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(Yet another) American in London at Christmas

As The Team’s resident American, I’m here to point out my observations of the ways in which the holidays are celebrated on either side of the pond.

Compared with the U.S., Christmas adverts in the UK are a big deal.  Annually, John Lewis makes thousands of people cry through their 90-second videos that jerk tears, warm hearts, and gather shares. In this day and age where advertisements saturate our field of vision, brands now have to compete for our attention within a few seconds. The likes of John Lewis and Sainsbury’s use emotive storylines to engage consumers. The pithy ads evoke strong messages that encapsulate the holiday spirit without aggressively pushing product thus, people become more connected through the strong use of storytelling.  Holiday advertising in the US tends to emphasize specific products while it appears the adverts in the UK carry substantial narrative in an attempt to use emotions to connect consumers to products.

Americans go above and beyond in terms of exterior decorations

A high number of shares and an online presence of advertisements directly translate to a high profitability–in 2012, John Lewis’s advert cost £6 million to make but brought in £596 million from festive shoppers. The advertising power of Christmas places these adverts in-line with the Super Bowl in America.  In the U.S., this kind of internet popularity for adverts exists around the Super Bowl, which takes place every year in February. John Lewis may take the cake for their spirited videos, but the equivalent in the U.S. lies around the Super Bowl. The American football championship is a behemoth in the advertising world, where commercial slots cost around $5 million for 30 seconds, which is about $167,000 per second. Just last year, 114.4 million people tuned into the game making it the most-watched broadcast in U.S. television, and this translates to billions in sales.

While it is a common tradition in both countries to decorate interiors with holiday imagery and ornamentation, Americans go above and beyond in terms of exterior decorations, ranging from full-fledged light shows to life-sized nativity scenes. In the U.S. many people cover the exterior of their homes with massive displays of brightly colored fairy lights, wreaths, and life-sized Santa’s and reindeer. Suburbia is often coated with twinkling lights and neighborhoods have competitions for the best decorations, as illustrated by the hero image of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The day following Christmas, also known as Boxing Day, is one of the largest shopping days of the entire year, much like Black Friday in the States (the day following Thanksgiving). This is that time when you can wake up at the crack of dawn and return those ill-fitting socks your Aunt gave you—Boxing Day coincidentally has the highest percent of returns. While the days following major holidays are shopping phenomenon, in the U.S. there is a rise in the popularity of “Small Business Saturday” which is an effort to get people away from shopping at “big box” stores and patronize smaller local businesses.

Yorkshire pudding does not abide by the rule that cake is pudding, cookies are pudding, anything dessert is pudding, even pudding is pudding. You can see where one would be confused. As an American, I was previously unaware of certain foods that are considered staples on British holiday menus. For instance – I’d never heard of a mince pie. To me, mince was just ground meat that sounded dicey at best. Even time at the table is a bit more colourful with Christmas crackers exploding with paper crowns, horrible jokes, and other little trinkets. Of course, Turkey on Christmas Eve is a total no-brainer but, we Americans usually reserve the turkey for Thanksgiving and opt for pork or beef instead. The disparities in holiday traditions between the U.S. and UK are small, but it’s nice to know that there are some ways in which we retain our differences.

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