Friday, December 18, 2009

Wild Card Weekend - Christmas Traditions

With Christmas just days away PHS Columnist Kate Walker shares some of her favourite Christmas traditions - the ones that make the holidays so special for her and her family.

Some years ago – more years ago than I really want to remember, when I was preparing for my son’s first Christmas, my mother gave me some advice. Well, it was more like a warning really.

Be careful what you do, she said. Because whatever you do now at Christmas it will become a tradition, something that you ‘have always done’ and so, something you will ened up having to do as a family for all Christmases to come.

And she was right. That’s why I still have the Christmas Crib (the one I always used to love as a child) that can be set up before the big day - but the figure of the baby Jesus can only be added last thing at night on Christmas Eve, before we finally go to bed ready for Christmas Morning. It’s why the food left out for father Christmas was always a couple of chocolate biscuits not a mince pie because Santa ( ie The Babe Magnet) doesn’t like mince pies. And why the carrots left out for Rudolph and the other reindeer always had their tops left (rather neatly) behind with perhaps a little nibble of two taken out of them and the rest of the carrot completely vanished (they would be sliced up in the fridge ready to cook as part of Christmas Day lunch).

In those early days my son always seemed to have some sort of cold or other infection – the year of the ear infections was a particularly horrendous one, I recall. So one thing Santa always left in his stocking was a neatly packaged small parcel of sandwiches and a drink of orange juice to make sure that at least something sensible was eaten if The Offspring was too ill or excited to cope with breakfast. For quite some years, I remember there also had to be on even smaller package of tiny honey sandwiches too because his favourite teddy bear (Granny Bear) had to share in the goodies too.

That wasn’t the only tradition that had a little common sense behind it, I recall. There was the one that was aimed at making sure that we weren’t woken at some ungodly hour, to find out that Santa had been and had left a stocking, bulky with presents at the bottom of the Offspring’s bed. From the very first time that he could be interested, there was always a book in that stocking – a picture book to start with, and then an annual from his favourite TV programme or cartoon characters. He could open the book-shaped parcel first, he was told and settle down with that. If we were lucky, he would get absorbed in the book and we would gain some much needed extra sleep. That was the way it had always been when I was a child too, and for me the brand-new annual or some other book was always the treat I loved most in my Christmas stocking. The rest of the stocking presents were opened all together because of course the adult had stockings too – as did the cats. Soon the bed would be covered in cat treats and catnip mice, honey sandwiches - and mugs of tea for the adults. It started the day off in amore leisurely way, filling the time rather than rushing everything through at the start.

That was the reasoning behind the way the main presents were opened too – this was a tradition that had come from my own family. My husband’s family always just snatched at their gifts, ripped of the wrapping in a frenzy of delight but in just a few short moments – and then the excitement was all over . . . with a long time to go till Christmas lunch. I on the other hand was always brought up with the family trip to church and then home for a ritual pr presents-opening. And I’ve always loved watching people open their presents every bit as much as opening my own. So we’ve always gone out for a walk after breakfast and before the presents, going for a brisk walk, whatever the weather, to get perhaps the only fresh air into our lungs that will be there all day. Then back home, we take turns, one at a time, to receive a gift from under the tree and open it so that the other s could see what we have been given. But first we light a special candle that burns on the hearth all through the gift opening to remind us of those we love who are no longer with us but who we want to remember at this special family time. We remember the ones who are living miles away from us too – some on the other side of the world, having Christmas in summer time but, I know , following some of those family traditions too and so linking with us even if they are so very far away.

Some parts of our Christmas are rather less traditional. We’re all vegetarian, for one thing, so the roast turkey isn’t part of or Christmas dinner. But I have a delicious savoury nut roast recipe that is just as much of a tradition for us. And then there was the Boxing Day present that I organised from the earliest days. A little something that was held back from the bundle of gifts under the tree so that everything wasn’t all crammed into one rush of excitement and then Boxing Day morning dawned falling rather flat with nothing to look forward to., Instead we have a Boxing Day brunch with a ‘full English’ cooked breakfast and there is a small Boxing Day ‘box’ on the table for everyone. It’s a tradition we still continue even though the Offspring and his a partner are heading home to their own house at the end of Christmas Day, But they always have a Boxing Day gift to take with them, just as we still share stockings at the start of the day too.

Because for me, the rituals and little ceremonies of Christmas Day are more important than gifts, big or small. They are the things that bring us together as family, the way that my family and the Babe Magnet’s Christmas styles blend together to create ‘our’ Christmas. In the same way that the Offspring will go on to create his own special sort of Christmas with his partner and one day their own family. And like my mother I shall warn him that whatever he does from the start will one day end up as his family’s traditions – the things they ‘always do.’ It’s something I’d like to think of my heroes and heroines doing too, in the life that follows on from that ‘Happy Ending’ - in the bit that will become their Happy Ever After as they blend their family memories and traditions into one.

