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Christmas isn’t Chrismas…..

12/15/2010

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….without you…. Or at least that is how “The Boy Least Likely To” see it on their album Christmas Special. Personally I’m not so sure.  Not least because I don’t know who “you” is and even if I did, having never spent Christmas with “you”, it would be hard to see how spending it without “you” would make it less like Christmas. Unless of course “you” is my wife, in which case I’d like to know why the fuck someone else is writing songs about Christmas not being Christmas without her.

But once again I digress…….

Rituals are one of the things that make celebration special.  Humans need and have always needed ritual to bring them together, to give a shared sense of purpose and belonging and the warmth of collective understanding.  Our memories are often strongly linked in one way or another to ritualistic behaviour and the repetition of this is a reminder of happy times in the past.

My parents have a specific Christmas bauble, which is in fact an old lightbulb.  It has been kicking around the family for a long old-time and as a kid, placing it on the tree was one of those special moments that reminded you it was truly Christmas.  When we are back there at Christmas I always look out for it and of course, it is always there. It isn’t big or special and to any normal person it probably wouldn’t have any relevance or import. But to me and my family, it does.

So in the penultimate Christmas Goodness post I really want to know what rituals are important to you? I love these moments that give me a glimpse into other people’s lives and make a bunch of names and faces become a little bit more real.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. 12/15/2010 09:32

    My family are a bit like the Waltons: They all live within about 100yds of one another and are very close. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for me without us all walking up to my Grandad’s on Christmas Eve and singing carols on the doorstep of his house (there are some beautiful harmonies too!) til he let’s us in! 🙂

  2. 12/15/2010 09:38

    Two things strike me a key in the Christmas preparations here. First is the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year – always worthwhile, and a signal that it’s time to start Christmas shopping. Second is the glass of cream Sherry Mrs M insists on while decorating the tree. Apparently, baubles just don’t hang right without it.

  3. 12/15/2010 09:40

    My favourite Christmas ritual has to be the Christmas morning breakfast of scrambled eggs,smoked salmon & bucks fizz cooked by my father – my feelings towards this ritual as the years have gone by has differed depending on my own life…

    1) as a youngish child (orange juice being the drink of choice) I regarded this breakfast with contempt and had a hissy fit I couldn’t have my Weetabix

    2) as a growing teenager I wolfed it down and loved the fact I was allowed a small ratio of champagne to orange juice

    3) as a girl in her late teens early twenties it was the most difficult challenging meal of Christmas as I was generally hungover having been in the village pub with all my mates until some ungodly hour – my mother knew I was feeling dreadful, my father had no idea and my sister sniggered in the corner – it was hellish and my father was always overly generous with the champagne on these occasions

    4) as a woman in her late twenties living in London – to come home for christmas to Yorkshire it was nostalgic and it was so lovely sharing this meal with my family – lots of laughter, lots of memories

    5) Now as a mother of 2 I absolutely love this ritual as I am seeing my own children having hissy fits at their “papa” for making them eat scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on christmas morning and it is the most wonderful sight to behold…..

  4. 12/15/2010 09:45

    For us (ridiculously!) its watching the Queen’s specch which we have always done en famille at 3pm without fail, playing silly games in the evening and having no telly allowed (with the exception of the Queen’s speech) Also we like our Christmases big – my Mum has 13 of us on Christmas Day and I have 15 people on Boxing day coming to mine for a sit-down meal :). When I was little I think we only ever had one Christmas where is was just my close family plus my grandma…and it seemed really small being just the 6 of us!

  5. Cock-eyed Cowboy permalink
    12/15/2010 09:54

    Time to get sentimental eh?

    Ok. My mother always reads an old poem, ‘Halibut York’ to us.

    Like her, I spent my early years in childrens homes and I get the sense that she relates to this most lovely tale, but there is a warmth in her eyes when she reads it that see at no other time.

    Bit deep, but you asked….

  6. 12/15/2010 10:13

    reading everyone’s lovely comments has reduced me to tears on the platform at waterloo. Oops!

    Every year, just before i fall asleep in the warm glow of family, and of too much food and drink, i pause to miss my mum, and to be thankful for all the fun and excitement of the year gone and the one to come.

  7. KJM permalink
    12/15/2010 10:34

    In my family my mum and dad once gave each other a toothbrush as that was all they could afford that year. This became a ritual and each year they gave each other a toothbrush. On the first christmas after my dad died, I made sure my mum still had one; she broke her heart in a good way- she still gets her toothbrush.

    One of my friends and her three sisters used to go round the house on christmas eve pretending to be reindeer, neighing loudly or whatever reindeer do. They are now in their forties and they still do it!

