Christmas is generally considered to be a time for tradition – people do the same things every single year, and they love the familiarity of the festive season. However these traditions vary depending on which country, city, or even individual family is celebrating Christmas. It is only since coming to Spain and seeing how different their customs are that I have realised that British ones must seem very strange to everyone else!
One topic that seemed particularly interesting and unfamiliar to my Spanish high school students is that of the pantomime. Pantomime, or ‘panto’ as it is often called, is a type of play which is very popular in the UK at this time of year. The stories are usually traditional fairy tales such as Cinderella, Snow White and Aladdin, but they are changed to make them funnier, often with music and silly jokes. You can find one at almost every theatre during December and January, and the actors are often celebrities such as TV stars and comedians. Many pantomimes include cross-dressing, which means men play the parts of women, such as Cinderella’s ugly sisters, and women play the parts of men, such as Peter Pan.
What makes a pantomime really special, and so peculiar to people from other countries, is the audience participation. Normally in a theatre, audiences are expected to stay silent to respect the actors, but during a pantomime they are encouraged to join in! When the villain, for example Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, comes on to the stage, everyone has to boo and hiss to show that they don’t like them. Often characters will lose something and look for it on the stage, while audiences shout ‘It’s behind you!’ to help them to find it. There are many other examples of these responses, and most British people know exactly what they are meant to say and when, because they have seen so many pantomimes and they are all very similar.
There are many good examples on YouTube if you want to see what it looks like – they are very funny, for both adults and children! I’m going to see Cinderella while I am back in England for the holidays and I’m very excited!
Have you ever seen a pantomime? Did you enjoy it or find it strange?