Reflections on Christmas, home, family and traditions

It’s not always an easy time of year Christmas. For many years it has been my favourite time of year. Our family Christmas is so steeped in Christian tradition and ritual. It was only as I got older that I realised that people don’t have the exact same experience at Christmas that I do.

Our Christmas Day usually proceeds by an opening of stockings before heading to church at 9am (ouch! – particularly in the teen years after a heavy Christmas eve drinking session!) and then heading home to help peel the vegetables and prepare for lunch. It was also a time to wrap presents last minute if you hadn’t done so already… (that obviously never happened to me…) Lunch usually happens around 2pm and then there is the inevitable break at 3pm to watch the Queens speech. Thereafter we have pudding followed by tea or coffee in the living room and at about 5pm we are ready to open – the usually obscene amount of – presents from under the Christmas tree. After this there was time for games or a movie or both. Inevitably we’d all get hungry again (how does that happen!) and we’d eat bubble and squeak with cold meats and pickles.

Each year of my life I have been fortunate enough to experience Christmas Day with usually all four of my grandparents. Who are still alive today and incidentally we were a group of 19 family members on Christmas Day this year! It is such an awesome day, that flies by so quickly and I always wish it could have lasted longer.

When we were younger on Christmas Eve, we used to shout up the chimney to Father Christmas and tell him what we wanted for Christmas. Father Christmas used to throw down pennies and sometimes pounds if he could hear us and would be getting the presents we’d asked for. Dad would then race to the window and shout that Father Christmas must be leaving and then exclaim triumphantly that he just saw his sled and lights twinkle around the side of the house and oh! ‘Oh now he has gone…’

Honestly it was and still remains to me, a magical time of year. And yet as I entered my thirties, Christmas and it’s magical nature seemed to shift into something a little more bittersweet.

A friend died in December 2015, and that was a major shift. After her death came more deaths, and seemingly always around the cold dark run up to Christmas. Friends of friends, parents of friends, family and friends. And each year it’s been a little less magical for me. And each year I’m so sad about that. Not for me necessarily, but also, empathetically, I am sad for all those that have lost someone, not just around the time of Christmas either. Death and illness doesn’t care what time it happens. It doesn’t matter what time of year you lose someone, ultimately the experience of not having everyone there together like before, for whatever reason, is heartbreaking.

Perhaps this is what it is to grow up, to develop. To realise you are not invincible. Perhaps the death and loss and grief of relationships lost; this is all just part of life now, where it never held such president before. We learn and we grow and we adapt. But through those lessons, how we see the world also alters, and therefore we start to experience traditions differently. It sounds so obvious now i’m typing it. But it is strange how I think we just seem to accept it happening, and don’t always spend time reflecting on it. I’m sure if I am ever able to have children, that the feelings I have about Christmas will change once again.

Most people experience a different Christmas Day to me. But amongst our differences, there is always an element of tradition, and this is seemingly whether you are a follower of the Christian faith or not.

This year felt more exciting than the last few because we were spending Christmas elsewhere. So a sense of excitement and preparation had ensued that I haven’t felt for a long time.

I think that ultimately, Christmas is a time to be around those we call family. That doesn’t necessarily mean blood relatives, but perhaps those that we would consider to be our ‘home’.

And home changes. It expands, it shrinks, it can be all consuming, and intense and tough and it can be nostalgic and memorable and loving.

Growing up with four brothers I always think when we all meet up, having had the same upbringing; that we’ll all just magically get along. However, as we all get older and get used to not actually living with one another, it does shift. We spend the first few hours/days reacclimatising to one another and our dynamics. Then you add in cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles and I guess eventually young children and babies… you can see why Christmas and home and family can become pretty bonkers!

I’m so glad for my family, our Christmas was certainly memorable and full of togetherness and happiness. But it was exhausting, and it flew by.

Now to a new decade. A new era. I remember the millennium and thinking how far away a year like 2020 sounded. I remember thinking that even 2013 sounded like a long time away. And I remember thinking that in about 2009.

I wonder what this decade will hold. And how and if we will continue to live out traditions; and what grief and milestones will make us change and mould our lives around new traditions and rituals.

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