    In a work context, I somewhat mourn the annual carnage that was the Christmas party. The air of eager anticipation and excitement as to who would lunge at who, and who would start the regular brawlfest. One place I worked at used to take bets on who was most likely…. It was a rite of passage for new staff to do something that we could all chew over deliciously in the new year – this was real employee engagement. Somewhat shamefaced I admit to earning my stripes, and probably more than once.

  8. Sarah Durbridge permalink
    12/15/2010 11:13

    Reading the previous comments I feel a loss for childhood Christmas traditions that never were!! I am quite sure we had some but none really come to mind as I think about it. I can assure readers though that I did have happy childhood Christmases and have very fond memories, just not things I would describe as traditions :-).

    However, I hope if my children are ever asked about their childhood Christmas traditions, they will recount the following, as these are the ones I cherish now:

    1) Santa making regular telephone calls on the build up to Christmas to firstly check to see if their behaviour that year deserves rewarding with presents, and secondly to ask whether they have anything they wanted to share with Santa about the way they are feeling (my daughter had confidence issues when she was younger and would only talk to Santa about this!!)

    2) Christmas songs playing and fire roaring whilst all decorating the tree

    3) Santa leaving snowy footprints by the fire, all the way up the stairs and into their rooms

    4) The obligatory biscuits, chocolate bar (apparantly Santa LOVES chocolate!!), carrot and milk left out for Santa and Rudolph

    5) Santa and Rudolph leaving a ‘well done’ letter to commend them on their behaviour or acknowledge anything significant that had happended that year

    6) Going to their grandparents on Boxing Day for the best bubble and squeak in the world, cold meats, shepherds pie and salads

    7) Spending the days between Christmas and the New Year in Paris with grandparents and walking up to the Eiffel Tower to see it ‘twinkle’ at midnight on NYE.

  9. robjones_tring permalink
    12/15/2010 12:11

    For someone who usually takes profanity to new heights of overuse, now and again you do post something (dare I say it) nice….

    Not going to do the childhood rituals as they are too foggy and also Fishy did the Bucks Fizz breakfast…. So a few more current ones are:

    1. Driving down the M4 on Christmas Eve, usually hungover, texting my brother at the Severn Bridge to say “have just got over the budge” (those who used to watch ‘Friends’ will get it) and as the toll person gives me my change hitting go on the Christmas CD/playlist, singing like a loon and making sure “The Fairytale of New York” coincides with arrival in my home town…

    2. Being lined up (along with my brother and Dad) on Xmas Eve to have the annual “I don’t mind you having fun but please don’t get plastered” speech from my Mother. To say it falls on deaf ears is usually an understatement

    3. Myself, my Dad and my Brother doing QE2 impressions all the way through the Queen’s speech MUCH to the annoyance of My Mum

    4. My Dad smiling at every present he opens but knowing that he’s working out how much money has been spent…

    5. The wry smile at the moment of realisation that my Mum still puts chocolate coins in my stocking!!

    It really was so much better as a kid or with kids around so hoping my Brother and his wife will rectify that situation shortly but in the meantime – cheers! *clink

  10. 12/15/2010 13:11

    I do love traditions which are passed down, and especially those that I have established, which carry on to this day.
    1. As a boy, I would be sent out with a big bag of presents to distribute to cousins and aunts uncles and grandparents around Airdrie and Coatbridge. This was always done on foot, and often through the worst possible weather. I’d be joined each year by my younger cousin John, and we would deliver everyone else’s presents to each other, often visiting houses several times, and being filled with food, ginger wine and sweets at each stop. Sadly, John died 18 months ago in tragic circumstances, so these memories are bittersweet. I still like to do the rounds with presents.

    2. Every Christmas Eve, I always remember to soak my oats, as my dad always did, for the huge pot of porridge I cook on Christmas morning. This serves as a great antidote to the industrial quantities of chocolate and other crap being eaten that day.

    3. My kids still get apples and oranges in their Christmas stockings, which are hung on the fireplace (much to their bemusement).

    4. I always ensure that someone gets me an Airfix model, which I’ve always had since I was 5.

    5. When I was young, I insisted to the teacher that the lyrics were “A wean in a manger … lay down his wee head”, as my dad had told me. So adamant was I, that a letter had to be sent home to correct my Dad, and to put me right. This same joke gets perpetuated with my kids.

  11. g-dog permalink
    12/15/2010 13:30

    Making Christmas cookies – I started ‘helping’ my mom when I was very young – eventually I probably actually was helpful.
    Watching “A Christmas Carol” (Allistair Sims), and “Scrooged” – renews my hope for redemption every year

    Daily rituals – feeding my dogs, they get so excited they can hardly contain themselves, the little girl bounces like a tricked out easy-rider car!

