What were your childhood family Christmas traditions? And how have they changed since you've had a family of your own?
We used to be awash in Christmas traditions, at our house. Matching Christmas pyjamas on Christmas Eve (satin, because this was the 90s). Hovering outside our closed living room doors early on Christmas morning while Dad fiddled with the video camera inside. Four big Santa sacks stuffed with gifts, one for each of us. Having to save some of our presents for when my auntie arrived, at a frankly outrageous 10am. Sitting down for the only three-course meal we had all year, and feeling ten-feet tall when asked to choose between melon and soup. We always had pork for Christmas dinner (which I didn’t like much), because my beloved, trembly and ancient Nanna didn’t like the taste of turkey. She sat in the corner armchair, resplendent in fuzzy cardigans she’d knitted herself, bestowing a gentle ‘ooh, lovely’ upon every present we brought to her.
As night drew in and the heat haze shimmered comfortably from the radiators (our central heating bills were legendary), we played with new toys and scrapped over the strawberry creams in the Quality Street tin. All four of us together, like a conspiratorial gang. Naff Christmas specials on the TV were overlaid with adults talking about adulty things. Then bedtime. New books under my pillow. Happiness.
Nearly two decades later we are grown up, three-quarters married, and living on two continents. Christmas has become complicated by flights across the Atlantic, partners with families and traditions, and a couple of small children with Father Christmas dreams of their own. We are adults now, with busy lives that diverge wildly from each other’s. We rarely spend Christmas all together, and when we do it’s months in the planning.
Things are different when you get older. You find out that your in-laws have other Christmas films they watch on Christmas Eve, and that bulging Santa sacks don’t come for free. My husband’s family don’t like strawberry creams, and cheerfully passed them all down the table to me. While my inner ten-year-old was delighted by this windfall (I ate them all within ten minutes, making small piggy noises), it still felt unexpectedly lonely.
This Christmas is going to be special: for the first time in some years, we’re all together again in England. At my house, where now I am playing Father Christmas, stressing over Christmas cookies and fiddling with the video camera while my boys hop from foot to foot outside. We will have Christmas pyjamas and a three-course dinner. I’ve bought in Quality Street by the ton.
And I know you can’t ever go back properly. The living room is different and we’ll be having turkey, though I’d cook pork in a heartbeat if I could install my old Nanna in her cardigans and bring my presents for her approval. Perhaps our adulty conversation over the naff Christmas specials will bring up our differences as well as our comfortable sibling similarities. But we have our Christmases past in common. And love, so much love. I think that’s the tradition I most want to pass forward to my children, who will sit at my feet in their matching pyjamas and play with their presents, forming a conspiratorial gang of their very, very own.