A family Christmas is always rich with traditions, from the making of the Christmas cake, right through to the dismantling and putting away of the decorations when the merriment is over and the New Year begins. Every family will have their own particular rituals, creating special moments which bind them together at this jolly time of year.
The Christmas tree is right at the heart of the traditions, although it has only been a set piece in British homes since Queen Victoria and her German husband Albert popularized the tradition in the 1860’s. While artificial trees have their obvious eco credentials, nothing beats the thrill and excitement of hauling a freshly harvested fir tree into the house, snipping off the netting, and releasing its fragrant, deep green branches, soon to be hung with baubles and bells. Do you have a fairy, patiently waiting to be taken out of her shoe box and placed at the top of the tree? Perhaps you dust off the paper-plate angels, made years ago at nursery by your lanky teenagers, or have a battered pine cone hedgehog who makes an appearance every year. Every tree tells a different story.
The hyper-organised among us may well have made their Christmas cakes already (indeed, Stir Up Sunday is traditionally the last Sunday in November before Advent begins) but for those of us who tend to do things on the hoof, it is only when the Christmas tree is in the house that thoughts turn to the tradition of Christmas making and baking. Ginger bread houses, aromatic mincemeat, Christmas puddings, cinder toffee, Christmas crackers, paper chains- all available at the click of a mouse but also satisfying to make by hand if you have the time.
Outside the house, once the Christmas lights have been hung (although this year there may well be slightly less of them) there is the school carol service, a nativity play if you are lucky, the inevitably over-sweetened mulled wine, the awkward exchange of Christmas cards with the neighbours, and the Christingle service where children hold candles stuck into oranges and tied with red ribbon (did the school chapel really survive another year?). All part of the traditional Christmas build up.
Add to these communal traditions the very private ones that take place in every home, year on year. Some families might host a candle-lit Christmas Eve dinner, complete with roasted ham and Cumberland sauce, others might settle down in from of Love Actually with an enormous box of Quality Street. Maybe it is all about making Lego models, or finishing a jigsaw puzzle. Do you go on a Christmas walk, or perhaps take a Christmas swim (no thanks!)? Every family has their own traditions; what are yours?