Among the best traditions are those you incorporate into your own family, such as hunting down the perfect Christmas tree. We get ours on the 23rd December – it’s summer here and pine trees don’t last that long. When we lived in Queenstown, they grew like weeds and, because they aren’t native, you were considered to be doing society a favour if you went and chopped one down.
Him Outdoors also has his birthday that day, so I would send him out of the house with the boys to get them out of the way while I finished off whatever Christmas jobs were necessary for the big day. They would return triumphant like worthy little hunter gatherers and reward themselves with beer after potting the tree. It became a ritual.
Everyone who came into the house between then and Christmas morning had to hang an ornament on the tree, and we placed a fairy on top. Previous incarnations of said fairy have included Eric Cantona and Roy Keane – not Robbie of course, as he would be more like an angel. I would have had Ronaldo for obvious reasons, but I couldn’t bear to have that winker in my house in any shape or form. (Now we just have a tiny tree because we live in a little appartment and it sits on the table looking festive.)
After that, we sit and talk, play games, eat, drink, read, do jigsaw puzzles and have an open-door policy for anyone else who is far from home without family, or looking for some peace and quiet away from theirs. Sometimes we get a ham from His Outdoors’ employers with which we make everything from salads and sandwiches to curry and stir-fry. We have chicken butties on Christmas Day and plenty of bubbles, and some special food for the cat which he doesn’t eat because he’s fussy – he’s a pedigree, don’t you know.
That’s our tradition – keep it simple. I suppose it’s what Christmas means to you and all that, but I don’t want unnecessary pressure at this time of year – or any time come to that. I try to avoid the shops and frantic commercialism and the rabid Christmas music. I love carols, but I hate those ‘jingle bell rock’ and ‘rocking around the Christmas tree’ tunes with their enforced sense of jollity which feels more like desperation.
I try and do the Christmas cards early, but I’m on my own here as Him Outdoors doesn’t help. He grumbles that he hates Christmas and if his parents get a card they should count themselves lucky. Apparently the ‘circular is so tacky’. I have no problem with this, as it’s a good way to keep in touch, but why do we only do it once a year? I am writing cards to people so if you haven’t got yours yet, don’t worry, you will, but it might not be in time for Christmas. In fact, as I haven’t put them in the post yet, it certainly won’t be in time for Christmas.
We are told it’s the thought that counts, but so many people still expect gifts tied up with ribbons, and dinner with all the trimmings. So to stem the rising tide of consumerism we are encouraged to make little tins of biscuits and other homemade gifts to prove our nurturing domestic goddess skills. You’ll notice men aren’t expected to do this. Why are we meant to have more time and inclination just because we’re female? Steamed puddings bring a whole new meaning to pressure cooking and if we haven’t got cranberry sauce, who cares? Does it really matter?
I went to church at the weekend. I sang the carols and said the prayers. I was generally filled with peace and goodwill to all mankind. The pageant was cute even with Joseph gurning throughout and Mary looking like she was about to burst into tears. The Indian girl with the wings who stood in the pulpit with arms outstretched to represent the Angel Gabriel was my favourite (that was the part I always got in the school nativity play).
But then the children started racing up and down the aisle and clambering all over the pews; shrieking and wailing. One kid even had one of those electronic computer things that bleeped and blipped all through the service so you could hardly hear a word. I tried to drown it out with ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. ‘Why don’t the parents teach them respect?’ I wondered, and then I put it in a bubble and let it go. It’s Christmas after all.