The Christmas and New Year period, for many people, is a time when family and personal traditions are practiced and compared. There are traditions people relish, traditions people dread and others that are carried out each year “just because that’s what we always do”.
I’ve often wondered what happens when one person’s traditions need to merge with another’s. Mr L and I, although both from (non-practising) Christian backgrounds, still grew up with different traditions around this time of year but bringing those practices together to form new ones hasn’t really been a big deal so far. Until this year (well maybe last year), our children were too young to really “get” Christmas so we haven’t really needed to establish much in the way of expectations around all the Christmas goings-on (presents, food, activities, extended family etc). But this year Master and Miss L are very aware it’s Christmas and so I started to think about more about how I’d like us to remember our family Christmases.
Here are some traditions we started, kept, re-vamped or threw out this Christmas:
I LOVED the practice of opening an Advent calendar leading up to Christmas as a child. In the 1970s and early 80s, chocolate calendars weren’t around. Every year I’d have the old fashioned cardboard calendar, with a wintery nativity scene, a sprinkling of glitter, and a daily search for the relevant number. Behind each window was a picture of something very simple- a star, a robin, a spring of holly- yet each day’s window seemed absolutely magical to open. I had a chocolate calendar one year (once they became more popular), but found the chocolate disappointing and the ugly plastic mould that was left once you’d eaten it really unsightly and went back to the picture-style calendar the next year. Simple, cardboard Advent calendars with pictures are really hard to find in Australia, so this year I bought a wooden Christmas tree with a 24 small drawers in it- each drawer just big enough to fit a few smarties or other small lollies. We added one drawer each night so the kids got to see the calendar fill up each morning during the countdown to Christmas. They got the magic of a surprise, the sight of something beautiful, the sense of anticipation, all with chocolate thrown in!
Christmas Eve outing
I remember as a child Christmas Eve being the most agonising of days- the long wait, my parents “getting ready” for Christmas (usually a fairly boring affair with my Dad doing last minute shopping and wrapping- adding to the anticipation but not really entertaining on a practical level) and my Mum cleaning and baking (but “Don’t eat all the mince pies!”) Until now as an adult, Christmas Eve has often been a busy, stressful, exhausting day, fighting crowds at the shops and doing a mountain of food prep to try and feed guests the next day with maximum efficiency on the day. This year (helped by the fact that we weren’t hosting anyone other than ourselves on Christmas Day) we decided to do something completely non-Christmas related. We went to the zoo. It took the kids’ minds off how excited they were and was a lovely relaxing way to have fun as a family. Importantly it also didn’t involve eating, drinking or presents! This is a “tradition” (if you can call it that after one instance) I’d like to continue.
I like to eat turkey at Christmas. For no other reason than it feels Christmassy (I do like the taste, too!) Mr L is never that fussed, he always protests “But turkey’s so dry!” But while living in NZ that changed. We found this Annabel Langbein recipe for brining turkey which, along with not overcooking it, makes it so much more appetising. I’m open to turkey alternatives, but one a year, I do enjoy turkey.
I’ve always been a “not until the weekend before Xmas” tree putter-upper. Partly so that Christmas doesn’t monopolise the whole month of December, but also because a real tree struggles to last more than a couple of weeks, especially in Australian summer. This year though, we got our tree a bit earlier and so enjoyed it for longer in the lead up to Christmas (which, thanks in part to preschool Christmas preparations, now seems to monopolise not just the whole of December, but also November!) My other tree tradition was to leave it up until Jan 6th, “Twelfth Night”- I have no idea why. I mean, I know it’s a common tradition but it has no practical relevance to my life… in fact it’s completely impractical. I’m usually back at work by Jan 6th so taking it down is a hassle and by then, Christmas seems sooooo far over that it’s crazy still having a tree up! This year I began to gradually put away the decorations starting Boxing Day, just a few at a time, and the tree was the last thing to go, on New Year’s Eve. It felt much more appropriate and manageable.
Which Christmas traditions have you embraced? Rejected? Reworked?