My Mum and Dad came from vastly different cultures. My Mum, for example, was infused with the values of her immigrant parents, who came from Lithuania in the case of her father and the German Sudetenland from her mother’s side in the 1940’s. What she remembers are mainly the Catholic German traditions; real candles on the Christmas tree, a series of never ending courses eaten on Christmas Eve, pillowcases of presents from St Nick, not stockings from Santa and Midnight Mass at the Church. The food included those German favourites; Stollen, bierwurst, sauerkraut, marble cake. So is it always the women who win out? When I look up the Lithuanian Christmas traditions there are similarities but also some traditions that never filtered down, like the one about placing straw under the Christmas tablecloth. This was a common practice in Lithuania whereby each guest gets to draw straws during the meal, the length of which predicts whether you will have a long or a short life. Is this where the phrase “drawing the short straw” really comes from? And what about the other Lithuanian tradition that the only meat permissible at Christmas is fish; in this case the Herring?

By the time I was born most of these traditions had gone. We had our own mainly English rituals of eating turkey and those favourites of the 1970’s; the prawn cocktail, cheese and biscuits and the Snowball. We gave gifts on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve. All this may suggest that the father’s traditions came through the most but I think you’d be wrong. I prefer to think they were brand new traditions of the upwardly mobile working class in the days when social mobility could be displayed in what you ate, drank and where you took your holidays. I eventually had children of my own and it was my in-laws’ customs and practices that came through. Gone was the prawn cocktail and in came smoked salmon. Out went the Snowball and in came flutes of cava or champagne. These will be the traditions that my children remember when they grow up, yet how many of them will survive and how many will they re-invent?

Apart from the seemingly universal traditions of bringing a dead tree into the house, singing Christmas carols and the giving of gifts, I’d like to think that some of the old customs would have travelled across the generations. Apparently not. Perhaps this year could be different. Perhaps I could cover the dining room with animal feed, whip up a Snowball, dig into a prawn cocktail and settle down to a nice dish of pickled Herring with the sound of “Oh Tannenbaum” playing in the background. And first thing on Christmas morning I’ll start it all off with champagne and if anyone dares to scoff and say that it’s Christmas gone mad I can always turn round and say, “Well, it’s tradition!”

Written by Christopher Hall from the keyword Tradition.

  10 Responses to “Tradition”

  1. Thanks for the comments everyone. Interesting to hear what your traditions are and as Philip says tradition is very changeable and different for everyone.

  2. interesting piece Chris and I agree with Sarah about the ‘like’ button 🙂

  3. Can we have a new tradition on the site – a “Like” button? And we always had pillowcases. Does this mean we are Lithuanian? 🙂

  4. Does Father Christmas leave presents wrapped or unwrapped? Is there always a nut and a satsuma? Do you HAVE to go for a walk on Boxing Day morning? Do you always come back to mulled wine? The great thing about tradition is that it’s always changing and it’s different for everyone. So why do we think it means the opposite?

  5. Tradition Shmadition… When I were a lad it were all Royal Iced Fruitcake and After Eight Mints. Now it’s all Stollen and Panettone and whatever ‘artisan’ choccie truffles are flavour of the month. (December, obviously.) There are kids growing up today for whom ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas’ without an Iceland prawn ring and a glass of Crabbie’s Ginger Beer, poor little bastards… 😉

  6. It’s the straw and the herring that really got to me. Just showing that there is no ‘Traditional Christmas’… we have the Americans to blame for both the Turkey and the ‘Santa’….

  7. Great piece, Chris. It wasn’t until my husband and I got together that I realised just how different a ‘traditional’ Christmas could be. It wasn’t an issue until we had children and needed to figure out whether our kids should have their filled stockings left on their beds, as in my childhood, or whether everything should be put on Christmas chairs as per my husbands. So far we’ve compromised and they have grown to love the feeling of a lumpy, crunchy sounding stocking on their bed and a birthday chair. Hope you have a great Christmas – whatever you end up eating.

  8. Strangely moving Chris – or maybe its just me.

  9. Such an interesting piece – although no mention of the tradition of a family bust-up over who’s cheating at whatever new board game the kids have been given, I note!

  10. Lovely Chris. Long live prawn cocktail …..with a twist

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