The shifting shape of family traditions.

All of us have many traditions for Christmas, some we carry on from our family, some we grow ourselves and some have to be negotiated with others.

Ever since my children were little we went shopping so they could each chose a tree decoration to add to the family collection. It was interesting to see how their choice often reflected parts of their developing personalities and interests.

Each decoration was carefully described and added to the list, first hand written then moving to a Word Document in recent years.

You see the point was not simply to add to that year’s decorations but also for when they had left home to provide decorations for their own tree.

The first year I decorated my own tree I had only just started work and after buying presents and an artificial tree (wow they’re expensive) there was little money left to decorate it. I remember buying one bag of mini red baubles and one of mini gold parcels!

As our family grew we loved making tree decorations to grace our tree. Each year they were put away as carefully as those they chose to buy of glass and porcelain.

And this year those home made decorations take on even more significance as there will be space on the tree.

Last week I gave my eldest two children a box, each containing their chosen ornaments. For this year they have their very own tree.

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I removed each ornament from the family boxes, tins and paper tattered from years of use and carefully re-wrapped each one slowly, lovingly with memories and new tissue paper. Each decoration made me smile as I remembered why it was bought, often simply they likedthe colour or shape, and just as often it had a story, food, animals, musical instruments, favourite books or characters.

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I knew this day would come of course, but not how bitter sweet it would be. My darling children are ready to fly, to be independent, to begin their own traditions, to celebrate Christmas the way they choose. All of which make me profoundly grateful and immensely proud. Yet, I am sad too, I grieve those long ago Christmases: the wonder, the excitement, the making.

On reflection I realise that Christmas and its’ traditions was never static. It grew and developed as did my family: the artificial tree gave way to a real one; reading the Night before Christmas with hot chocolate after the Vigil Mass became putting out presents together with mulled wine after midnight Mass; opening presents as soon as it was physically possible on Christmas morning now happens after a late lunch; Oh and the Kings, that’s another post in itself!

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And the tree? Well it transpires that putting it up and decorating it with on my own rather than being a three line whip of a family affair listening to carols with the arguments and stress that inevitably ensued…(why do the lights never work the following year? And why don’t I buy a new stand rather than making do? and just how much does a ‘son’ have to saw off the bottom of the tree so it fits?) is a new tradition in waiting.

While we will be together for Christmas only 2 will wake up here at home, the older ones will arrive Christmas morning after waking up in their own place.

I hope they’ve remembered to tell Father Christmas their new address!

A happy and holy Christmas to you all.

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