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“Functioning Society of Alcoholics”: Celebrations in the UK

The title above comes once or twice removed from one of my fellow internationals from the UK, who doesn’t drink. While that is definitely an option, it’s not one you come across too often. I wasn’t really sure how to define “holidays” as that back home just means when you have time off – Bank Holiday, Summer Holiday etc. (basically interchangeable with “vacation” over here). So as this is on celebrations, this is how we celebrate in the UK.

Of course this is a pure generalization and pretty subjective, seeing as plenty of people don’t drink from personal choice such as religious reasons, but if you’re celebrating something back home, you’re either “going out” or “staying in”. You’re going to stay in for stuff like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and you’re going out for Boxing Day (26th December), and New Year’s Eve – but you’re probably going to stay in for New Year’s Day, because you’ve probably made a New Year’s Resolution to “never drink again” by that point.

Staying in means family, and food. So much food. The two main days for this is Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, by which point everyone is too stuffed full of Easter Eggs or Christmas Dinner to do anything. Speaking of Christmas Dinner, I hear a lot of talk about turkeys over here. We usually have three options of meat – gammon, roast beef and goose, for example – then so many roast vegetables as probably makes it unhealthy, then something involving trifle, and in between brandy snaps and Yule Log and fancy shortbread biscuits and mince pies and to be honest, you can drink if you want to, but it’s not going to do anything for you. Stick to mulled wine, which basically doesn’t count, and as many cups of tea you can manage. Easter is just pure chocolate, like chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And then you panic because you’re running out of chocolate, but it’s kind of okay because you never ever want to see chocolate ever again.

Going out is the time you spend with your friends, and make brand new friends that you will hopefully never see again because you embarrassed yourself considerably by falling over. Maybe on them, I don’t know. I hope you didn’t throw up, that’s all. But basically – here’s how you go out in the UK. 18+.

About 9pm – meet at a friend’s house for a few drinks, while everyone shows up. It’s probably best to have a snack or something as well. Bring your own drinks, it’s only polite.

About 10pm – make your way to town. Which town depends on how old you all are, meaning how likely it is if someone’s going to check your ID. Probably hit a pub for a couple of hours, meeting more people on the way.

Post-11pm til 1:30 am – Bar hopping, club hopping. You find the music you like and stay for a couple of songs and a few drinks, but your mate knows a place down the road where shots are £1, or where the music is better, so off you trot.

By about 1:30 you should have found a place you’re going to stick to, partly so you can dance for a considerable amount of time and partly because by this point you’re having trouble sticking in a straight line. And now you’re going to dance for at least 2 hours, depending on where you find yourself (clubs tend to shut about 3 or 4am) but remember to stay hydrated, in your 18+ kind of way. And then you all sit on a street corner deciding which kebab place is nearest/cheapest, eat something, get a taxi home, or a lift off someone very kind (who you did NOT just meet), and then it’s all about pre-hangover preparations (it’s just lots of water before bed, and taking some with you with a couple of paracetamol for the morning, and maybe a bucket).

This is a general rule of thumb, rituals and costumes change depending on the season. We don’t really go in for Hallowe’en too much back home, it’s just there’s probably an offer on drinks and dressing up can be done away with or completely embraced heart-and-soul. And New Year’s may last slightly longer, or everyone might get fed up by the time it gets to midnight or just be there for the fireworks and Auld Lang Syne.

The one holiday I can think of which is not quite either of these two is one not celebrated anywhere else, and it would be Guy Fawkes’ Night, or Bonfire Night, on 5th November. Because there’s going to be loads of kids about you’re not Going Out but you are all going to congregate somewhere with your friends and maybe have something to drink just to keep warm. Traditional foods for this night are all treacle-based, either the tooth-destroying candy kind or as a cake, parkin. And there’s always a fairground, a firework display, and a huge bonfire that people have been donating fuel to since as far back as summertime. It makes it sound kind of weird when I say Guy Fawkes was part of the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament back in Stuart times, and he got caught and executed in a very imaginative way, and now every year people gather to burn effigies of him while little kids ooh and aaah at fireworks, but that’s it really, and it’s kind of a really nice night. It’s nostalgic because you remember when you were a toddler being taken, and now you’re hanging out with your friends (the only proper adults around are usually parents, and don’t go in for rickety fairground rides) but it doesn’t really matter what age you are or what’s in your flask because you’re all just here as a community. Watching effigies being burned. I swear it’s totally heartwarming when you’re there.

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  1. 1 Comment(s)

  2.   By Matias on Nov 12, 2014 | Reply

    It happens more or less the same in Argentina! Especially when it comes to preparing food (to feed an army!) on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve! Easter too but generally chocolate eggs is what you’d be sick and tired of by that day!

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