In these cash-strapped times of austerity, we parents fret about providing extravagant gifts for our darling offspring in order for them to have the ultimate festive experience. But zip up your wallet just for a minute and have a think back. How many presents do you actually remember receiving as a child compared to all the wonderful memories of your own family’s Christmas traditions? Did your Auntie Daphne always hang a Cadbury’s Chocolate Orange on your tree? Did your Father make you eat pickled eggs for Christmas breakfast? Or did Santa come on St Nicholas’s Day instead of Christmas Day? It’s not the extravagant gifts that we remember about family Christmas’s past, it’s those strange little rituals and traditions that we look back upon with nostalgia.
In our house some traditions have been introduced, some adopted. Christmas Eve brings a very structured chain of events. The annual 4 o’clock Crib Service is followed by the boys ‘Special Tea’ – a meal of their choosing. Then we’re off outside to scatter ‘reindeer food’ (kindly supplied by Turners Hill Tots) of glitter and oats onto the drive to light the way. Then it’s in to jim-jams – not new ones as seems popular in a lot of households on Christmas eve – before the writing of the Christmas lists. A bit late you might think, but luckily up to now FC and his elves have been fairly accurate. These are then burnt and despatched up the chimney before leaving a little tipple and nibble for FC for when he lands in the grate. In recent years, because I have a household of techy heads we have used NASA’s internet Santa tracking system to see where he is at various stages throughout the evening.
One of his family Christmas traditions that my husband was keen to continue was for our boys to choose one of MY stockings to be hung at the end of their beds. He recalled how he always chose his mother’s black fishnets because they stretched better! I admit we haven’t adopted this one as I spend my life in socks, the only tights I do possess are usually full of holes and there would be a rebellion if they didn’t have the nice big red stockings from the Pound Shop!
Food figures big in family traditions. Here’s a Christmas Eve recipe for those of you with a wicked sense of humour; ‘Rudolph Pie’, a shepherds pie with venison mince (don’t tell the kids) topped with potato and a cherry tomato for full effect. Waffles and squirty cream in bed with hot chocolate is the perfect Christmas breakfast for some, although in Belgium you might eat a sweet bread in the shape of the baby Jesus – Aahhh. I met a lady the other day who barbeques her turkey outside every year – and she doesn’t even have any Antipodean roots. I suppose that’s a rather canny way of getting the man of the house involved in the catering, note Girls! A mate of mine remembers her mother buying packets of dates with the plastic fork every year that were never ever eaten – and yet she herself continues the tradition because it wouldn’t be the same without them.
Father Christmas has some strange traditions in some households. He has been known to wrap up the doorway to the room where he leaves the presents or occasionally leave the odd potato in a stocking with a note to remind people of when they were naughty! Always having had a chimney, it never occurred to me how FC would get in without one, but then I heard about the large ‘magic key’ that is left hanging on the front door for him.
But of course, some of the strangest traditions come from abroad. In Greenland you would eat seagull wrapped in seal blubber for your Christmas dinner. The Ukranians don’t do tinsel, they do cobwebs, as legend has it that spiders used to decorate the trees for the poor. Scandinavian countries celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, often taking candles for a visit to the local graveyard. The Latvians really know how to milk it as they believe Father Christmas brings a gift every day of the 12 days of Christmas starting from Christmas Eve. In Norway brooms are hidden on Christmas Eve to prevent the evil spirits and witches from stealing them. The most popular place to have your Christmas lunch in Japan is – no kidding – Kentucky Fried Chicken with reservations now essential. And in Spain, not only do they dress up a wooden ‘pooping log’ to put on the fire to bring luck, on New Year’s Eve it is customary to wear red underwear. There, and you thought us Brits were bonkers!
So whatever strange rituals you and your offspring get up to this yuletide, keep them going because Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. Have yourselves a very merry one!