“MUM, when are we doing the go-into-town-and-pick-a-decoration day,” asked my five-year-old last week. It’s a tradition that’s evolved in recent years — on the first Sunday in December, we bring the kids into the city centre to choose one new Christmas decoration each, then we go for coffee and cake.
It’s easy to organise and doesn’t cost much, but every year it’s one of the rituals they look forward to most. So for the season that’s in it, I asked some parent bloggers to tell me about their traditions, and why building a unique Christmas story for their children is important.
Sinéad Fox (BumblesofRice) has fond childhood memories of seeing extended family. “We had set times we’d visit different relatives; two aunts on Christmas Eve, Granny after Mass on Christmas morning, and other Granny on St Stephen’s Day.” And she has carried this tradition through for her own kids. “They love having their granddad come to stay, and visiting their other grandparents on St Stephen’s Day, and at New Year they ask us which aunts and uncles we’ll see. I’m trying to get the message to them that Christmas is about spending time with family rather than what family give them!”
Grá Conway (FredTedAndCompany) doesn’t have great memories of Christmas, and is trying to change the focus for her own family. “Growing up, Christmas was expensive, full of arguments and never good enough, whereas my husband loves it; his family go all out, no one fights, no one has any expectations, and everyone enjoys their day.”
Conway does, however, have one particular tradition from her own family that she’s reviving as an adult. “My aunts used to do Soak-It-Sundays; they’d all go to one aunt’s house and soak the fruit for the Christmas cakes. Really it was about the gossip and the sneaky glass of sherry! It was one of my favourite aspects of Christmas, there were no gifts to fret over, and no one fought. I’ve arranged my first-ever Soak-It-Sunday with my sisters-in-law, I can’t wait!”
Tracey Smith (MumsMakeUpBag) sees Christmas traditions as a link with the past, particularly with her father. “My dad went all out; tinfoil streamers in every colour and decorations that spanned decades. That’s the major tradition I’ve brought to my own family; my Christmas tree isn’t colour-co-ordinated, it’s a smorgasbord of our family and our creations. I asked my teenage daughter last year if our tree was bordering on tacky. She shook her head, and said she loves our old decorations; they tell a story that spans generations. That made me smile, my dad would have been proud.”
Annette Kelly (4Acorns) is originally from France and sees Christmas as a time to bring French traditions to her Ireland-based family. “Starting on December 1, I plan a daily activity or outing that the kids discover on opening the Advent calendar every morning. It can be as simple as reading a Christmas story together, or more elaborate like making Santa hats.”
Is it hard work? “Yes, but it really gets us in the Christmas spirit. It also means we spend more time together preparing for Christmas, so it is not all about consumerism.”
Lorraine Higgins (LorrainesWorldBlog) says it’s about the little things. “My entire childhood is made up of tiny but important memories, and I’ve carried them on with my own two children. The traditional new PJs for Christmas Eve has evolved into a Christmas Eve box filled with pyjamas, The Night Before Christmas book, and Christmas crafts. We go to the park to see Santa’s reindeer and we bake cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. Having traditions strengthens our family bond and creates a sense of belonging, and I firmly believe that it makes the kids feel secure knowing we do same things every year.”
Of course, it’s important to remember that not everyone has family around, says Dr Colman Noctor, psychotherapist and author of the parenting book
. “For many, the family-focus of Christmas brings a unique sense of collective joy, but for those in less celebratory circumstances, it can be very difficult. Following a bereavement or a rearranged family situation, Christmas serves to amplify the loss,” he says.
“We have a well-worn narrative of family Christmas which commonly involves the complete family gathered at the fireplace celebrating togetherness.”
The message of togetherness is an important one. “It’s a unique time where family life becomes the focus of our attention and in today’s world, where everyone watches TV in separate rooms and family’s instant-message each other despite being in the same building, I believe the family-focus of Christmas is ever more important. It should focus on catching up with each other, communicating with each other, and sharing experiences of each other.”
He points out that electronic devices encourage distance. “The power of the collective experience is being diluted in the world where sharing involves posting a picture on a social media site. Real sharing is completely different to that and should be experienced as much as possible, and the holiday period seems an opportune time for this connection.”