16 Nov 2023

A Traditional Christmas?

Christmas adverts have become a cultural phenomenon. Launched in November, they herald the beginning of the festive season and are watched intently for the messages they send, ranging from an assertion of the ‘traditional’ seasonal values to much more iconoclastic offerings, which boldly affirm that Christmas is a time to throw out the rule book and make new traditions, as long as they reflect family values, empathy and kindness.

It seems that, every year, we are increasingly tying ourselves in knots over a single day in the calendar. Advertisers are predicted to spend a record £9.5 billion this year and we are bombarded in the weeks running up to the big day with propaganda about the perfect Christmas.

Perhaps now, before the madness has been fully unleashed, is the time to ponder the ingredients that make Christmas work for you and your family. There is certainly no one template for an ideal Christmas, and every family has evolved their own set of customs and traditions. They may have their own day when they deem it is correct to put up the Christmas tree (or eschew it altogether), and many families will disinter an eclectic range of decorations which are rooted their own history (old fashioned baubles handed down by their parents, kids’ school projects etc).

The big day itself is a gigantic free-for-all. Everybody has their own opinion about when is the right time to open presents, whether the day should include a walk, what time the big meal should be served, what food should be eaten. There is no right or wrong way of conducting the Christmas festivities and, in general, what has worked in the past is enshrined into the ritual and becomes an immoveable aspect of the big day.

These traditions are precious and should be robustly defended; do what works best for you and your family and never let the cacophony of Christmas chatter make you feel that your own celebrations are in some way inadequate.

Bear in mind, however, that every family Christmas is unique and if you are having guests over the festive period, they may well find some of your choices eccentric or puzzling. This is no reason to abandon tried and tested traditions, but it is always a good idea to concede that other people might do things differently. Explain to your guests why you have evolved certain customs (eg “we always open presents before breakfast ­ – the children were too impatient to wait when they were really young and so it just became part of the day”). Guests are much more likely to feel comfortable in. your home if they understand why you do things a certain way, and may feel aggrieved if you just dig in and announce “this is how we celebrate Christmas”, which may well make them feel alienated.

If it’s your tradition to deviate radically from Christmas clichés (tree, presents, turkey etc), it’s a good idea to warn guests and thereby avoid any potential dismay or disappointment. Just mention your own peculiar traditions when you’re proffering the invitation (“we don’t give presents and we just spend the day playing cards, sipping champagne and eating smoked salmon”). It’s much better if people know exactly what to expect.

As we’re repeatedly told, Christmas is all about family, and our traditions reflect this. But it is also a time to open your doors and be hospitable, to welcome guests into your home and to ensure that nobody feels ignored or overlooked.


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