What does the word Christmas make you think of? Opening presents around a roaring fire in front of your perfectly decorated tree. The inevitable food-coma after stuffing your face with turkey and all the trimmings. A crisp-dry day with the ground covered with a thick layer of snow. Or maybe just getting to spend time with those that you love?
As we get older we often realise it’s the latter that is the most important. As familiar faces that used to sit around the table are no longer there to share their anecdotes. Or as your family grows and changes so what once was normal is no longer possible.
I come from a big family, I am the eldest and I have five siblings. I was lucky, my childhood was filled with many joy-filled Christmas days for which I am very thankful. After my parents divorced when I was thirteen our Christmas traditions had to shift and change and after a few turbulent years, we stumbled upon a new kind of normal.
It’s only when you try to merge one family’s Christmas traditions with another that you realise how differently we all celebrate it. The big things might all seem the same from the outside, most of us have a tree, a big meal and open some presents. However, the little traditions can matter just as much.
How early do you put up your decorations? What do you leave out for Santa, a mince pie or cookies, milk or brandy? Where do you put your stockings, at the foot of the bed, under the tree or hanging over the fireplace? As it has almost been a decade since things changed we’ve gotten most of it figured out by now but I always find one thing difficult even at 22.
My Christmas isn’t always on Christmas Day.
I live with my Dad and my step-mum, Helen, both of whom I love dearly. My siblings spend alternate Christmases with us, and on the years where we don’t have them over on Christmas Day we do Christmas on Boxing Day instead. As Christmas approaches on “odd-numbered” years a familiar sense of dread sinks in. I know I’m going to have to spend Christmas Day itself suppressing the feelings of loneliness and an overwhelming desire to want to be with those that I love.
Trying to avoid Christmas on Christmas Day is almost impossible. Everyone posts about it on social media, the shops are shut, everything on TV is different, it feels like the whole world is screaming “IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!!!” at the top of its lungs. I know that it is only one day out of 365 but when society is telling you that it should be the perfect day of family-time and happiness it is difficult to ignore when that isn’t the case.
I’ve done a variety of things with my “not-quite-Christmas” days. I’ve eaten Indian as some kind of teenage protest. I’ve stayed in bed until lunchtime being as anti-social as possible in order to stay in denial until “My Christmas”. I’ve spent the day with my grandparents and had a Christmas that felt intensely quiet without my siblings running around! I’ve even spent the day with my then boyfriend and his family (who of course had their own individual way of doing Christmas).
This year I’m doing something new once again. I’m going away for Christmas! This will be the first year I’ve not seen my Dad on Christmas Day, and I’d be lying if I said I won’t miss him terribly (and probably worry about him a little) but I know he’ll keep busy with Helen prepping for “our Christmas” on Boxing Day.
Meanwhile, I’ll be going to Tom’s for the first time at Christmas which I’m sure will be an adventure in its own right! I’ve only been to his family home a handful of times because he hasn’t lived there whilst we’ve been dating. I’ve also not spent much time with his family in comparison to how integrated he is with mine because I live at home while he lives hours away from his. I’m sure it will be nice for him to spend some time at home and for me to get to know them all a little better. Who knows what little Christmas traditions they will have!
So it’s another “odd” year, and one more different kind of Christmas. But I’m determined to be upbeat and not dwell too much on the fact that my “real” Christmas Day is on the 26th. Instead, I’m going to try to see it from a new perspective because surely I’m the luckiest girl in the world if I get to enjoy Christmas twice!
What are your family’s little Christmas traditions? Why not let me know down in the comments below!