Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Tradition

When we are young, however Christmas Day is laid out, it's the right way to do it. It comes as something of a surprise when we discover other people do Christmas in a different way.

But it evolves and changes as we grow older - from discovering that Santa wasn't who we thought he was, to when we have kids of our own - as priorities, relationships and even technologies change, so do our traditions for Christmas day.

During a conversation with my wife this Christmas, I realised I was quite hazy on how things had changed. I couldn't quite remember all the differences from how it was when I was a kid to how we did things now. So I've decided to write down a typical Christmas Day for us as it is now, so I can have something to refer back to at a later date.

Christmas Stockings
When the kids were small, we told them that during the night Santa delivered all their stockings to our room, and when we got up we would then pass them on. This was to avoid the problem my parents had of putting the stockings in our rooms just after midnight, and us waking up at 3am, all excited and making a huge noise, resulting in them shouting at us to get back to bed - probably several times.

I can't remember at what point we stopped delivering them to each child's bedroom, but it seems like they would always congregate in the largest room and open their stockings together, so sooner or later we just brought them through to the one room, which for the past 11 years at least, has been Meg's.

While they open theirs, Maggie and I swap stockings and enjoy that bit of connected time together.

The traditional Christmas Breakfast in our house is croissants. I think it's something my Mum started doing when I was in my late teens, and the tradition was adopted by Maggie when we moved in together, but I can't be completely sure. All I know now is it would feel wrong if it was any other way.

The Christmas Tree
This is more fluid. Originally it was always a real tree, but then we went through a phase of having a ready-made one that could be reused every year and didn't leave pine needles everywhere. When that came to the end of its life we reverted to a real tree for a few years, but over the past couple of years we've gathered branches - usually from the beech trees overhanging the back of the garden - and Maggie has constructed a tree-like arrangement to hang the lights and decorations on.

Presents Under The Tree
There are households where it's a chaotic free-for-all and everyone grabs their own presents, but in our house it's always been a structured affair. Once the fire is lit and the chicken is in the oven, we all gather in the living room and I pass out the presents one by one. Each person opens their present, hugs the person who gave it to them and then we move on to the next one. When I was a kid it was my Mum who handed out the presents, but since I've been with Maggie it's always been me. There isn't any particular reason other than practicality as to why it's me. I've occasionally made suggestions someone else could do it, but no one ever volunteers.

The system for handing them out is to make sure they are grouped together by person - then I can see who has how many. I will make enquiries about which wrapped gift should be kept to last for each person. Then I hand out the presents in turn. On the first and last rounds, making sure everyone gets something, and juggling it around a bit in between for those who have more (usually Meg) than others. At its peak, when we had 5 children in the house and there was a tendency to have a greater number of cheaper presents rather than fewer more expensive ones, the whole process could take a couple of hours. This year (2016), for the first time we only had 4 of us for this part of the day, so it didn't last so long.

The advantage of this way of doing things is everyone gets to share in the excitement and pleasure of everyone else's gifts.

Christmas Dinner
I've never been bothered about turkey, so a nice free-range chicken has always been our meat of choice for Christmas Dinner. Maggie is vegetarian so has always made a nut roast too - usually with chestnuts in it for Christmas. Roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, and honey (or maple syrup) coated parsnips accompany the chicken and nut roast. It's always done to perfection. Maggie's cooking skills are astounding, although she never seems to realise just how exceptional they are.

Christmas crackers are pulled and paper hats donned.

Dessert is usually a combination of Maggie's bramble ice cream (made from blackberries Meg and I picked back in the autumn), Maggie's most wonderful chocolate ice cream in the universe, cream, chocolate sauce, meringue nests, and a fruit sauce usually made from raspberries and hand-picked brambles.

And Then...
A wee doze in the afternoon is not unknown.

A bit of TV such as a Dr Who Christmas Special would be watched, but the television is not usually on that much on Christmas Day, while the evening might consist of a family game.

Christmas Day has been honed and refined over the years and it is lovely. For some families it can be a time of strife and arguments, while for others it can be a terrible time of loneliness. We are extraordinarily fortunate that it is almost always a wonderful day of gifts, food and a loving family. I couldn't ask for more.