What is a traditional Christmas? Television and magazines would have you believe it’s snow covered streets, a perfectly shaped Christmas tree, colour coordinated decorations in red and green, silver or gold; a roaring fire with a happy smiley family gathered around it.
As much as I love watching cheesy Christmas movies where this traditional Christmas look oozes from the screen, at the end of the day those of us lucky enough to have happy family Christmases have our own traditions.
I saw a social media post last week telling of a Christmas tradition in Iceland where everyone gets the gift of a book on Christmas Eve and goes off to bed to read it... sounds like a wonderful idea! It got me thinking about Christmas traditions in my family and how they have changed over the years.
Growing up in our house it was my mother who made Christmas special; her excitement leading up to the big day was infectious. We never had much money, but she scrimped and saved all year round to give my sister and I a pile of presents, not always expensive, but always thoughtful... and for me, always a few books.
Our Christmas Eve traditions
Christmas Eve was as exciting as the big day itself for us. Once the house was cleaned – yet again, and we were bathed and in new pyjamas, Mum brought out the bowls and trays that she kept for Christmas. Next came the array of fruit, nuts and chocolate treats like Quality Street, and my favourites, Walnut Whips, which she’d been buying for weeks before. We’d laugh at the amount of treats coming out of their hiding places, saying they would see us through until Easter. We were allowed help fill the bowls with just the right balance of mixed goodies and place them on the sideboard. The highlight of the night was getting to choose just one chocolate before going off to bed.
As a teenager I’d shop with her on Christmas Eve, hauling laden shopping bags through bustling streets onto crowded buses. Back home, the welcome smell of freshly baked cakes and sausage rolls wafted from the kitchen where my aunt who lived with us was busy mixing butter icing. You can’t beat home-made cake still warm from the oven – yum, yum my mouth is watering right now.
I loved Christmas Eve, even when I was 19 and heading off to the pub with friends I didn’t go until I’d helped with the sweets and treats.
Presents were always put out by Mum, carefully presented, mine on one armchair, my sister’s on the other, and we all had to go downstairs together on Christmas morning. I laugh to think back –as a small child it was ‘hurry up mum’ as we sat on the top stair waiting for her – and then as a teenager it was more a case of mum saying ‘come on, hurry up you two’ as we wanted to brush our hair and be presentable for any photos.
Fast forward to my own family traditions
Some of Mum’s traditions I kept, some I changed.
While we still lived in the UK I followed most of my Mum’s Christmas traditions mixed with a few of my husband’s family. Going to midnight mass and having a big Christmas dinner were traditions I took from them for many years. With a son, diagnosed diabetic aged four, the bowls of sweets and chocolate had to change – more treats less sweets, until eventually it became a bowl of fruit in the kitchen and sweets in an out-of-reach cupboard with daily rations.
Bigger changes came when we moved to Ireland. Now a family unit of five with no extended family to call on or visit us during the festive season, and me a full-time working mum, my three boys had more of an input into our Christmas traditions. Having a squeaky clean house wasn’t a priority for them... living in the countryside it was nigh on impossible anyway. Nice food and plenty of it was a big part of our new traditions.
I’d still buy lots of presents, mainly silly things, just like my Mum, I like to see the pile of presents. Even now the youngest at 23 still looks for the socks, jocks and chocs! When they were all living at home we would gather outside the living room door, on Christmas morning, excitement building (for me anyway!) Inside, rather than everyone delving into their own pile of presents I’d mix them all up around the tree. The youngest would hand out one at a time and we all enjoyed each other’s presents together, often taking a couple of hours before the last gift was opened. We still do this today and we still enjoy it!
Mum thinks we’re crazy when she rings on Christmas morning and we’re still opening presents at 11am – she’d have been all done and dusted by 8am – but we love it this way.
Our treats are less sweet and more savoury these days, with home-made quiche, scones, corned beef pie and sausage & stuffing pie being our foodie traditions for Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. After trying a few alternative Christmas Day lunches, we even created a Chinese banquet one year, we’re all back to loving a heart-warming Christmas dinner with plenty of roasts, stuffing and pigs in blankets.
That being said, it’s time I thought about Christmas shopping, and being a list person... that’s where I’ll start.
Have a lovely Christmas everyone. I hope it is relaxing, peaceful and filled with your own family traditions.