jackson, who’s pretty much our sibling.… We tend to have a quiet Christmas, but we watch the Queen’s speech on Christmas. On Christmas day, she addresses the nation. So that’s the kind of thing you do, is sit down, have your dinner and watch the speech on TV. I would say that’s pretty much tradition.”

Coney found Christmas in the states versus home to have just a few differences in traditions.

“One thing that I think is different that I noticed from visiting my family in North Carolina, is they are much more spoiled by Santa than we were,” Coney said. “I think we drank more at home actually. Like on Christmas night, we go out to our local pub, and it’s just like a party.”

In both Coney and Cox’s cultures, food is even more elaborate than it is in the states. Portions and options are much bigger, with a wide variety of different dishes. Cox said that the food in particular is a very big deal.

“My dad will cook dinner all day, and then we pretty much just pig out and eat loads of candy for the rest of the day. That’s typically what we do at Christmas,” Cox said. “We do turkey as well on Christmas Day, but we also do tons of other meats, so my dad will do a turkey and get ham and roast beef. It looks like we are trying to feed 20 people, but there are only four of us. Big stuffing bowls are huge back home, and roast potatoes and brussel sprouts. Desserts also aren’t as huge back home as they are here. You guys like your pies, but we don’t tend to eat too many pies. We usually do more like Christmas pudding.”

Christmas pudding is a large round cake that many will pour brandy on and set on fire, and is topped with holly. Another important dinner tradition are “crackers.” Cox described her usual dinner routine, in which the whole family will sit down with crackers at their dinner place settings. Each person pulls one end of the cracker, while the person across from you pulls the other end, until the cracker cracks with a spark in the middle. And in the middle, there is a small gift, a paper hat and a joke.

Cox said that New Year’s is the second biggest holiday in England and involves her different traditions as well.

“For New Year’s, my parents typically make food back home, and then we will stay up all night and sing a song together, Auld Lang Syne, where you hold hands and shake each other’s hands, stuff like that.”

The holidays in both areas places resemble celebrations in the United States, making the transition easier for both women, who spend much of their Christmas season here. Cox said that she feels like whether she is here or in England, she is home for the holidays, while Coney said she is excited to get more in the Christmas spirit when she returns to Ireland for the upcoming holidays.