We have taken down the tree and returned the decorations to the loft. Everyone is back at work or school. As we all struggle to settle back into our normal routines after our two-week break, I’m left to reflect on a family Christmas that was reassuringly familiar and yet very different.
So in true A Christmas Carol style, I’m taking a quick journey through Christmases past, present and future – but without the ghosts.
Christmas is very much a time for traditions. Some of these are almost universal. Decorating the house. The giving and receiving of presents. The John Lewis Christmas ad.
Other traditions are more personal and build up gradually over the years, particularly when you have a young family. We have our own, just like anyone else. Watching Elf for the eleventy billionth time. Poring over the Christmas Radio Times with a highlighter pen. Long board game sessions. Brussels sprouts, mince pies, panettone and other seasonal foods. (I’m particularly partial to Waitrose’s black forest panettone.)
Traditions are good. They are familiar and reassuring and become part of the fabric of the festive season. We take comfort in doing the same things every year. They form the basis of family stories and in-jokes.
But we also delight in adding new traditions to the list. And, as is inevitable when you have children, no two Christmases are exactly alike.
2007 was our first ‘family’ Christmas. Isaac was barely two weeks old at the time. It marked the end of a phase of our life when we always travelled to family for Christmas and they started to come to us instead. In 2009, my wife was 37 weeks pregnant with Toby, while Isaac at two was just starting to properly appreciate the magic of Christmas. By 2011 it was Toby who was in that position, while Heather was mid-term with Kara.
Every year, Christmas is a little bit different. Each year it’s not so much a single experience as an amalgamation of family history. Like Groundhog Day, much of it is repeated but with small changes each time.
Our 2019 Christmas
This Christmas, the kids were 12, nine (nearly ten) and seven. They are still just as excited about the festive season, but their experience of it has changed over the years. And so has ours.
Go back a handful of years and Christmas was all about the CBeebies panto and the latest Julia Donaldson animation. Now the kids are more likely to spend their holiday watching the Strictly Christmas special and whatever random stuff it is they watch on YouTube.
Christmas morning is all about opening as many presents as quickly as possible but even that has changed noticeably over the years. It used to be that every present was a garishly coloured and noisy toy that would result in us spending the entire morning firstly fitting new batteries – why is it I can never find the one screwdriver I need? – and then trying to work out how to turn the sound down without resorting to throwing the bloody thing out of the nearest window.
This year, the kids received a combination of more ‘practical’ presents – it’s now a tradition in our house that they each receive a new set of pyjamas – books and electronic games/devices.
This resulted in something new and unusual occurring. On a number of occasions, the kids all huddled on our living room sofa or took themselves off to the playroom to immerse themselves in tablets or the Xbox. An eerie quiet descended over the house and Heather and I actually had time to not only make a cup of tea but actually enjoy it while it was still hot. This was – as other parents of young children will be aware – not something we are used to.
It felt weird – but nice.
It did make us think, though. We are moving beyond the point – not just at Christmas but generally – where our children are increasingly self-reliant. They don’t need monitoring or entertaining every minute of the day. However, it’s a double-edged sword. Family Christmases have been such a magical – if stressful – time over the past dozen years but we are now fast approaching the point where the kids need – and indeed want – our attention less, and they will go off and do their own thing more.
I can remember from my own childhood when Christmas stopped being a time of magic and wonder and just became … well, Christmas. I was 13 or 14 at that point, only a little older than Isaac now. It has never really occurred to me how this might have been sad for my parents. And yet here I am, on the cusp of finding it out for myself.
No regrets, though. This was my 13th Christmas as a parent. For all that has remained constant from one year to the next, change is inevitable and necessary, even at Christmas. This Christmas was different to last year’s. Next year’s will be different too.
What will Christmas be like in the future?
It may still be early January, but I’m starting to ponder what will change for Christmas in 2020 (and beyond).
Isaac will officially be a teenager next time around. Toby will be in double digits. And Kara will be 12 months closer to world domination. She still believes in Santa; I’m not sure that will necessarily be the case next Christmas. Regardless, I can foresee more opportunities for quiet cups of tea this year as the kids continue to become more independent. But I wonder what else will change?
I looked at the sheer amount of paper and cardboard we generated from advent calendars, wrapping paper and other seasonal paraphernalia and made a mental note about doing things differently this year. Christmas is an incredibly wasteful time of year. We can do better, be more mindful.
So, how will Christmas 2020 be different to 2019? What new traditions we will establish? Which older ones will be discarded and forgotten?
Only 11½ months to go until we find out …