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Christmas in Shrop-shurr

Posted Dec 28 2009 11:19am
There are a few things that make a British Christmas decisively British: crackers and crowns, pudding, roasted parsnip, mince pies, baking with alcohol, brussel sprouts, and boxing day walks. Over my Christmas break I had or experienced all of those things, making it a very satisfying time. I stayed with a lovely family in the county of Shropshire, a highly underrated beautiful place where England really looks like England. The family have two kids, neither of whom I could understand (at least for the first couple of days.) Though kids with British accents are pretty much irresistible. We baked together, saw the countryside, and ate tons of delicious food and met some cool people.
We visited the town of Ironbridge, where not coincidentally the worlds first iron bridge was built in 1779. Fun fact of the day. We also did some post holiday walks in the famous Shropshire hills, giving us wonderful views of the surrounding area and into Wales. We visited a Bronze age (2000-1400 BC) stone circle at Mitchells Fold. It's no Stonehenge, but it is pretty neat and even better that it is in the middle of a field of sheep. Legend says that a witch was jailed here after trying to take advantage of a magic cow. Those pagans!
In Shrewsbury, the birthplace of Charles Darwin, we drove by the sights in this medieval town and stopped in Attingham Park, a beautiful place with a big mansion and great grounds complete with a deer park. (Oh, and 'Wellies', first worn by the duke of Wellington in the early 19th century (another fun fact!), are tall rubber boots, usually required for jaunts into the English countryside as it is quite a wet and muddy place.)
On Christmas eve we were wrapping presents, filling mince pies, and hanging decorations. At least in that house, stockings are filled and left in each childs' bedroom rather than by the chimney with care.
A note on mince pies and Christmas puddings. Well, firstly, Christmas pudding isn't pudding at all, it's fruitcake. And mince (at least now) isn't meat at all but a sweet mixture of raisins, apples, and currants, marinated in rum for a few weeks. Likewise, Christmas pudding is made potentially months in advance and "fed" with liquor every few days. That's my kind of cake. On Christmas day the pudding is ceremoniously covered in brandy and set on fire. A good time is had by all.
Christmas crackers are a pre dinner activity, pulled apart with a snap and contain a paper crown, a toy of some sort, and an extremely corny joke. (we theorized that the cheaper the cracker, the more painful the joke, but really, they're all bad.) For example: "How do snowmen travel?" answer, "On Icecycles" Ow, my brain!
Oh yes, it is impossible to pronounce Shropshire properly with an American accent. Just forget the 'r'.
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