What is it about Christmas that brings out a need to follow tradition? Even the most resolute atheist seems to find time to celebrate in some way over the Christmas holiday. Republicans manage to watch the Queen’s speech. People buy, wrap and give presents to other people who have little need for anything. Trees are bought in their thousands, decorated and then recycled in January. Gardens are decked with lights and windows glisten with fake snow.
In my family, tradition was not something we were big on. Christmas was an adult time and, as a child, it meant hours of boredom. No shops, cinemas, cafes and not even a bus to help me escape. My parents, their siblings and friends all smoked so I would spend much of the day in my bedroom where I could hide from the ‘Senior Service’ fug. Luckily I loved to read so I have good memories of escaping into winter wonderlands and other magical places.
Later, when I was a teenager, my best friend would get a member of her family or later her boyfriend to drive over to pick me up at about 5pm on Christmas Day. She would spend a few minutes with my parents and then she would whisk me off to a house full of her relatives and friends. There was always a huge Christmas tree where people would gather around to sing carols or the latest Christmas song. There were lots of traditions in her family, charades, musical chairs, pass the orange and other games played by everyone and it was fun to see a 70 year old try to pass an orange to a six year old. Sometimes the teenagers would gather in a separate room to watch a disaster movie or just sit around chatting and listening to music. I often stayed and helped out on Boxing Day and sometimes the day after. Eventually, I would return home to my own family. As I write this I realise that it sounds odd that I was adopted by my friend’s family for Christmas. They were fun, really good fun. I loved those large, noisy family oriented Christmases.
Now its me and my husband and we are creating our own traditions. We do things that matter to us. My sister seems to have slipped into a tradition of visiting the weekend before Christmas with her husband and we see our brother. Christmas Eve is a chance to see one of my best friends who’s birthday falls that day. We meet with her family, have lunch and then go to a Panto or one year a circus. John couldn’t make it this year, but I did and I had a ball. Christmas Day we often spend with John’s sister and family and this year it was about walking, talking and eating. We play some games and then we do our own thing in the evening. Boxing Day is for relaxing, walking and going to an event, so this year it was Kew Gardens. We try to see John’s cousins and their children and this year John and his sister went to the Panto with them whilst our nephew made great Pizzas for a family dinner. I love the ballet and Coppelia did not disappoint.
One tradition that John and I practice together is the dressing of the tree. Every year we have moments of joy when we open a box and find something we bought on a particular holiday or received as a gift. Most of the baubles have been picked up over a 20 year relationship and its as if they have their own personalities. A couple of weeks ago a friend set a writing exercise and three of the group picked a conversation between two Christmas decorations. I include it below even though my husband thinks I have gone just a little bit bonkers!
A short story – The Baubles
In a sparking dress and holding a golden box, the Princess arrives on the tree. ‘Hello everyone, I am so very glad to be joining you all today.’
From somewhere to her left a boat with dubious lights pipes up, ‘Oi, big mouth, we stay silent during the day. We only speak after midnight or when the whole family go to sleep. Now shut up and sparkle.’
‘Well hello Captain, how long have you been here?’ Princess looks around hoping for a response.
At midnight the Captain speaks ‘I am the 2nd longest serving and I defer to Santa who met Missy when she was only a child.’
‘Well, you took your time getting back to me. When you say defer, what exactly do you mean?’ Princess looks bemused and the Captain chuckles.
‘Santa is the boss on this tree and I am his right hand man. The Angels come next, brought back from Venice for Missy’s mum but they arrived here after Missy’s mum passed on. Then there’s Harrods, he was one of Missy’s extravagances. Lovely old deer, fat as you like can only lie down on the branch, too old to hang there.’
Princess looks around the tree, ‘Hello Santa, Hello Angels, Hello Harrods. Lovely to meet you all. I am sure we are going to get on wonderfully!’
The Captain continues, ‘Then there’s Balls – big fellas, came in about three years ago. Large as you like and pretty dumb but Missy was going through a white phase. Oh, and over there we have two Skipping Deer, they flew in on her wedding day. Lovely pair mad as hatters, don’t really speak to anyone and spend most the year in their own little box. We have one or two old and fragile chaps from Mister’s family tree, they’re hanging on by a thread!’
Princess is beside herself with joy, ‘Ooh, hello all, I am so excited to share the tree with you and look forward to having some fun when we go on our holidays together in the attic.’
The Captain notices a light going on, ‘hush up now everyone, Missy alert, silent rule!’
Missy turns the lights on, sits in a comfy armchair and drinks a mug of hot chocolate looking at the tree. She gets up, walks over to the tree, flicks one of the branches and an Angel jingles. Missy sighs, turns the lights off and leaves the room.
The Captain swings around to Princess, ‘Missy must be thinking about her mum. Her mum loved to hear the Angels jingle.’
Princess smiles and offers her box to the Captain. ‘Captain, you haven’t told me your story.’
‘Well now child, I am a little bit special because I am loved by Missy but I am Mister’s favourite. Mister gave me to Missy on their honeymoon many years ago. Mister always has glistening eyes when he puts me on the tree.’ The Captain is silent for a moment as he thinks back to the day he left Virgin Gorda. ‘Its like this Princess, our job is a special one, for we are the memory makers!’
Traditions matter to me and Christmas is a special time where I can indulge in some of the simplest but most enjoyable. I hope you are having a good holiday and would love to hear some of your stories.
Oh and Mister and Missy wish you a Happy New Year!