  12. MrAirmiles permalink
    12/15/2010 13:31

    For me it is the ritual of getting and decorating the xmas tree.

    Back home Christmas started in early December when a few of us (friends), armed with machetes walked up the mountain in search for a wild grown tree, or “Pinheiro” (pine tree). I remember the joy of us all arriving tree over the shoulder, as the remaining family members waited to start decorating, each trying to have the brightest and loudest.

    It’s a ritual I still follow every year, one way or another (except for the machete part…). A bit like me yesterday evening, hunting for a tree in Greenwich, carrying the tree on the bus (don’t try this at home), up the hill, into the house then decorating it.

    However Christmas with the family wouldn’t be Christmas without my grandmother’s delicious chicken soup on xmas eve, the placing of a shoe/boot on the fireplace for Santa to “drop the presents”, before she rallied us up to go to midnight mass.
    Afterwards it was the joy of going around friend’s houses to check out their trees and cribs, eat some “ Bolo de Mel” the real Madeira Cake and drink “Poncha”, a punch made of fire-water, honey, lemon and orange juice.

    Even in London, we still make the soup, eat the cake and drink the poncho…not sure about the going to church bit… It’s all about family, friends and the tree! It’s the small things that matter – keeping that wonderful childhood memory alive.

  13. Sarah Knight permalink
    12/15/2010 14:06

    Every year since I can remember my Mum has cooked Mars Bar Cake (her favourite, a biscuit base with a toffee chocolate topping, make out of…you’ve guessed it….Mars Bars), Coconut Munchies (Dad’s favourite, coconut and cherries with a chocolate topping) and ‘Gooo’ (mine and my brothers favourite)
    Gooo is infact meant to be millionaire shortbreak, but the first year Mum made it (we are probably talking 30 years ago) she made it incorrectly. She swears she followed the receipe, but something went wrong with the condensed milk ‘bit’ and it didn’t set. She cut it and stood the pieces on their sides in the tin – when she reopened it, the base of the tin was covered in caramel with lumps of shortbread and chocolate sitting in it. Me and my brothers LOVED it, scooping it out the tin with spoons and almost getting high on the glorious sticky mess.
    Mum has deliberately made it wrong every year since, although has now perfected the art so that it might be sticky but is served in a gooey sticky square with the chocolate, caramel and shortbreak intact . Now in our 30’s, my brothers and I still race to the tin.
    Gooo is a massive part of our crazy family Xmas, 10 days and counting until cake heaven!

  14. Sukh Pabial permalink
    12/15/2010 15:46

    Before marriage, Xmas was always a full 3 day celebration. We’re a standard large extended Indian family. Xmas Eve, Xmas Day and Boxing Day all respectively at a different family’s house. Food, games, films, fun.

    After marriage and now with kids, the traditions are very different. A present each for everyone on Xmas Eve. My wife insists this is perfectly fine, and at midnight it’s technically Xmas Day so can’t we just open them all? We’re still to create more traditions, and with each year I’m sure we will.

    Oh, my personal tradition is to watch The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. I absolutely adore this film and would watch it all year round if I could, but I keep it special for Xmas.

  15. HRBoy permalink
    12/15/2010 15:54

    For me it simply isn’t Christmas until, on Christmas Day morn, I can hear my father hoovering downstairs whilst Queens Greatest Hits blares out around the house; it’s 6am, I can hear the vacuum cleaner competing with Killer Queen – ah! it must be Christmas Day

  16. 12/15/2010 16:03

    My mother and one of my sisters are both nurses, so I usually do Christmas on Christmas Eve, so Christmas Day is actually very quiet!

    Despite that however, if I’m in Sussex for Christmas, my Christmas ritual involves making a packed lunch of turkey sandwiches and walking up to the hospital where my mum works.

    For me, the opportunity to give her something, even as insignificant as a packed lunch, means an awful lot. That walk through my childhood town, past places I grew up around, to see my mum helping all those people simply sums up the true message of giving, helping and humanity.

    And it means more to me than any glorified commercial rubbish ever could.

  17. Natalia Alexandrou permalink
    12/15/2010 16:23

    My mum is Polish and as many other countries on the continent, we celebrate Christmas Eve. My mum, my sister and I spend about two whole days cooking the most wonderful Polish food.

    We then all sit down to a twelve dish meal (one for every apostle) in the evening. Part of the traditions is that we leave a spare place setting at the table in case someone pops by – although this has only ever happened once!

    We drink copious amounts of Polish vodka, open our gifts and then wander down to the local church for midnight mass! At this point we either fall asleep our giggle our way through the service…

    We celebrate Christmas day the British way, but it’s so nice to have this tradition from my mother’s side. And I now know how to cook some delicious Polish food!

