Wednesday, 21 December 2016

My Family's Christmas Traditions

Close up of a Christmas tree

Christmas is only a few days away now, and if you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know I'm starting to get pretty excited! Christmas has always been something special to me, and that's probably down to the family Christmas traditions.

When I was younger, my mum always wanted to make Christmas, and in particular, Christmas Eve, special for me and my brother, full of excitement and fun, because some of her memories of Christmas when she was younger are marred by arguments between her parents and an atmosphere. She wanted to create good, happy memories for us, and so the first of our Christmas traditions began.

As a child, every Christmas Eve was full of anticipation. Not just because Father Christmas would be visiting that night, but because Christmas Eve was an event in itself. My parents would take my brother and I to the cinema to see a Christmas movie. I've seen most of the major Christmas movies of the 90s; Miracle on 34th Street (my favourite!), The Santa Clause, Jingle All the Way, The Muppet's Christmas Carol, and many others. Those movies would always further increase my excitement of the big day and of a visit from Father Christmas, and I would leave the the cinema practically buzzing.

The cinema trip would be followed by a drive around the streets of Central London, to see the Christmas lights. This was always a highlight, being filled with wonder as we would turn a corner and see another set of lights. My dad used to be a courier, and would have to deliver a lot of parcels, so he knew all the streets and roads that put up brilliant lights, so we didn't have to go searching for them. Not only was it the lights hanging across the roads, but even some shops would put up wonderful displays in their windows - not of things they were selling, just something Christmassy and beautiful to look at. There was one particular company - not on any of the main streets of Central London, but still in that area - who pulled out all the stops. On a normal day, it was just a huge building with lots of windows. Come Christmas, the whole front face was covered in lights, creating a pattern to make the building look like a massive wrapped Christmas present, or something else Christmassy. My dad had to deliver to this building a lot, so he was told it was actually to top bloke of the company who forked out each year to create such an epic scene across the building. It was always the one I would most look forward to seeing.

We stopped going to see the lights when they became much more commercial; huge adverts across the roads in lights for this shop or that, and it kind of ruined the whole thing. My brother and my dad stopped being all that fussed about the Christmas movie a long time ago, but it's something I've always tried to do - and because it's an important tradition to me, and she doesn't mind Christmas movies, Mum generally comes along. Since starting work, it's hardly ever fallen on Christmas Eve, but we try to watch something as close to Christmas Eve as we can. It's also become harder because they don't really make Christmas movies for children any more - or adults, really. I started to get hopeful that Christmas movies were making a comeback when Arthur Christmas came out (which was awesome!), but there wasn't anything great for a few years until Get Santa. This Christmas, there isn't any Christmas movie except for The Office Party, and that isn't really the kind of Christmas movie I want to see. So, we have bought Elf on DVD to watch, as neither Mum nor I have ever seen it except for little bits here and there. And that's how we'll be spending our evening - watching Elf.

Other Christmas traditions fall on Christmas day. There is no opening of presents on Christmas morning - they aren't opened until after dinner. This used to really bug me as a child, because it would seem to take forever for dinner to be ready and eaten and then cleared up, but as an adult, this is something I really appreciate. There is something to be said for taking your time to open presents and enjoy watching other people open theirs. When the dinner still needs cooking, you don't really have the time to fully enjoy watching children open their presents, seeing them so excited, or enjoy the gifts you receive, as you have to put them down shortly after and rush back to the kitchen. By opening presents after dinner, everyone can relax and enjoy the whole experience, as everything that needs doing has been done. Instead, the morning, when I was younger, was spent with the children being kept quiet by their presents from Father Christmas; my brother and I would actually bring our stockings (or, rather, our pillow cases) into Mum & Dad's room first thing, sit on the bed with them, and show them what Father Christmas brought us, they being just as wowed by our gifts as we were - as an adult, those memories really make me smile. Now, the morning is for helping get dinner ready, setting the table, and getting ourselves ready - or in this case, just me.

One of the presents my brother and I got from our parents as children was a new outfit, because Mum and her sister used to get the same. This was the one present we were allowed to open before dinner. They were normally fairly dressy clothes, smart and pretty, and so for me, a part of Christmas is getting dressed up. Every year, I try to find myself a new outfit - normally a dress - to wear Christmas day, and I'll get done up to the nines; make-up, hair, jewellery, clothes. Christmas, to me, is like any other major celebration, and when you celebrate, you get dressed up. This isn't something that generally follows through to the rest of my family (though Mum will on occasion), so sometimes I stick out like a sore thumb, but I have never not dressed up for Christmas, so it would feel weird not to. And for me, it's an acknowledgement that Christmas Day is different to every other day - it's kind of like a respect thing; I'm giving Christmas Day the respect it deserves up looking nice for it. And every year - even before I've got dressed - I'll be wearing my sequined silver Father Christmas hat all day! I got it a number of years ago in my stocking, and I've been wearing it every Christmas since. When the crackers are pulled and I get a paper hat, that goes on over the Father Christmas hat, sitting just above the fur trim.

Another tradition is that my dad and brother will go and visit my grandma. She used to live just outside Clacton, so it was a two hour drive each way to say Merry Christmas and give her some presents, just so she wasn't alone on Christmas. Having vascular dementia, she didn't really know it was Christmas, but that's not really the point. Now Grandma is in a Home due to her dementia getting so bad, they go visit her in her Home instead, even though the Home is literally a 60 second walk from my uncle and will definitely not be alone on Christmas Day. It's their tradition now.

While they're away, I help Mum with the dinner. Normally there isn't a huge amount for me to do, because a lot of food (read: the meat) was cooking overnight. So I set the table. It might not sound like much, but this is something I really enjoy. We simply don't sit together as a family and have dinner at any other time of the year, instead we sit in the front room - or in my brother's case, his bedroom - with trays on our laps, Mum and I watching TV, Dad with his earphones on watching something on his computer. We don't get together as a family all that often, even if we're all in the same house, so I love getting the table ready for our meal together. Table cloth, place mats, coasters, wine glasses, cutlery, crackers, and I'll even try and do something fancy with the kitchen roll. I like to make it look pretty.

You'll have noticed I've not mention Christmas Day TV. That is because, in our house, there is no TV on Christmas day, or computers, or phones. We're allowed to send a few quick texts in the morning to wish people Merry Christmas, and there will be some phone calls later int he day to talk to other family members we aren't spending Christmas with, but otherwise, Christmas Day is a screen-free day, and that's just how I like it. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are days we spend together as a family, away from the technology that rules our life every other day. Our evenings are spent playing game after game - board games, Charades, some card games, having a fun- and laughter-filled time together. Boxing Day is a repeat of Christmas day, just without the presents.

Though, if I'm really honest, this is how every year was spent until last year, when, again, my brother spent most time in his room (though, to be fair, he wasn't in there as much as he normally is), and my dad did watch some stuff online, but this was mostly because it was only us four last Christmas. It wouldn't have been the case if there were more of us, but being the first Christmas without Nan, Mum wasn't really up to having a big, family filled Christmas where she would have to fake joviality. Last Christmas wasn't a normal Christmas for any of us, but Mum and I still played a few board games, and it was mostly a fun day. I'm just hoping this year we'll go back to normal - even though it'll just be the four of us again, due to me having to work over Christmas and my parents not wanting me to spend Christmas alone. We were meant to have a huge Christmas with family in Southampton, but they cancelled their plans for me, which makes me feel guilty and full of gratitude in equal measure.

So those are my family Christmas traditions! Do you have any family traditions? I would absolutely love to hear them!

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