OK, so it’s that time of year, whether you like it or loathe it, I’m going to mention it – Christmas. There, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open now.
Whilst countries across Europe share some traditions with each other, many are different, and yet more are developed within the family unit. Watch this light-hearted video about Christmas traditions called ‘The Truth about Germany: Christmas‘, or hear Swedish children talk about Christmas, find out about traditional food in Moldova, or read about Christmas customs for Serbs living in Timisoara Romania.
Wherever you are, we all know that the traditions that happen at our own houses, within our own families, the ones we’ve been following for decades are the right ones. Let’s face it, however interesting or pleasant other people’s traditions can be, they’re just plain wrong.
This year, my partner and I are opening our home up to our families. For the first time ever, we’re hosting Christmas. That’s two families of traditions to intermingle (and the families have never met before so let’s add that tension to the mix). And we’re also inviting a couple of friends – so even more opinions of what’s right and what’s wrong on the big day. What can possibly go wrong?
Well, for a start – the food. We’ll be catering for six meat eaters, two ‘normal’ vegetarians (me and my brother), and one veggie who can’t eat wheat – so is that three main courses, or do we make everyone eat tofu?
At the beginning of my planning, I started by asking if there’s anything anyone can’t have Christmas without, but I stopped listening to the answers when they started asking for things I didn’t want to do – like making both roast and mashed potatoes. We’re cooking with a single oven and four gas hobs so two types of potato is just pushing it.
Next there’s pudding to think of. Traditionally, at my house we have Christmas cake which no-one eats, and Christmas pudding which we can’t manage until mid-afternoon anyway. We have a sprig of holly on it and flaming brandy – one year my dad set fire to the holly by accident. So I think this year, at risk of upsetting people, I might go for something non-traditional, maybe a nice lemon tart, or a chocolate mousse made a couple of days earlier (with some whiskey cream for those who like that sort of thing).
Then there’s the presents – when do we open them? At the crack of dawn, or after a sedate breakfast, or even after lunch? And how do we open them? All at once or one at time? Who dishes them out from under the tree? All these things could cause great consternation if we get them wrong.
After lunch – do we watch the Queen’s speech (a UK tradition at 3pm) or the alternative Queen’s speech on Channel 4. Or, do we turn the TV off completely and go for a walk, go to the pub, play games? We have some games lovers and some haters. And some very, very competitive people, especially when it comes to quizzes. How do we split the teams, one family versus another? Boys v. girls? Young v. old(er)?
Whatever happens, there’s a high chance it’ll end in tears. But at least we’ll all be wearing party hats from our crackers, provided they haven’t been ripped up in a fit of fury by the time we get to dessert.
‘[Wanamaker’s] Christmas 1908. John Wanamaker’, poster, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, public domain
‘Leems, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens …’ Christmas carols. From The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC-BY-NC
‘Advert for Borwick’s Baking Powder’ showing Father Christmas carrying a large Christmas pudding on a tray. The head of Father Christmas is movable. From the Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC-BY-NC
‘Christmas, babies, children and family’ A family enjoying a traditional Christmas lunch. They are wearing paper crowns and are about to pull their crackers. The extended family is present including great grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncle and aunt and children. From the Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC-BY-NC-ND
Feature image: ‘Boys having a snowball fight’ A snowballing scene with 9 boys playing in the snow and 2 small girls watching them from a gap in the wooden fence. Behind them are trees, fields and a church. This may have been sent locally as a Christmas card. On the reverse of the picture is an advertisement for Onnen’s German Fever and Arue Mixture. The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC-BY-NC