Confusing Christmas traditions

Traditions are a great reminder of time passed. They usually begin organically and change gradually, so that often we don’t notice how much we take comfort in them until they’re gone, and new ones have replaced them. And tradition knows no better time of year than Christmas.

When we’re young, Christmas is about belief. Believing in Santa, and that being well behaved equates to how many Christmas presents we’ll receive. As you grow up and the magic is long gone, Christmas becomes a consumer trap, and you wonder what it must be like to wholeheartedly believe something so unrealistic.

When you’re younger you think about the day itself. And then when the New Year rolls around, only when you’re taken to Staples to buy some new pens do you have any thought about the year ahead. But as a grown-up, the time surrounding Christmas is a time for reflection of the year behind us, the year to come, and New Year’s resolutions that we tell ourselves will solve all of our problems.

In the run-up to Christmas you face weeks of standing in queues to buy the same gift as three people in front of you, only to see the same faces a week later when queueing to return ill-fitting items from a distant relative that was being far too ambitious in trying to guess your size. The same Christmas songs are played incessantly in your ears as you walk away from the till with a lighter purse, ignoring the shop's brash cries for your attention, pleading for you to part with more money – for the sake of your loved ones, of course.

For a month, you confusedly eat a bite of chocolate every morning in a bid to keep tradition and rouse the excitement of Christmas you felt long ago. You spend a year faithfully keeping a clean house, only to drag a tree into your living room and wonder if the smell of tinsel always used to give you a headache.

But growing up to wonder how Christmas was ever something to be excited about doesn’t mean we’ve gone cynical. It’s just that traditions of our childhood become misplaced as we grow older.

Now, any festive traditions are far quieter. I return to my mum's house from wherever I’m living to forget how to open the front door and which key to stick in it. But then my unfamiliarity soon dissipates and I sink into comfortable sofas, warm baths, rooms filled with the scent of a candle and the novelty of a television, working internet and a kettle that doesn’t leak.

I didn’t realise I’d had any Christmas traditions as a child until years later, when they'd irrevocably changed. I’d wake up really early after a restless night, like every other child. I’d make lots of noise to wake my parents, usually by running down the stairs and shouting for them, but I was also known to get out my clarinet and play Jingle Bells until they roused.

Another tradition was keeping my pile of presents - neatly arranged and regularly attended to – downstairs until the night before school started in the New Year. Then I’d take them upstairs and carefully find new places for them in my bedroom.

Christmas is now a time to rest. I’m somewhere in-between rummaging under the Christmas tree at 5 am to find any Barbie-shaped presents, and wrapping presents for my own children while eating Santa’s mince pie.

Family traditions are a bit of a funny thing when you think about them. A group of people that find themselves tied together by genes repeat what they do at certain times of year, and as each year passes it brings more pleasure and nostalgia.

I find myself not being cynical, but passive, as I gather around a table to eat a glorified Sunday dinner in the middle of the week, fishing a spirit level out of a cracker and ignoring a paper crown digging into my forehead. Has Christmas always been so confusing?

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