BRITISH LIFE Christmas HOME Obsessions Pastimes Traditions

Mince Pies: A Cautionary Tale

Several Christmasses ago, a client of mine, who had not been long in the UK, was invited to his neighbour’s house for “mince pies and punch”.

This seemed a very English thing to do at Christmas, and he and his wife were excited. They looked up mince in their dictionary and saw it meant “ground meat, possibly pork or lamb or beef”. A meat pie then! They were happy; they’d seen people eating the famous English meat pies in pubs, with chips and piles of vegetables, and they’d wanted to try them for a while.

They didn’t, however, know what to think about the “punch’ bit. His wife said she’d heard that on the first day of every month, English people go round punching each other, so it must be something like that. He told me that this had made him a little nervous: his wife is very small and could be knocked down very easily. But they decided to keep open minds, and to try to avoid anyone who might want to punch them.

On the day of the party, my client decided that, as he would be tucking into a big, meaty main course, perhaps with gravy, it would be a good idea to skip lunch. And so he arrived at the party very hungry indeed.

His host greeted him with a cheery hug and a large cup of some kind of hot drink, full of fruit. The host told him this was the “punch”: a traditional English Christmas drink, which was, his host said, “a bit like tea”. My client was so very relieved that no one was going to punch his wife, that he drank 3 glasses of it, one after the other, and his host was very pleased with him. His hostess then walked up with a plate of tiny pastry things, full of fruit. My client decided that this must be a canapé, ate it and waited for dinner to be served.

An hour later, there was still no sign of the pies and he was absolutely starving. By this time, he had had several more glasses of the “English Christmas drink that was a bit like tea”, and had eaten all the fruit in it to stop his stomach making noises. Every time his hostess passed, she offered him another little cake thing, but it was not enough to stop his hunger. In some desperation by this point, he even ate the fruit out of his wife’s cup, and out of the cups of other guests, when they weren’t looking.

After a while, he felt that he needed to sit down. And this is when things became very strange because suddenly… it was the next day. He was lying on his own sofa, his head was exploding and his wife wasn’t talking to him.

He found out afterwards that the little pastry things were THE mince pies, and there was no big dinner – they were the only food served all night, and all the other guests had understood this, and eaten supper before they had come to the party. He also discovered that “English Christmas drink that was a bit like tea” was only really a bit like tea IF that tea also contained brandy, cider and a few other extremely alcoholic drinks that his host had decided to throw in at the last moment.

And finally he learned that the reason his wife was not talking to him was mostly because just before midnight he had decided to demonstrate his martial arts proficiency, and had crashed over on top of on another guest, smashed three punch glasses and kicked the hostess’s dog in the face.

He says, however, that he feels the story has quite a positive ending, in that he is now quite famous in his road, and even two years later, other neighbours wave cheerfully at him and call him “party animal”, with expressions of great respect.

© 2016 Kayte & Nicer Kate – authors assert moral rights

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