Christmas traditions, I guess we all have them. No, I’m not talking about the stuff that most of us do like sending cards or humming carols on Christmas Eve. I’m talking about those idiosyncratic, family, sometimes odd and very personal traditions that evolve and stick around for a while, sometimes forever.
You know the ones I mean, the ones that make you wonder if you have OCD or are maybe taking Christmas tradition just a little too far. As an example – like when my neighbour popped around one Christmas morning and I jokingly beat him with a holly bough declaring ‘It’s a tradition!’ when it patently wasn’t and I was just getting him back for his bloody barking dog. Or my traditional yearly insistence that we all wear our paper Christmas cracker hats throughout our Christmas dinner, which traditionally leads to Holly going off in a huff and refusing to help me with the traditional
Yes, those traditions…
Remembering the silver sixpences that my granny used to put in the Christmas puddings each traditional Stir-Up Sunday I tried it one year. My Mother in Law, to her surprise, was the lucky recipient of the traditional tanner and once the choking noises had stopped we all had a traditional game of ‘hunt the sixpence’. We never did find the coin, which was probably just as well – I think that she may well have swallowed it.
I’d stopped bothering with the traditional Yule log by that time. No, not that chocolate covered roll thing that traditionally I always buy and that nobody likes, wants, or eats; the one that traditionally gets thrown in the bin sometime during early January. I’m talking about the real Yule log that I once tried to keep burning throughout the twelve days of Christmas only to find that our tiny fireplace simply wasn’t big enough and eventually, after two sleepless night, a dozen sacks of logs, and a roaring Christmas chimney fire attended by a not very festive fire brigade, I gave up on.
Not all traditions have been allowed to wane in my house though. On my insistence we still hang up stockings on the end of our beds on Christmas Eve and open them together as a family early Christmas morning, all huddled together on our double bed. I can never wait to see what Santa has stuffed into my stocking – chocolate money, shaving foam, an apple, a tangerine, socks, a lottery card, a walnut. It’s traditional for naughty children to have their stockings filled with coal and one of these Christmas mornings I really am going to fill Holly’s stocking with a couple of lumps just like I’ve always traditionally threatened.
Downstairs, above the living room door, we still hang our traditional artificial plastic Mistletoe, even if there isn’t much kissing going on under it these days. And of course, being a traditionalist I frequently raise the Wassail bowl, blessing just about everyone and everything that I can find with wine and beer - it’s a grand tradition that one.
Disappointingly, there are no more letters to magically send up the chimney to the North Pole since Holly decided that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. Traditionally this happens as children slip into their teens, and it isn’t until much later that they discover that they were wrong all along and that he really does. I’m considering posting a letter to him myself this year. I don’t want much – some traditional peace and quiet, perhaps a new purpose in life, maybe a major lottery win.
On the quite scary OCD side of tradition that I mentioned, I have a few rituals that I am compelled to perform at Christmastime.
- I must read ‘A Christmas Carol’ cover to cover the week before Christmas every third year - next year is a reading year.
- I must be the first awake really early on Christmas morning and shout ‘HE’S BEEN!’ at the top of my voice to wake everybody else up.
- I must peek out of the curtains and say ‘It’s snowing outside’ regardless of what the weather is really doing - snowy, sunny, or raining as usual.
- I must rush downstairs to see if Santa’s mince pie, large brandy, and Rudolph’s carrots have all been snaffled. Invariably they have, despite the fact that I hate the taste of raw carrots.
- I must toast the holly wreath that’s fastened to the back door, make a sweeping bow, and with a shout - ‘Wassail’ – down the contents of the Wassail cup, thus officially declaring Christmas open! Did I mention that Wassailing was a grand tradition?
Of course, nobody else is interested in my rituals at all, but I like them. I’ve been doing them for years, they’re a tradition. I’m getting better though. I’ve managed to stop leaving the muddy boot-prints and fabricated reindeer poo all over the kitchen floor, and I think that this may be the last time that I’m going to need to wear my Santa hat throughout Christmas Eve, even for my traditional Christmas Eve bath.
I’m not the only one though. Apparently it’s very unlucky not to have the Christmas decorations, or at least some of them, up for December the twelfth. This is because the twelfth is Gaynor’s birthday and that’s the way it’s always been (end of ), which is of course perfectly okay with me despite always being told that it was very bad luck to put your decorations up before the twelve days of Christmas began – whenever that is.
Anyway, traditions change as we all know. Shops and even households are putting their decorations up at the start of December, some even earlier.
Decorating the house is a ritual in itself. I don’t decorate the tree, traditionally that’s Gaynor and Holly’s job (end of), and traditionally our Christmas tree decorations are white (also end of). It’s my job to hang the hundreds of Christmas decorations that I’ve compulsively collected over the last couple of decades from the wooden beams of the cottage. Traditionally I use only traditional brass drawing pins, and by the time I’ve finished my thumb aches with all the pressing, so the tradition is that I have a glass of brandy to take away the pain. ‘Wassail!’ I shout as I knock it back. I did mention that Wassailing is a grand tradition, didn’t I?
After the day itself I traditionally spend Christmas meaning to get on with doing some jobs, but never quite getting around to it. Traditionally I promise myself that I won’t lose my temper, not even once, and traditionally don’t quite succeed – well, twelve days is a long time. And then it’s all over and time for the most important tradition of all, taking down all those decorations which took such an age to put up. The decorations MUST be down by Twelfth Night- whenever that is. This is not simply a tradition it is the law – failure to comply resulting in twelve months bad luck.
Traditionally I do this at speed, and traditionally always manage to forget something, leaving it hanging until after the deadly day. Last year I overlooked a Christmas Elf that was hanging by the front door. I didn’t spot him for weeks, and when Gaynor eventually did she told me to leave him hanging there to ward off the bad luck. He’s hung there all year - and it still didn't work.
I wonder who I’ll forget this year. Maybe Frosty, or perhaps it’ll be my robot Santa or even Marley’s ghost. I’m bound to forget someone - after, all its all part of the tradition.
Oh well, not to worry -‘WASSAIL!’