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This is my tradition, tell me yours

December 20, 2009

I don’t feel comfortable at this time of year unless there is a Nativity scene, at least one advent calendar, and the star is the last decoration to go on the Christmas tree. It’s a throwback to growing up, which is strange since I don’t remember us having a proper Nativity scene until my teens, nor a star until I was about 17 or so (we had an angel instead on top of the tree).

Image used with kind permission,
© 2009 Julia Anderson.

We speak of traditions at this time of year; everyone has them. Some come from your parents, which may in turn have come from their parents. Some are of your own making.

From my childhood I carry the tradition of having a Nativity scene in the house. One of very few vestiges of my Catholic upbringing that still effects a powerful hold on me. As a Quaker each day should be no more nor less holy than the next, and so there is nothing “special” per se about Christmas. But I’m Western, and so culturally it is special, regardless. And so Christmas doesn’t feel right without the manger scene.

I also have to have a Christmas stocking, with gold foil wrapped chocolate coins. Our Christmas stockings were more like large, plastic sacks shaped like an overgrown sock, but they were always there at the foot of the bed on Christmas morning, filled with small, fun gifts, and the chocolate coins (best eaten before breakfast) tucked in at the bottom. Even now, mum and dad post a bag of chocolate coins to me in advance of Christmas morning to place in my stocking.

Since I moved to London and got married, my wife and I have started to make some traditions of our own. We’ve avoided the traditional “argument of the lights” by getting a pre-lit Christmas tree. But we have our tradition of decorating the tree to Christmas music, specifically The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. On Christmas Eve I read A Visit From St Nicholas (aka The Night Before Christmas) to my wife, because her mum used to read it to her every year on Christmas Eve. Breakfast on Christmas morning consists of hot buttered croissants, smoked salmon, and sparkling white wine.

Tradition keeps us in touch with our past; our personal past, our family history, and our wider cultural heritage. In Britain, some traditions are dying out; wassailing, Yule logs, sixpences in the Christmas pudding, everyone stopping for the Queen’s speech. But then we forget that some traditions aren’t as old as we think. Turkey at Christmas (at least in the UK) is a relatively recent interloper from across the Atlantic. Goose is far more traditional. The Queen’s speech has only been going on for 50 years or so. Others are borrowed traditions from other, older festivals. Some are confused and contradictory (is Santa Claus in his red suit an invention of Coca Cola, or a corruption of Sinter Klaus, his red suit an inverted hide, red with blood?).

However you celebrate this time of year, be it for religious, spiritual, cultural or familial reasons, I hope you have a joyous and happy time, filled with love, laughter, friendship and surrounded by family. I hope your traditions help to forge deep bonds with those closest to you.

And I hope you’ll share some of your traditions with us in the comments.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
  1. December 21, 2009 3:59 am

    Chocloate coins! Wow, does that bring back memories.

    Just wondering what role singing plays in your household. When I was a kid, we sang a lot; not just going to the neighbours (wassailing) but also at home. This is one tradition we have kept up. Even in advent, we usually try and find time during the evening to light candles and sing a song or two.

    Our Christmas traditions revolve around our origins, so be a Welsh/Italian with a German wife, you can understand our Christmas is eclectic. To top it all our son was born on Christmas day, so we have to fit that in to. As a result we usually celebrate Christmas on the 24th December (German fashion). We don’t usually have a tree (we did when the kids were younger) but do have an advent crown and lots of candles. We spend a lot of time singing and reading the Christmas story and other stories.

  2. December 21, 2009 5:26 am

    These are such wonderful traditions Paul. Since we became a family I’ve been mindful of creating meaningful traditions.

    Last year I finished making a sequined ball for the Christmas Tree because I remembered making one my first year at primary school and how I loved putting it on the Christmas tree each year. All three of us ended up making one and it was lovely forDylan to remember this year when we got all the decorations out.

    We didn’t have a nativity scene – or anything similar, but I do remember a blow up santa which lasted a very long time, which had pride of place under the tree. And stockings were a bit hit and miss. My Dad bought one for Dylan a few years ago and I fear it go lost when we moved house – because when we pulled the Christmas tree out it wasn’t among the other paraphenalia in there. I’ve been itching to sew one this year – with some felt applique (gosh that really is revealing too much isn’t it) but I fear time is a-running out. But I love the idea of choc coins in the bottom. So maybe time to find time.

    A fav tradition observed in one of the houses that I lived in when I was younger – it was Boney M on Christmas morning with champagne and orange juice. I liked that one – it was funky and involved alcohol when technically I wasn’t meant to be drinking.

  3. December 22, 2009 9:55 am

    For the last 15 years or so, the very first Christmas CD that gets played is ‘Heaven and Nature Swing’ by Phil Driscoll, followed by the 1st TSO album. In recent years, hearing Driscoll play his trumpet brings my late mother closer to my heart.

    My wife and I go to the local Chinese place for dinner Christmas Eve because they are the only place open. We’ve been doing that for nearly 10 years now.

    Enjoyed your memories.

  4. December 23, 2009 8:28 pm

    oh yes – choc coins are one of our traditions. We too have a special stocking ( well – to be honest -its a pillow case with a picture of Santa or a xmas scene embroidered or drawn on it – but its kept sepcail and I still have mine from when I was a child.. ummmm a few years now….)

    We were never a religious family – so only times we went to church was weddings, funerals and sometimes head wetting….but I can’t deny the power of christ carols – I love them…. sung loudly and badly – and usually out of a car window as you look at lights…( anyone breathe a word of me being a bogan and I’ll biff ya!)

    As a child we had roast chicken as our special center piece – either that or mutton or lamb (having a few thousand head of that wandering around outside tended to put the excitement at bay… boring old lamb again… we’d cry!) I was introduced to turkey and ham when I met my husbands English family.

    wonderful hearing others xmas traditions…

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