We have asked all our Code of the Gentleman contributors to tell us what is special about Christmas for them, their family traditions, the eccentricities and the little things that make Christmas unique. We hope you enjoy them and maybe you will start a new Christmas Tradition yourselves this year.
There are a few background details that you need to understand about me to put my thoughts on Christmas into context. Firstly, I am not a Christian. Secondly, I work in the hospitality industry, so chances are I will be working on either Christmas or New Year, and sometimes both. And finally, my parents are divorced.
This last factor meant that we had two Christmases for a large part of my early teens: Mum’s house for Christmas, Dad’s house for New Year, then the other way round the following year. But Christmas has a feel for me, a pattern, which has formed into a tradition. It’s probably more normal than people care to admit, but it is certainly not idyllic.
Christmas would generally start with Mum. She is a Catholic, and as such Christmas means more to her on religious grounds that it does for us three kids. She likes to go the whole hog: big meal, and we are all up for that, decorations, lights, garlands, tree, wreath, manger, you name it, she does it.
The first that we get involved is the always awkward question about 2 or 3 months before: ‘What do you want for Christmas this year?’ Being reasonably well off, there was not much that we actually need, and being mostly apathetic about the whole affair, not much that we really want this time of year, so fire back the usual response of: ‘No idea, how about you?’
The other question that came at this time of year, was the food question: ‘What will our Christmas dinner be this year?’ Never Turkey. But what? Goose? Duck? Beef? Salmon? This question was one that people were much more passionate about, and spurred some serious debate. Normally Goose wins out, though, as this my little sister’s favourite.
It was always about this time that Choir rehearsals switch to carols. I was always a keen singer, but stopped singing religious songs in my early teens. I do love a good Christmas carol, though. There is something rousing about the big chords, the cold minor notes, and the peppy jingle of the traditional Christmas carols. I have since come to find peace with singing them again, as well as finding new favourites. When singing with the British Humanist Association choir, they re-wrote some of the lyrics to the old classics celebrating 12 forgotten gods of Christmas and the winter solstice, which was amazing. Then there are the other beautiful tunes: ‘Baby it’s cold outside’, Michael Bublé’s ‘Cold December Night’ and ‘White wine in the Sun’ by Tim Minchin, which has so much resonance for me. Christmas would not be the same without the music, and there is something there for everyone.
In the build up to Christmas day, we would do the shopping, and the wrapping of presents. Mum would like to decorate the house. This generally involved bullying us kids to doing DIY jobs, decorating, putting up the tree.
On the day itself, we would open our stockings in bed on our own schedules, have breakfast, and only when the whole family was together, we would open the presents. Then the preparations for lunch would begin…
Christmas more than most other times was when the whole family gathered in the kitchen, to help out, get stuck in, get in each other’s way, and be opinionated about what should be involved in this year’s Christmas dinner.
It was always the ignition of the Christmas argument. Tempers got frayed over who doesn’t eat this or that. Who was or wasn’t helping out enough (or taking over someone else’s signature dish). Someone would get flustered, get panicky about everything being ready in time, and about a thousand little Christmas pressures, and inevitably, there would be an argument.
The argument itself would generally be over in just a few minutes, but it would generally mean that Mum would end up feeling defeated and guilty at the same time, my brother would be arrogantly indignant, and my sister and I would generally share a moment of shared understanding and sympathy.
Strangely enough, I really like Christmas, but I would much prefer that we were able to celebrate it differently… maybe move it away from everyone else’s celebration, to remove some of the stress. Reduce the need to fight the crowds for the best presents, to fight the shops seasonal price hikes, to spend the time together when my industry is not so full on. Mid to late January would be perfect: still cold enough to justify all the feasting, but move it away from the overweight Coca-Cola representative, the over-celebrated Palestinian infant, and the retail industry’s primary gifting period.