25 observations from a family Christmas

Reindeer kids

It’s a funny thing, Christmas. The anticipation in our household starts from mid-November. But before you know it it’s over and you’re left only with a mountain of new toys and uneaten food to remind you that it wasn’t just a dream.

Nonetheless, this was probably the most enjoyable and relaxing Christmas we’ve had since we became parents. Here is a collection of 25 random observations on the past few days.

1. Christmas Day starts earlier every year. Isaac woke at 2am and never got back to sleep. Toby was up at 3:30,  Kara a leisurely 5:30. By 6am Operation Stall-The-Little-Buggers was in full swing as the kids tore in to their stockings. By 7am everyone in the house was up and we were in to the main presents under the tree.

2. I was glad we decided to divide present opening into phases, so that the children had time to appreciate and enjoy each new wave of presents before launching in to the next. We strung it out until just before lunch – next year I think we’ll aim for even later.

3. I was even gladder we decided to consult with the kids about making charitable donations as part of reinforcing Christmas as a time for giving as well as receiving.

4. I reckon this year was our ‘sweet spot’. Aged eight, nearly six and 3½, our kids are old enough to embrace the magic of Christmas while still young enough to believe in it. This may well be the last year for Isaac – once he stops believing it won’t be the same.

5. Christmas Day is the one day of the year when you can drink alcohol before breakfast and no one bats an eyelid.

6. Our kids are growing up so fast. The boys were happy taking themselves off to read books or play games, while Kara was always keen to help out in the kitchen. Best enjoy these years while they last. They’ll be stroppy teenagers before we know it.

Kara cooking

7. One of my favourite things about Christmas is the way our children burst into renditions of Christmas carols and songs at random. Popular tunes over the past week included We Three Kings Of Orient Are, Silent Night, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Last Christmas. And, of course, Kara’s reworked version of Jingle Bells, which replaced ‘making spirits bright’ with first ‘making squirrels cry’ and then ‘making squirrel pie’.

8. Each of our kids loved receiving books but Isaac really is the geekiest of them all. On Christmas morning I found him in the living room doing first a word search puzzle and then puzzling over his new Rubik’s cube, with his other presents set aside.

9. It’s pleasing to see our kids appreciating inexpensive presents. We bought Isaac his own camera but he and his Rubik’s cube have been inseparable, Toby was delighted with the soft toy owl he had requested from Santa. And Kara declared a £3 squidgy plastic monster toy that she had taken a shine to in our local garden centre as, “the one present I really wanted”. Bless.

10. Having the kids’ grandparents and uncle staying for three days meant lots of willing hands with whom to play while I got on with the business of cooking Christmas lunch. But it is tiring work, as the photo below – taken at 11am on Christmas Day – demonstrates.

Grandma and Grandpa asleep

11. Defying gender stereotypes, I spent most of Christmas morning in the kitchen while Heather helped the boys assemble various toys. That’s how we roll in our house.

12. You can never have too many AA batteries.

13. One of our traditions on Christmas morning is to give the kids party poppers to let off at breakfast. To paraphrase Apocalypse Now, I love the smell of cordite in the morning.

14. Over the years, we have developed some eclectic food traditions. This year our Christmas Day breakfast spread included panettone (a seasonal Italian sweet bread loaf), stollen (German fruit bread), sausage rolls, pigs in blankets and mince pies. Dinner on Christmas Eve always includes a selection of Chinese dim sum.

15. This is the 25th Christmas that Heather and I have been together. That means I have given her a box of Toffifee (another tradition) as a present 25 years running.

16. By the end of Christmas Day, we had just one broken toy (and even that was a non-fatal breakage). This was unprecedented but it shows how low our expectations of toys’ build quality are these days. They’re so flimsy, aren’t they?

17. I haven’t put on weight. It’s just that all my clothes have shrunk.

18. Head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody while carving the Christmas turkey is not something I’d recommend.

19. While they love their iPad and Playstation games, it was gratifying to see how much the boys enjoy card games and other classics such as Game of Life and Connect 4. It can be difficult to make time to play games with three kids of varying ages but it’s something we need to make more time for.

20. If you want to start World War Three, get a bunch of world leaders around a table, ask them to play Game of Life or Monopoly and wait to see what happens when they start disputing their varying interpretations of the rules. It certainly works for us.

21. I received a Fitbit for Christmas and while I’m delighted with it I do wonder how much longer their business model can survive as smart watches become cheaper and more sophisticated. It’s a bit like what smartphones have done to the MP3 player market. I give it two years.

22. We have stopped being a TV-watching nation at Christmas, haven’t we? In 1986 over 30 million viewers tuned in to EastEnders on Christmas Day to watch Dirty Den serve Angie with divorce papers. In 2001 over 21 million of us saw the Only Fools and Horses Christmas special. This year fewer than seven million people watched the final ever episode of Downton Abbey live. Okay, delayed viewing will push the final audience closer to ten million. Even so, we have too many other options on our hands these days, don’t we? Boxsets, Xbox games, YouTube …

23. I wonder what proportion of the annual total of landfill in the UK is generated on Christmas Day? Food, packaging and other seasonal waste certainly filled several black rubbish bags in our household.

24. Our kids tend to watch modern shows and are only really exposed to old classics such as Tom and Jerry at this time of year. They find them just as funny but my God they’re violent and lacking in educational value compared to contemporary kids’ shows. Is that really a bad thing? We’re conditioned to think so these days but I’m not sure it’s as black-and-white as that.

25. Most of all, though, Christmas is about family. Neither Heather nor I have much in the way of immediate family in the UK, so to have us all around the table for Christmas lunch is something quite special.

Christmas lunch table

What have been the highlights (or lowlights) of your Christmas this year?

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