There are a lot of Christmas traditions about. Some are long lasting, some almost transient. A friend of mine used to be in the catering/retail trade and one year, calling in the wholesalers just before Christmas, discovered that the wholesalers already had Easter eggs. You can see their point; there is no real point in a wholesaler majoring of Christmas items on the 20th December.
So my friend bought some of the Easter eggs, and his nephews got them for Christmas as part of their Christmas present from their delightfully eccentric uncle. Easter eggs in their Christmas stocking became, for that small group of small boys, a venerable and much loved tradition which eventually faded away with the passing of the years.
But there are all sorts of Christmas traditions. Some are faith based, some are particular to a nation, a community, and the best ones, the ones that really mean something, can be particular to a family.
For us, at the moment, Midnight Communion is an important part of our Christmas. For me, it marks the real beginning of the season. But when I was milking, the idea of getting home from a church service at 1am and getting up to milk at 5:30am was unthinkable.
Certainly when I was in my teens and early twenties, Christmas started for me when, at about 3pm on Christmas Eve, my mother would make mince pies whilst listening to the nine lessons and carols from Kings College. I don’t think I ever heard the entire broadcast because I’ve always had to go out to milk, but still, for me, it was the start of the season.
Another tradition I remember from youth was the entire family gathering at my maternal grandparents for a Christmas Dinner, normally on the 27th of December. The five daughters, their husbands and children would all sort of arrive about 11am, we’d eat together, there’d be talking and the grandchildren would play together, and then by about 3pm, people were starting to leave. All the sons-in-law were farmers, all had cows to milk and all wanted to be back home by 4pm to start milking. This is another tradition which faded. My grandparents died, so we’d meet at the home of one of the daughters, but then, as the grandchildren grew up, married, had their own children and in-laws, gathering the clan for a major get-together became a logistic nightmare.
Even the pattern of Christmas Day has slowly evolved. As a child, opening presents happened twice. When we woke up there would be a stocking at the end of the bed from Father Christmas. This tended to be small stuff, fun, and gave us a chance to experience the decadence of eating chocolate before breakfast.
After breakfast, as children, we’d go out and do what jobs we could so that when my Dad came in for his coffee about 10am, he didn’t have to go out again. With coffee we had the grand opening of presents we gave each other, then my mother would put the final touches to the dinner, and we’d eat at noon as usual.
After dinner we would sit, perhaps watch telly, perhaps read, because Christmas always involved a number of new books. Then at 3pm we watched the Queen’s Speech and went out to milk. About 6pm we’d be in and ready for our tea which was always help yourself to cold turkey, pickles and whatever. Normally there would be a good film on the telly and we’d watch that as a family.
Now daughters organise the meal, and my lady wife and I arrive in the early afternoon in time to be fed. I don’t have to milk but I’ll check sheep, feed the dry cows and give the dairy herd its midday feed before I go and get my meal, which is how it should be.
This year, as we were doing our Christmas cards, we had the usual discussion about who had died since last time we sent them a card. The list of people I’m sending cards to is shrinking as a generation slowly fades away. Soon it’ll be my generation that starts slowly fading away, as that rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.
So our ancient traditions gradually evolve and continue to remind us of the important of the things that matter, family and those we love.
Anyway I hope you all have a really good Christmas, the ‘language’ on the card is a Cumbrian dialect. It’s not one I speak although I can understand it and do use a lot of the words.