  18. Will Cleare permalink
    12/15/2010 17:16

    THIS IS BRILLIANT! I’ve reached 11 on my Yule-o-meter!

    Right then, Christmases as a child:

    Carol singing in the village. Bottom half of the village on 23rd, top half (finishing in pub) on Christmas Eve. People would invite the Carollers in for punch, mulled wine, mince pies, quality streets etc. In later years my younger sister accompanied on clarinet and I on trumpet (grade 3!). There’d be about 20 or 30 carollers and by the time we’d reach the pub, all were well an truly in the Christmas spirit! Mum would be at home getting the bird prepped!

    Christmas Day – stockings at about 4am much to anoyance of my older sister (with sadness I report this year will be the first with no stockings for we grown ups as Mum has decided to cut the apron strings!!:() Then off to church for the service, back home for presents (don’t know how I managed this – discipline that has long since deserted me!) and then smoked salmon start; turkey and ALL the trimmings – featuring the annual debate as to whether we’ve got “devils-on-horseback”, “angels-on-horseback”; or “pigs-in-blankets” or all three (this continues to this day without any certainty as to who is right); Christmas Pudding and an exotic ice-cream (mint-chock-chip no less! well before haagen das or ben and jerrys) for dessert.

    Then Queens speech followed by The Great Escape (or similar) and then board games. Latest night of the year!

    Other quick memories – Christmas Radio Times (films, films, films!), heartburn, bubble ‘n’ squeak, the school nativity play…ah happy days indeed!

    Peace and goodwill to one and all!

  19. Corporate Daycare permalink
    12/15/2010 18:32

    My best Christmas rituals are those that have evolved within my own family unit.

    Watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas,
    Reading “The Littlest Angel” to my kids (who are well past the reading age) and getting teary-eyed every single time
    Having my younger brother sleep over on Christmas Eve (he has every year since my kids were born and even after he got married)
    Baking homemade turnovers Christmas morning.

    Simple things, but they mean so much to me and my family.

    “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more”. – Dr. Seuss

  20. BJH permalink
    12/16/2010 13:35

    Christmas Eve supper would be our one. Its core is basically a nice 1970’s buffet: potato cakes, sausage rolls, celery, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, fresh bread, crisps, cold meats, pork pie, etc. Over the years I’ve tried to jazz it up a little with some more tasty items (which my parents can ignore). Then mince pies for dessert – along with cheese & biscuits.

    I also insist on having the fairy my grandmother made on the top of our tree. She looks very out of place against the new decorations and she’s incredibly tatty – but she was made with love by someone very special, so I couldn’t possibly throw her away, or leave her in the box, lol.

  21. 12/16/2010 14:53

    Just because it is Christmas I will

    Eat nothing but biscuits
    And pickled onions
    Wear nothing but red
    And fur underwear
    Drink nothing but brandy
    And ginger
    Smoke nothing illegal
    And burn books
    Say nothing but adjectives
    And adverbs
    Give nothing but opinions
    Take nothing but photographs
    And toys from small children
    Reap nothing I don’t sow
    And sow nothing but generosity
    Seek nothing but the TV controller hidden down the back of the sofa
    Find nothing but surprises
    Read nothing but timetables
    Write nothing but invoices
    Do nothing but moan
    Undo nothing but shoelaces
    Create nothing but chaos
    Destroy nothing but friendships
    Play nothing but cards
    Work nothing except the handle on our phonograph
    Absorb nothing but atmosphere
    Expel nothing but perspiration

    Blog about nothing
    No change there.

  22. 12/16/2010 16:36

    Getting a letter from Santa each year on Christmas morning – my sister and I were always more excited about that than the stocking. We later realised it was our Dad once we were old enough to recognise his handwriting, but we didn’t let on and he carried on doing it for years!

    Now that I have a small boy of my own, it’s become our tradition to watch the Polar Express on Christmas Eve and we take it with us to whichever set of Grandparent’s we’re going to.

  23. Mat Davies permalink
    12/16/2010 20:11

    Christmas isnt Christmas without chip shop chips on Christmas eve; hot tea and toast at an ungodly early hour on the big day….

  24. Lena permalink
    12/20/2010 19:30

    Christmas isn’t Christmas without candy making, sipping sherry with my mum, planning crazy menus for Christmas lunch…
    Without my friends and their warmth and laughter…
    (What is it with you trying to get us all sappy this year??)
    Happy holidays to you!!

  25. 01/04/2011 08:24

    @All – Coming back to this after Christmas I just got a warm fuzzy feeling (and no Henry that wasn’t as a result of my incontinence). Thank you for making this the best post (in my opinion) of 2010…and all because of your wonderful comments. I hope you all had a peaceful and loving Christmas break.

    Right….back to being an arsehole now!

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