As regular as clockwork, there is a list of things that always happen at Christmas with my family. I’m sure it’s the same with plenty of other families too. Even if you’re not a very close family, Christmas is a time you come together and somehow try to put your petty differences aside to make just one day of the year extra special. I will never stop looking forward to Christmas – it doesn’t matter how old I get, I love every minute of it. I start my countdown on the 1st December and it doesn’t matter how mundane they might seem, I look forward to these things that always happen at Christmas. I wonder how many of these happen in your family.
I know that sounds logical and not very unusual but the thing is, it doesn’t matter where we are for Christmas Day, my mum always ends up doing the cooking. In fact we don’t even bother trying to stop her anymore. If the family is gathered at my sister’s house, mum does the cooking. If the family is gathered at my house, mum does the cooking. And of course, if we’re at mum’s, mum does the cooking. We even tried to take her out one year so she wouldn’t have to cook but we couldn’t persuade her. Now we just defer to the fact that she loves to do it and to suggest she not cook takes away one of her real pleasures. But, it is one of those things that always happen at Christmas we are happy to leave as is, because mum is a fantastic cook and dinner is always a feast. Who cooks Christmas dinner in your family or is it a shared chore?
In my family, we have a long tradition of someone clapping their hands to their head exclaiming “oh no, I have forgotten the …” and I can’t imagine we are alone in that. If the exclamation comes from my mum it’s bound to be as we are sitting down to eat. Undoubtedly it will be some obscure ingredient or more commonly, a vegetable she’s forgotten to prepare and she thinks the dinner will be spoiled without, despite the presence of seven other vegetable dishes. Over the years we’ve forgotten ice cubes, a corkscrew, forgotten to chill the wine, left stuff in the freezer … all sorts of things. My overriding memory of something forgotten is quite a funny little story. When we were kids we used to love to hunt for our presents and we thought we had all the hiding places sussed out. One year we found a stash in our parent’s wardrobe. Imagine our reaction when none of them appeared on Christmas Day. How could we ask about them without fessing up that we knew they were there? We went through to the day after Boxing Day when my brother cleverly mentioned that he wished he had one of the presents that was missing. Mum and Dad exchanged knowing looks of surprise and mild horror and hey presto, we had another round of Christmas presents! I wonder to this day if they knew we had found them and were purposely holding them back.
I can’t believe this isn’t one of the things that always happen at Christmas that everyone relates to. How many of us eat so much that indeed we feel like the stuffed turkey? The poor table literally groans under the weight of food. What would a Christmas dinner be without at least seven different vegetables, three types of stuffing, 3 styles of potato, and at least two sauces? If you’re anything like us we don’t stop at just one meat either. The bird is always big enough to feed about 15 people (there’s seven of us!) and there’s a huge joint of something too. And this is all after a starter too. We traditionally eat in the evening so we’ve had all day to build up to the feast.
How many of you have a family member that falls asleep after dinner because they’ve eaten too much? I don’t expect it’s that uncommon. In our family it is my sister’s husband. As regular as clockwork, after the dinner table is cleared and the dishwasher loaded, Neil goes upstairs and changes into his sweats (not only is he feeling sluggish from the food and wine but his belt is constricting too), then plonks himself down on the sofa with the pretense of watching the TV. Less than 10 minutes later, as the rest of us are (arguing) discussing what board games we’re going to play, gentle snores provide an accompaniment to the soft Christmas music in the background.
They say that the family that plays together stays together. I don’t know how true it is, or how relevant it is because many families only get together once a year. We manage more than that, but it is only at Christmas that we get out the board games. Choosing the games and deciding who is going to pair up with whom is one of those things that always happens at Christmas. I really like that we spend the whole evening and into the early hours of the morning around a table playing Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, The Idiot Box etc, enjoying a drink or two (well more like 7-8 really) and some treats, rather than in front of the TV. Christmas TV is so disappointing and there’s a great deal of entertainment to be had in board games.
I can’t remember the last time we had a Christmas Day without someone being sick and I don’t mean upchucking because of too much food and drink. Illness is another of those things that always happens at Christmas in our family. Someone comes down with flu or some dreaded lurgy. We’ve also had things like an impacted wisdom tooth, gout and broken ankles to contend with. Our answer – kill it with alcohol (except for the gout of course!).
Christmas is a time of great joy and happiness but to us, it is also a time when we remember the loved ones who aren’t with us any longer. Over recent years, the deaths in the family have been significant to this time of year. My maternal grandmother died on a 23rd December, my brother passed away in August but his birthday was 20th December, my brother in law’s brother passed away on a Christmas Eve, so we always have a special time at the table set aside to remember our lost loved ones and to raise a toast to their memories. Last year we had an addition to our roll call as my uncle had passed away in November. My aunt joined us for Christmas, making it an even more special time as they live on a small island and we hadn’t seen them for 15 years. To me the most poignant time is when we remember my brother. Mark was Christmas! He loved every aspect and every minute of the whole festive period. He’d be the one to crack open the champers for the breakfast Buck's Fizz and then the sherry at 11am, and he’d be the one keeping us up until 4am with his enthusiasm for the games. RIP and God bless you Mark; I miss you, especially at Christmastime!
I know these things that always happen at Christmas are very personal to me and my family, but I hope you can relate them to your own Christmas and to your family. It’s so easy to get caught up with the occasion that we don’t find time to remember the important things. When you think about it, are there similar things that always happen around Christmas for you? Do you have any family traditions you’d like to share? We’d love to hear!
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