Santa is on his way to spread cheer, and there’s revelry and festivity in the air. Christmas trees are decked up, homes are decorated with fairy lights and candles, gifts have been laid out in pretty packages, the Christmas menu is set, and everyone is in the mood to celebrate.
Christmas also means family time and what better way to bond with your loved ones than doing activities together. However, there are families which follow customs that have been started by their ancestors and love to carry them forward. They believe that traditions are powerful ways of bringing the family together.
Traditions and family customs instill a feeling of oneness, thus helping people create new memories while cherishing the past. We catch up with a few families who fondly talk about their unique family Christmas traditions and why it’s necessary to follow them and pass them on.
For West Bengal-based teacher Jessica Wheeler and her family, Christmas is a time to get together, celebrate, do their bit for society and gear up for the New Year with new hopes and dreams. Jessica, who, along with her parents and younger brother, has been following these rituals for more than two decades now, believes that Christmas is the time to spread positivity and make others feel special too.
“These are our family things and we never miss out on these, no matter how busy we are in preparing for the festival. In fact, our pre-Christmas celebrations begin with visiting old-age homes and orphanages, and sharing our joy with the needy,” says Jessica, who, along with her family, also visits religious places of different faiths praying to the divine for all irrespective of caste and creed.
However, the highlight of their tradition is creating a memory jar which is exclusive to the Wheelers. “We write a few good and bad experiences, what we learnt this year and how we wish to improve ourselves (a to-do list) in the coming year on a piece of paper. On Christmas eve, we gather and do this little ritual of burning the chit with bad experiences and put the good ones in a jar. After which we stick the to do-list in our respective rooms so that we can improve ourselves, followed by a thank you speech for each family member. It is something we have been doing since we were kids,” says Jessica.
Christmas is also the time for gifting and the Wheelers do follow this tradition just that their gifts are handcrafted and not readymade ones bought from the market. “The money that we would otherwise spend on buying gifts, we utilise to help the needy,” adds Jessica.
TREASURE TROVE OF GRANDMA
Corrina Derosaire, 50, a mother of two, believes that Christmas has helped her bond with her great grandma in the most unique way. “As the youngest of all siblings, I got the privilege to receive a gift from my (maternal) great grandma. It was on Christmas eve and I was 10 when mum took me to grandma. Despite not wanting to visit her as I wanted to spend the evening with my friends and sisters, mum insisted that I pay her a visit. I was upset until I reached her place because there she was sitting on her rocking chair smiling with a big copper box by her side. That evening, there was something magical about her smile. She made me sit on the floor and opened the box and took out an old hourglass and handed it to me. Back then, I didn’t realise the importance of that ‘odd’ gift, but now I exactly know what she meant when she gave me that,” says she.
Derosaire has a big family comprising three sisters and fifteen cousins and some of them are grandparents. “I don’t remember when and how this tradition started, but on Christmas, grandmothers gift something unique to the youngest family member. The item that is gifted has to be something that the grandmothers have been using and preserving for years in a box or a trunk and when the time is ripe, hand it over to the youngest family member. The hourglass that my great grandma gave me had a latent message that said that I should value time and understand its importance. Similarly, my daughter was gifted an old book of family recipes by my mum, which she has to preserve,” explains Derosaire who can’t wait to become a grandmother and wants to handover a mirror which has an ivory frame to the next generation.
MAKING THE WOMEN FEEL SPECIAL
Christmas is a time to feast and gorge on delicious roasts, plum cakes and puddings, but it also requires the women of the house to spend endless hours in the kitchen preparing the scrumptious meals for family and friends.
Apart from cooking, Christmas also calls for decorating the home, revamping the décor, and a dozen other things which consume a lot of time and it is mostly the women who end up doing all the chores. But it is not the same at Justin Shah’s place where it has been an age-old tradition for men to make the Christmas lunch and dinner and thankfully, no female family member is allowed to assist the men.
Explaining the tradition, Justin says that it started way back in the ’50s when his great grandfather, who was deeply in love with his wife, wanted her to take complete rest from household chores on this day of the year. “George grandpa didn’t like granny working day in and day out and spend her entire time doing household chores. Interestingly, his birthday was also on December 25, so he decided to do all the chores himself and even cooked special meals for everyone on Christmas. He continued this tradition and later, it became a family custom, which we have kept alive,” explains Justin.
Every year on Christmas, the men of this household curate a special menu and also seek the approval of the women for the dishes. Once the dishes are finalised, men not only cook lunch and dinner which include some of the classic Christmas dishes and desserts but also serve the food, host the guests, do the dishes and clean the kitchen. “Over the years, plum cake which has become my dad’s signature dish, is a must have item on the menu. We never take the chores as a task but revel in making the women feel special. It is also our way to thank them for being there and taking care of us everyday,” says Justin.
PLANTING A NEW LIFE
What is Christmas without a Christmas tree? Which is why weeks before the celebrations begin, people bring home a Christmas tree and decorate it with ornaments. If you look up on Instagram, the platform is flooded with pictures of decorated Christmas trees. But for the Anthonys, the festival goes beyond this.
Instead of decorating one tree every year, the Anthonys have been planting trees every Christmas in their neighbourhood.
Says Daniel Anthony, “My ancestors were great believers of the idea ‘go green’ and I think they were way ahead of their time. Planting a tree on Christmas and also gifting plants instead of material gifts have been our motto since time immemorial. A few weeks before Christmas, we get plants from the nursery and write small notes on them and gift to our families and neighbours. It is our way of giving back to nature which nurtures us.”
Daniel’s grandfather who is in his 70s adopts a tree every year. He also takes the effort of creating a fence around the planted tree and if need arises, fights tooth and nail to prevent it from felling.
“This is the need of the hour. If we don’t begin taking care of our planet by adding more green to it, soon we will be heading towards destruction. Instead of splurging on gifts, we should spend our time and money on planting trees. I am proud that my family has been carrying forward this tradition and I am a part of it. Celebrations are important but being a little conscious towards your surroundings will give purpose to your existence,” adds Daniel.