Stories from Scotland: This holiday season |

Stories from Scotland: This holiday season

The Christmas market skating rink in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Courtesy Photo

— It’s officially our first holiday season in the U.K. And I have to admit — we were a little worried that we would miss the mountains and, well, snow.

Coming from Steamboat Springs and then spending the past four Decembers in Cortina, Italy, we became very used to the mountain town holiday season: snow — lots of it — and skiing and hot chocolate and layers.

The holidays are a little different here.

There is no snow in Scotland. (Which is actually good, because the stop signs here are not big red octagons at intersections, but lines on the street. You can imagine the problem if it were to snow and drivers couldn’t see those lines).

But while snow may not fall from the sky, you can actually buy it. It’s a white powder that expands in your hand when you add water and turns into a snowy fluff that you can place on your windowsill or around your Christmas tree. It’s truly one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen.

Here, Santa sits, not in a sleigh (or large chair at the mall), but in “Santa’s Grotto,” which I liken to a cave where he hides out from the rain.

We’ve been watching a show on the U.K. Food Network every morning, “The 12 Cooks of Christmas,” where we learn about different holiday specialties and delicacies, all of which involve double cream and puff pastry.

As it turns out though, some things are universal during the holiday season. Like lines at the post office, for instance.

In Italy, the post office in December was my worst enemy. There is a system in Italian post offices that is meant to be efficient (although “Italy” and “efficient” should never be used in the same sentence): when you walk in, instead of getting in line, you take a number from a machine.

The “number” actually consists of a letter and a number, for example, E16, A22 or P12. The letter corresponds to what you are there for, as the post office serves multiple purposes. You could get money (E), you could chat with the clerk (A) or, contrary to popular belief of those working there, you could actually mail things (P).

The most frequent patrons of the post office tend to be older and prefer to forgo the letter/number system in favor of walking right up to a clerk and demanding to be helped immediately. Older Italian women are famously pushy.

In Scotland, they do lines — sorry, queues — in the post office, and in December, they usually go out the door. The last time I was there an older woman walked in, took one look at the line, walked to the front and demanded that she be helped immediately.

“She must be Italian,” I said to Ryan.

He rolled his eyes because no matter what country we are in, it’s a given that he hates standing in line at the post office.

The truth is, it’s easy to feel homesick or nostalgic during the holidays. We’re a long way from home, in a new country, with new traditions. And we do miss those snow-covered mountains and waking up to a snow-covered town.

But as long as there are lines at the post office, it’s easy to feel right at home.

Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer, currently making the switch from living in Italy to living in Scotland. While she’ll miss the pasta and wine, she’s looking forward to exploring a new country and trying haggis. Sophie’s husband, Ryan, is a Steamboat Springs native and professional hockey player; you can follow their adventures online at

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