Christmas Eve PJs and Pork Pie supper. Presents opened to Micheal Buble and Champagne. Decorating the tree together during the first weekend in December. The annual family argument. Christmas Traditions – all families have them, right?
Strangely enough, my husband and I don’t really have any Christmas Traditions of our own. We are five years into marriage. We’ve known each other ten years today – Christmas Eve, is actually the anniversary of our drunken one night stand. We’ve together nine and half a years. During that time we have forged careers, moved across the country (twice), travelled, raised one adorable pooch, made a baby (albeit still in the womb), and are embarking on buying our first property. But we still haven’t successfully navigated the Christmas period and the traditions born from competing families who have very different ways of doing things.
Memories of a Childhood Christmas
Growing up, my Christmas’s were grand affairs. Or, at least, that is my memory of them. They would start on Christmas Eve with a big party at the stables. There would be an excess of mulled wine, party food a plenty, and the annual fancy dress competition.
Christmas day was spent being woken at the crack of dawn by an excitable mother playing Christmas music and buttering bread for our smoked salmon breakfast. She was always eager to tear open presents. I, however, had a preference for lie-ins. Christmas dinner was spent with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and, later in life, close friendships groups. They were big drunken affairs with champagne and wine flowing freely which led to an inevitable family argument (sometimes sparked by Monopoly) where a year worth of gripes would come spilling out. By 8pm (and the cheese board) all would be resolved and more party games would follow. The day would be repeated on Boxing Day when the other side of the family would convene.
The few days between Christmas and New Year were spent in a haze of dogs walks, canapés, and (you guessed it) more champagne. Parties were endless and we’d all end up ill by New Year. They were busy days of frivolity and time spent with loved ones … many, many, loved ones.
My husband, however, is use to a very different Christmas. A small affair of too much food and not nearly enough booze (at least in my books). Christmas was for immediate family only; his brother, his Mum and his Grandparents. There was no champagne and smoked salmon breakfast but there was a gala pie feast on Christmas Eve. There were no raucous games but a gathering around the TV to watch the Queen’s speech and a group effort to complete the Christmas cryptic crossword.
As you can probably gather, marrying these two very different expectations of Christmas has proved difficult. We have very different ideas of Christmas and I have, too often, found myself mourning the Christmas of my childhood.
Christmas Tears and Tantrums
I won’t lie. Our differences in Christmas ideals frequently end in argument. I’m not grown up enough to avoid tears and tantrums (something I have always excelled in) when not getting my own way.
I had one just last week when it was suggested that I couldn’t take the darling pupper to his family Christmas this year because there would be a new born baby there. I sulked, cried, and declared “Christmas isn’t Christmas without my dog so I’m not going”. We can blame my pregnancy hormones for this, right?
The tantrum was unneeded. Archie is welcome and he gets to meet our new nephew (his cousin) after our Christmas morning dog walk.
But I do find Christmas incredibly stressful. And that’s mostly because of the expectations of others – try to fit into what both sides of the family want without offending or upsetting anyone. Add in the complication of wanting to spend time together to do our own thing and Christmas has just become a bit of a nightmare.
Forging your own Christmas Traditions
So how do you navigate Christmas, conflicting traditions, and differing expectations?
I’m not going to pretend that I have it sorted. We are far from that. But there are some things we’ve implemented as a family of two plus the pupper that have made things a little easier.
Set an agenda early on
Be clear with family members who you will be spending Christmas with and when. We implemented a three year rota. A Christmas spent with each side of the family followed by a Christmas at our own house. During that third year, whoever wants to see us has to come to us. That way it’s all on them.
Of course, people still get a bit griped but it means that we’re clear on what is happening. Of course, it’s all gone tits up this year with my troublesome pregnancy and inability to do much. But all good things have to come to an end sometime, right?
Choose a new tradition that makes you happy
We’ve been proud dog parents for seven years and Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a dog walk. That has become our tradition and it is something neither of us are willing to bend on. Come rain or shine, we head out with the pooch or pupper whilst proudly sporting out Christmas jumpers.
This year, we’ll be taking Archie to the beach for a razzle. He may even be sporting his own Christmas jumper.
We are in a position to be more flexible with our Christmas. We haven’t had a Christmas with children (yet) and we have the types of career where it possible to take a good week or more off work over the Christmas period. That means it is often easier for us to travel than some of our family members.
And really, if the place you’re at doesn’t follow your ideal Christmas, then does it really matter? Traditions can happen on a different day. I can always have my smoked salmon breakfast and champagne on Boxing Day. After all, Christmas doesn’t have to be celebrated only on the 25th.
Incorporate traditions from both families
There is currently a bottle of prosecco chilling in our fridge, ready to be cracked open on Christmas morning. It will, of course, be watered down with plenty of orange juice due to the ever-growing bump but it is still reminiscent of my memories of Christmas when younger. Next year, there will be smoked salmon (I couldn’t stomach it right now even if I were allowed to eat it).
We also have a huge pork pie in the fridge for Christmas Eve. I couldn’t bring myself to compromise on a gala pie. For me, they’re too reminiscent of cheap buffets at funerals. But we do have a feast of a pork pie layered with turkey and cranberry.
This way, we’re taking small traditions from both our families, and forging our own kind of Christmas. I’m sure it will change in the future, especially with the appearance of baby next year, and I hope there will be less tears and tantrums as I grow up. But this Christmas (so far) has been the most relaxed so far because we’ve stripped away a lot of expectations and just focused on ourselves for once.
Tell me, how have you managed to navigate changing traditions and the expectations of childhood memories and over-bearing families?