On Christmas Eve my family and I will settle down to our biggest and most well-preserved family tradition. We’ll sit around a candle-lit table and tuck in to plates of bangers and mash. This may seem like an odd tradition but my grandfather assured me a long time ago that sausages, mashed potato and fried onions have been eaten by candlelight for Christmas Eve supper in the Dobson family for over 100 years. My grandfather was not known for over exaggeration or stretching the truth so I’m confident that this truly is a time-honoured custom.
My particular family unit have now added baked beans to the equation, and for several years now my dad has insisted on there being a light on somewhere as he claims he can’t see his food without it! This of course always provokes groans and jokes about old age…so now it’s candlelit with some background lighting! We’ve had variations on the bangers and mash theme over the years, such as cheesy mash or onion gravy but we always return to the old favourite and knowing that my ancestors have always eaten the same meal on this special evening, for me, makes it feel more important to continue with the tradition.
The bangers and mash are followed by my mum’s homemade mince-pies. She’ll tell you that they’re nothing special but in that regard she is very wrong. In my opinion her secret is that she makes her own mincemeat and extra special rich pastry. Sadly, having a wheat intolerance I have to restrict my mince-pie eating to a bare minimum which of course makes me appreciate them all the more. Now a mince-pie in my family is not complete until you have prised open the lid, put a dollop of rum butter inside and then replaced the top before taking a bite. Inevitably the pie collapses and rum butter drips down your chin but it’s a family tradition not to be missed. My brother takes this tradition one step further and on Christmas Day after he’s eaten his Christmas pud (homemade of course), he prises open a warm mince-pie and fills it, not only with rum butter but also a piece of pudding. It is very messy but, he assures me also very delicious! When asked why he does this…he’ll tell you that it’s traditional!
Christmas morning when my brother and I were little was of course a frenzy of upending pillowcases and emptying football socks to find out what Father Christmas (never Santa in our house) had brought us. My brother used to drag his pillowcase and sock into my bedroom and then we’d run backwards and forwards between my room and our parents’ bedroom to show them what delights Father Christmas had seen fit to bestow. Of course with no young children in the family anymore this is one tradition that has sadly ceased…at least for the time-being. Somewhere in the sock, amidst the satsumas, apples, monkey nuts and other small pleasures there was always a sugar mouse. A homemade sugar mouse no less! Over the years this has developed into a chocolate mouse with a fondant filling and now, all these years later, my mother continues the tradition and still buys us each one of these every Christmas, although it’s now handed over rather than delivered in a sock!
It’s still traditional in my family to go to church at Christmas. Some of us go and some of us don’t but my dad always sings in the choir at the Midnight Eucharist. As children, going to the midnight service was a real treat as it meant bedtime was delayed and the church lit by hundreds of candles, was a sight to behold. On Christmas day there was always a loud clamouring from my brother and I to be allowed to open one present each before church as the main event wouldn’t happen until much later. As I recall, this begging was usually indulged and the present was often taken to church and duly showed off to various members of the congregation.
Present opening in our family was and still is done long after most people have cleared away the debris of paper and ribbons that’s left behind. As children this no doubt prolonged the excitement and although I don’t remember any I’m sure there was begging and whining. Now, we wait patiently for there to be a suitable break in the cooking for everyone to gather in the living room with alcoholic aperitifs and nibbles. Presents are then duly dished out and opened.
The main event is of course the dinner. In our family we have no unusual traditions but my mum and I insist on bread sauce with the turkey. No-one else likes it and even though I’m not supposed to have it, I still spoon it liberally onto my plate because after all, it is Christmas and bread sauce is traditional! Brussel sprouts are also traditional fare at this time of year but sadly I have never liked them. As tradition dictates sprouts should be eaten, every year I carefully place three on my plate and then proceed to eat approximately one and a half before giving up and leaving the rest.
Before the pudding can be brought out the curtains have to be closed and the lights turned off. Once we’re in darkness, the pudding is brought forth awash with blue flames, having been doused in something suitably flammable such as rum. This seemed much more exciting when I was a child but it wouldn’t seem right not to have a flaming pudding.
As I’ve got older and developed a real dislike for cream I have found that something else I really don’t like is really good when served with the pud – custard! None of the posh stuff for me made from cream and vanilla pods. No, it has to be good old-fashioned custard powder and milk. Christmas is the only time of year I’ll eat it but, poured over the pudding together with some rum butter, it really is perfect and now, in our family, something of a tradition. Eating Christmas pudding always reminds me of my Grandma. Sadly she has long since departed this life but I will never forget how she really liked a tiny bit of pudding with her cream!
After dinner there will of course be washing up to do and this used to be the one time of year my brother and I were not expected to help. My dad would surprise us by donning an apron and helping instead. Of course, the roles have now reversed although unlike in previous years, there is now a dishwasher which I will be happy to help fill! The washing up is one tradition I will not be sorry to lose.
In years gone by there used to be some festive singing around the piano but this has long since been replaced by snoring and television watching so, from me to you, I’m including a link to a Christmas carol that has always been one of my favourites and is one I used to sing as a child. Apologies in advance as this is me singing!
Whatever your own traditions, I wish you all a very merry Christmas filled with joy and happiness.