An American's Survival Guide to Autumn in London
There are a few things that I deeply understand as an American living in England. First, we give smiles and need to receive smiles from people in a way they don’t here. (Especially in London!) Second, their relationship with sweetcorn and inclination to add it to an endless amount of food dishes still shocks me. I’m looking at you, pizza with corn on top. Finally, an American’s love for fall festivities will never be matched here with the same enthusiasm as in the States. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it is the sad truth.
However, I have to say that there are a few things I’ve navigated to make the season a bit more, well, American, if I’m honest. If I want my kids to experience the joys of picking out pumpkins from patch, trick or treating & pumpkin pie, it took a bit of a learning curve. Here are the major pointers I’d give to anyone about what they do here in London (or don’t do), and how we make the experience feel a bit more like home.
HALLOWEEN | When we first arrive to the UK, this holiday was nearly non-existent except for a depressing section of disgusting face paint and sexy costumes in the back of Clinton Cards. It seemed only to be celebrated by university students who wanted to get super drunk and be obnoxious that evening in public places. However, its slowly grown and, with the encouragement of American expats and the internet, become a bit more normal. However, not all neighbourhoods are created equal in trick or treating. Just like you knew the good neighbourhoods as a kid where they gave the best candy, it’s helpful to know where the concentrated areas are in London. We like Notting Hill and Holland Park. Both seem to have the best concentration of decorated houses with good traffic and fun costumes. Be warned: the kids costumes are a bit darker here, but that too is getting better each year. We have been a painter, a teddy bear, Paw Patrol and the like and the reactions been met with great response. It seems that more people are ditching the creepy mutilated faces and letting the kids choose fun costumes- which feels more like the US to me.
If you don’t have kids, help out and decorate a bit for Halloween so people know you’re giving out candy to kids! It’s a fun and easy way to grow this fun night of the year, and give it a less creepy reputation.
PUMPKIN PATCHES | While groceries stores like Waitrose and Tesco will set out a small box of pumpkins, it’s hard to find a good one to really carve in the local stores. If you’ve got a car, I’d really recommend heading out of London to a pumpkin patch. We love the one we go to: Crockford Bridge Farm. It’s about 45 minutes from West London.
It’s got all the essentials: loads of pumpkins to choose from, a great play area for the kids complete with a fort, tree swing and rope swing/zipline. You can visit the tea shack serving up snacks, a field you can wander (on select weekends) to choose your own pumpkin, a farm shop next door with great produce and a Lidgate butcher shop. It’s such a great day out!
We always follow it up with dinner at The Cricketers pub nearby. It’s a few minutes drive, it’s not fancy, but it has a little playground for kids to play on while you sit at picnic benches beside it.
THANKSGIVING | You’ll need to prepare yourself for this one a bit and realise that to the UK, this beloved holiday, is literally just another Thursday smooshed in the middle of a work week in the dark and dreary months. Plan in advance for a Thanksgiving dinner on the evening, or opt for a weekend lunch celebration in the days before/after. (You’re basically forcing it to happen out of nowhere, so you might as well pick a time that works best for you.) Luckily, the UK holiday season will have already been pushed off and you’ll have the benefit of shopping for ingredients from the available Christmas dinner shopping supplies. Turkeys, stuffing, cranberries, gravy, potatoes are all in his stock at this time. However, for the more American items (canned pumpkin, green beans, French’s fried onions, etc.), you’ll need to get a bit creative. Online shops though Ocado and Tesco can yield good results. I always make a run to Whole Foods for filling out the items I still lack or have little motivation to track down. There you can either order an entire pre-made dinner (that’s really good, but a bit pricy), or individual containers of items like turkey gravy, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, roasted veggies, and ready made pies.
If you opt for the ordered dinner, make sure to submit your order with a good lead time so you don’t miss out. They’re a popular option amongst expats!
You can get turkeys from any major store at that time. I prefer Waitrose for a full bird and Marks and Spencer for their boneless turkey crowns- less pretty on a table but such an easier cut to cook and eat! However, this year we were sent a turkey crown from Donald Russell and will forever be converted by their amazing quality, delivery on dry ice to keep things frozen and fresh, and amazing sides. (I mean, the Royal Family uses him for a reason!)
Also, a word of warning if you go with The Ginger Pig (also popular) for one of their organic turkeys: expect loads of quills to still be in the skin (gag) and most of the legs to still be attached. My dad had the horrible job of amputating our £75(!!!) turkey from them a few years ago and the screams from me and my mom as we opened the box still make my stomach lurch. Gross.
GUY FAWKES | Now this isn’t an American holiday (obviously), but for newcomers, it’s on a big celebration on the 5th of November where Guy Fawkes’ famous plot to blow up parliament with barrels of gunpowder was foiled. Look up options in TimeOut to see what local fireworks displays are on. Hopefully, it won’t be a soggy night out, but if not, expect a little bit of a State Fair atmosphere (food trucks, some rides, etc) at the bigger fireworks shows. Many will have two timings- one for families that is a bit earlier and a later one, too. It’s a fun celebration, so book in advance (required at most of the good shows, as they sell out!) and get into the holidays here, too. After all, we are Americans and never need a good excuse to enjoy a celebration.
* *. *
I guess the good news for all of us- no matter if we live in the US or the UK- is that there are still Snickers bars, toffee apples & hot chocolate in both countries. Phew.
Find out more about of what’s different about our expat life in the UK here.
*images original to Aspiring Kennedy