Making the best of Christmas at Homestay (international students)



It’s only natural to feel a little anxious at the prospect of spending Christmas away from your family. So, to help you through the festive period we have put together this handy guide to enjoying Christmas in the UK.  

Christmas in Britain is full of traditions, new experiences, and festive songs on the radio so to help you make sense of it, we have collected some key things any international student needs to know to have a classic British Christmas. 

Firstly, we have some important information: 


Shop opening times change over the festive period – this starts in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day where some high street shops do ‘Late Night Shopping’ opening past usual hours until around 9pm.  

Most supermarkets do stay open usual times between 19th-23rd December then change to closing around 6pm On 24th December and close for Christmas Day 25th December and Boxing Day 26th December – then re-open 27th December.  

Local smaller convenience stores usually open during this period of supermarket closure. 

There is one traditional shopping craze to look out for which is the ‘Boxing Day Sales’; this starts 26th December in the high street shops and online, prices are discounted sought after items do go quick, so it is very busy! 


Food to Expect 

In some British households you may hear the term ‘Don’t eat that, it’s the Christmas food!’ – what this means is in the lead up to Christmas, households may have ‘buffets or snack foods such as (pringles, nuts, chocolate, breadsticks) during the holiday period.  They stock up on the goodies in advance and save them to enjoy for the week before Christmas.  

The traditional main dinner on Christmas may consist of: Turkey, Roast Potatoes, Carrots, Mash, Yorkshire Puddings, and a choice of other vegetables.

You may hear the term ‘all the trimmings’ this means added extras compared to the usual ‘Sunday Roast’ you may have seen before, some of ‘the Christmas trimmings’ may be 

Pigs in Blankets- Sausage wrapped in bacon. 




 Brussel Sprouts love them or hate them they can divide the family when it comes to Christmas dinner, but they are a compulsory Christmas vegetable and well worth trying them.   




Another food tradition for pudding may be Christmas Pudding- this is a dried fruit steamed pudding served with custard or cream.  Sometimes adults will have ’brandy cream’ which is alcoholic. 

Christmas dinner is usually enjoyed on 25th December (Christmas Day) – all the family may gather to the table, and you may find ‘Christmas Crackers’. 

You pull one side of the cracker with the person sitting next to you and it makes a small ‘crack’ sound (like a firecracker), and they usually contain a paper joke and paper hat that looks like a crown, that you wear during your meal – this is a fun tradition to join in with. 

If you are eating in cafes or restaurants leading up to Christmas, they may have a ‘festive menu’ this is food they only serve seasonally and is worth a try.  Often it may include cheese, cranberry based products and Christmas spiced products (cinnamon and nutmeg) 



It is usual at Christmas for extended family or household family members to be together- from watching a film to playing a board game – Christmas and Boxing Day are very family orientated. Families may exchange gifts during the festive period.  

The Queens Speech 

The Queen has been broadcasting her own Christmas message to the Commonwealth nations since 1952, and from 1957 onwards it has been shown on television too.

For many Brits, this short message delivered at 3 o’clock forms an important part of Christmas Day celebrations. In the speech, The Queen has been known to address current affairs or important events of the year. Many families stop doing everything else to watch this, as a mark of respect to the Queen. 


Christmas Outfits  

Some families wear ‘Christmas Jumpers’ leading up to Christmas or Christmas-themed clothing.

On Christmas day and over the holidays some may stay in their pyjamas more than usual or get very dressed up (posh clothes) on Christmas day. 

If you are a fan of a Christmas jumper then there is an official Christmas jumper day on the 10th of December, the Study Links’ team will be wearing theirs on that day, so you won’t be alone.  Do send us a photo of you in your Christmas jumper!  


Christmas Decorations 

It is not unusual for families to trim up (this means decorate) their home. 

Most families have a Christmas Tree, these can be real or artificial and they decorate them with baubles and tinsel.

 Some families decorate their homes with Christmas lights and may have Christmas Stockings to put small presents in which are then traditionally hung up above the fireplace or at the end of the bed. 


Top tips for International Students:

  • It is essential you get involved in your homestays all. Irrespective of whether you like the food / the activities. On such a special occasion for UK families, it is important for it not to be spoilt by students not getting involved / staying in their room, etc. 
  • Mealtimes (can differ on Christmas/boxing day compared to the rest of the year) 
  • Every family’s customs are different. What you experience in one household (food, decorations, number of people, activities) may be completely different. Do not compare with other students experience because it is special for each household, no matter how they choose to celebrate 
  • Some it is religious, some not. 
  • Some wear pyjamas until after breakfast, some do not, etc 
  • A token gift to your homestay (e.g., box of chocolates) will be well received over this special festival. 


Have a very merry Christmas and Happy New Year!