So what about you? Do you have special little rituals, little ceremonies that make the holidays truly special for you? If you tell me about them, I’ll get Sid the Cat to pick a name from the comments (if I can drag him away from the Greenies that another tradition demand his favourite Lady Across the Pond will always send him for his Christmas Stocking) and the winner will get a signed copy of either my last book Kept For Her Baby or your choice of whatever backlist I have available.

And because this is my last post before Christmas I’d like to wish everyone f the PHS members and readers a truly Happy Christmas. I hope you all have a wonderful time and that the new year of 2010 is a very special, happy and successful one for you all.
As well as celebrating Christmas I'm also celebrating the 25th anniversary of having my very first book ever published – The Chalk Line which was published in December 1984. If you’d like to join in, perhaps by telling me about the very first ever Kate Walker novel you ever read, or voting for your Top 5 Favourite Kate Walker titles, I’d love to hear from you. Check out the details on my Contest page on my web site for details.
And I’ll be celebrating the start of 2010 with my next new title – The Konstantos Marriage Demand which is out in M&B Modern on January 15th and Presents EXTRA in March 2010. A More details can be found on my web site or my blog.


  1. very much enjoyed your post about how your and your dh's Christmas became 'our' Christmas with starting traditions. I like the Boxing Day one.

    One Mom, I and another sister started years ago was that we ladies, after the big meal/cleaning up/dishes, would go to a room where no one else was and exchange little gifties with each other. It could be a gift boughten or homemade. This gave us time to relax after the hectic meal time and it was so fun to open the gifties. As other girls came into the family they joined in. Mom is now passed away but I am the oldest daughter and I still carry on this tradition. This year I'm giving them a glass cutting board along with a homemade knitted dish cloth.
    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  2. Oh,that's so sweet about the sandwiches for the teddy!

    We have "early Christmas" with my best friends from uni and my favourite uncle and aunt, as they all live too far away for us to see them at Christmas. Which means I cook a proper Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, and then we have a "pressie from Santa" to unwrap with coffee (including the dog, of course).

    Since we've had children, DH and I open our presents very late on Christmas Eve, so we get the chance to enjoy them. And on Christmas morning, the children bounce into our room with their stockings and open them.

    On Boxing Day, if DH isn't working, we tend to go for a walk by the sea (even though it's always freezing!) and then home for hot soup, jacket potatoes and leftover turkey.

    Oh yes - and I have to confess to something *really* bad. Breakfast here on Christmas Day is chocolate! (Not a huge amount. But even so...)

  3. We always get a film to watch on Christmas Eve. It used to be a Disney film, but as the children have grown, their tastes have changed.

    Last year we watched Mamma Mia while we did the final bit of wrapping and I cooked quiches, cakes, biscuits etc. for the buffet supper we have on Christmas Day evening at my mum's.

    It's probably time for me to work ut what this year's film will be :-)

  4. Whata lovely post - it's so nice to read about other peoples traditions. I must admit that since living in NZ Christmas just doesn't feel the same - not quite as magical but I will be working hard to think up some traditions when we start a family.
    Merry Christmas and all the best for 2010 :-)

  5. Robyn

    I love the idea of your special 'ladies' time. I'll bet you have some special memories of that and every time you carry on the tradition you'll be remembering and honouring your mother.

    I hope you and your family have a truly happy Christmas

  6. When I was younger, one of our family traditions was getting to open our parents' christmas present on Chrsitmas Eve (because Santa would be comin' thro' with anothe biggie at night). I realise now thatit gave them a breathing space too!

  7. My apologies for not getting back to you all over the weekend - ut you all know what Christmas is like! And an unexpected set of visitors meant that I had even less time than usual

    T'other Kate - I didn;t tell you about the sandwiches for the bear! Like you, we have an early Christmas with some very special friends - and with my MIL and DH's family - so now I feel as if I've already cooked Christmas dinner twice!

    I envy your walk by the sea - freezing or not! My morning walk through the woods is lovely but there's something so special about the sea. And at that time of year it must be wonderful

  8. Joanne - we used to have qa family film on Christmas Eve too - now we're more likely to be playing silly games together on the day itself. And the supper at your mother's sounds lovely - I do like sharing different bits of the holiday in different houses . I hope you and your family have a lovely time

  9. Hello Katie - your Christmas in NZ will be very different from how it was before. But you'll have a very special Christmas for the first time as husband and wife, won't you?

    I wish you every joy of this very special holiday and many years togethr to create some fabulous memories and some family traditions all of your own.

  10. Hello Alison - your post made me smile! I think so many of the family traditions come into existence because they give the parents a breathing space - don't you? And lilke some of my traditions, your parents obvioulsy wanted to make the excitement last and not all arrive in one big explposiosn of gifts.

    I hope you have some lovely gifts this year - whenever you open them - and some wonderful memories too

    Right now I need to find Sid the cat to choose the winner's name - be back soon


  11. And the winner is - JOANNE!

    Joanne please email me kate AT and I'll tell you which books you can choose from

    Happy Christmas to everyone

  12. An extra Christmas present, how lovely! Thank you so much, Kate.