For me, Christmas celebrations generally get started in early December. In the first week or so I find that if the excitement of eating my advent calendar chocolates hasn’t triggered those festive feelings, then going along to a local Christmas event is sure to do the trick! As a child, these early December outings were all about queuing up to meet Father Christmas and pestering your parents for sweet treats, like hot chocolate topped with a mountain of whipped cream and marshmallows. As an adult, it’s now much more about sharing a spiced cider or mulled wine with friends at the Christmas markets. Regardless of which drink is in hand, this is typically when my favourite festive moment happens: the countdown to the Christmas lights switch on. A close second favourite has to be decorating the Christmas tree, which usually happens around the same time.
While the main man himself (and indeed Mums and Dads everywhere) may be making a list and checking it twice, so too are children all across the UK at this time of year. I vividly remember hours spent with cousins and friends scribbling down and revising lists which, when finalised, would be decorated with glitter, festive colours, pretty borders, and pictures of reindeers and their soon-to-be very busy boss!
Christmas Eve is the day for final preparations. Wrapping the last gifts, picking up remaining items from the shopping list, and, for parents, distracting eager and excitable children in anticipation of the day to come. Best behaviour is a must. Putting aside any naughtiness that may have happened throughout the year, Christmas Eve is the final attempt to secure your place on Santa’s ‘nice’ list. Then, for younger family members, it’s off to bed early, but not before laying out a bit of sustenance for Santa and his dutiful reindeer friends: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, and Donner, and Blitzen and, of course, not forgetting Rudolph with the very shiny nose!
Christmas Day arrives and children jump out of bed desperate to find the answer to that all important question: has he been? For me and my younger brother, the first gifts to open could be found in two red stockings outside our bedroom door. Typically, we’d open up a game of some sort and some food – a clever tactic I now realise allowed my Mum just a little more rest before the day’s busyness began. Then, finally, we’d be allowed to rush downstairs to share out presents placed under the tree. In my house, there’d often be fits of laughter as we’d realise that a tired and stressed ‘Father Christmas’ may have had one or two mix ups. One year, my gifts included a set of Bob the Builder pyjamas from the cat, while the dog had kindly given my younger brother a Spice Girls watch.
The rest of the morning involves preparations for the big Christmas meal. The turkey, pigs in blankets, and cranberry sauce make this an extra special version of a typical roast dinner with vegetables and gravy. However, a major difference with this roast is that it requires family members to take their position on sprouts, declaring their love or hatred, much the same as with Marmite, for the divisive little green cabbages. (I’m a huge fan). Even once the meal has finished, eating generally continues with chocolates, biscuits, cheese and others snacks appearing throughout the rest of the day (and for days to come). As the day goes on, we might sit down to play a game or watch something Christmassy on TV. It’s at this point that some family members sneak a Christmas nap.
Like many families, our celebrations continue into Boxing Day and sometimes for several days after. Although the main task is to work our way through all the leftover food, we usually spend this time catching up with friends and other family members, as well as getting out for long walks with the dogs.
Writing this has made me realise how much I love Christmas and how overwhelmingly excited I am to head home to Shropshire this weekend and catch up with my nearest and dearest. To all reading, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Danielle Butler, PhD student