In this continent-sized country, Christmas is a time for children, a time when Santa Claus comes down the chimney bringing gifts. But across this patchwork of states, there are countless regional variations. A fir tree might decorate living-rooms throughout the north-east states, while in the south, palm trees are dressed in their Christmas best, garlanded with white lights in front of stores and along the avenues.

There is no typical Christmas menu. Turkey was the centrepiece of Thanksgiving dinner some weeks before; it now surrenders centre stage to a beautiful roast of beef. First courses often incorporate smoked salmon and there are numerous hors-d'oeuvre, while dessert varies according to the region and the cook's own specialties. Presentation is everything: there are Christmas-tree and star-shaped moulds, garnishes added to provide a splash of red and green, and so on.

At the White House, "President's Cake" is served, made from a recipe that is over 200 years old. This is a tradition that dates from Abraham Lincoln's time, and which is found no where else.



Meanwhile, everywhere in the country the lady of the house makes a big glass bowl of traditional eggnog, a rich, thick drink flavoured with rum, and sometimes spiced with cinnamon or nutmeg, and offered in little glasses to every guest as a sign of hospitality. In the lobbies of big hotels, eggnog is given a place of honour on a white tablecloth near the illuminated Christmas tree, providing a little warmth to the heart of every guest.

Merry Christmas