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With my October birthday, Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ night all duly celebrated, it’s finally time to look forward to Christmas. I have made it my tradition to wait until December 1st before I allow myself to begin seasonal preparations. This is no doubt why, each year, I am consumed by a panic of online ordering and lost in a clutter of wrapping, bows and gift cards whilst clambering on various furniture pinning mistletoe and balancing angels.
But, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without our traditions to uphold and too little time to organise them all would it? And talking to my husband made me realise that the magical thing about everyone’s festivities is that we all celebrate with slightly different quirks. Those unique customs that merge and evolve with every marriage created and each new family formed.
Here’s my top ten from growing up in the Benfield household – which I hope will have an influence on many a Byrne Christmas to come. Some you will no doubt share, some you probably won’t! But that’s what makes them special:
- A real Christmas tree. On the second weekend in December we would pick our tree out. Always real. I remember insisting upon a ‘tree-choosing test’, which I think I’d seen on TV, involving bending branches, banging trunks and smelling needles. Of course, it didn’t stop the needles blanketing the carpet by the 25th.
- The family angel. No not me (!) … This was the last item placed on the tree. Passed down through my dad’s side of the family and every year looking a little rougher around the edges, but a little more authentic.
- Mr Snowman. I’ve no idea where he came from, but he would sit in the window by our front door. An annual fixture greeting visitors.
- Snacks for Santa. It’s Christmas Eve. My sister and I would leave a sherry and mince pie for the big man. And a parsnip for the reindeer, naturally. They’d a long night ahead.
- Bucks Fizz, Scrambled Egg and Smoked Salmon. Our annual festive breakfast. Strictly, after opening stocking presents from Father Christmas in bed (which were actually always in a pillow case) and before opening the ‘tree’ presents. Not sure how ethical it was, but I always remember being allowed a little champagne. Could explain a lot!
- Sing-along. My parents had a record player in the lounge (it’s still there I think) and my grandad used to love the old Christmas songs on the Max Bygraves vinyl! I remember him sitting there drumming his fingers and sipping his sherry. Since he passed away, I still make sure we play it.
- Present police: Handing out the ‘tree presents’ one by one around the room. No two people were allowed to open a gift at any one time. Policed strictly by my sister and me!
- Flaming pudding. Always with a sprig of garden holly (with a berry) on top and accompanied by homemade brandy butter.
- Queen’s Christmas message. 3 pm.
- Christmas Day walk. The army ranges were at the top of our road and provided woods for burning off lunch with the help of some walking sticks crafted from bits of old branches collected on previous outings.
This year I am excited to be hosting a family Christmas in France for the first time (Lee plays his rugby in Clermont Auvergne). And just as families have different traditions so, of course, do countries. This I am experiencing first-hand. Getting hold of a turkey and pud is proving a challenge in itself. But we will, if nothing else, have the Benfield brandy butter. My sister has already promised to make it and bring it. She informed me very early on that she wouldn’t have Christmas without it!