Do people still have family traditions at Christmas? If you do, what does your family do? I’d really love to know.
Family traditions in the old days…
Back in the day (ie when I was a child and not a parent) we had the most amazing family traditions at Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, our whole family would gather at my Grandparents’ house for an amazing Puglian feast. My Nonna would make these incredible Italian Doughnuts called Pettele, salted cod called Baccala, fried squid and pizza that was out of this world. We’d have Tarralli, which are a savoury snack flavoured with fennel seeds, dipped into my Grandad’s homemade wine (which was horrible, but we were being polite). Or we’d dip Cantuccini biscuits into a tiny glass of Baileys. We’d catch our fingers in the nutcrackers trying to crack open almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. And we’d eat satsumas and Sharon fruit until our bellies were full to bursting.
The adults would crack open the Babycham and the Baileys, and we’d get a tiny glass too.
It was amazing
There is nothing quite like being around your whole extended family, feasting on all your favourite foods. It was the perfect start to Christmas.
For my sister, my brother and I, it was so much fun. We’d literally be running riot whilst the adults were chatting and being a typically loud Italian family.
It was a time of belonging, of family, of magic, of tradition and of excitement. I’m still not sure if I looked forward to Christmas Eve or to Christmas Day the most.
Some years we stayed up late enough to go to Midnight Mass. We’d be so excited to get home and hang our pillows at the ends of our beds ready for Father Christmas.
As our family changed, and people got married, moved away or got divorced, our traditions changed slightly. Those of us who were still around carried on going to my Grandparents’ for Christmas Eve. And we still had lots of fun and lots of amazing food. But it was different. Especially the one year my Nonna decided to add cinnamon to the doughnuts. There was almost a riot.
As my siblings and I got older, and as my Grandparents’ aged, our traditions began to fizzle out. Looking back now, I can’t believe there was ever a time when I preferred to stay at home than go to my Grandparents’. I suppose I naively believed that things would always stay the same. But of course they can’t.
As my Grandparents’ aged, throwing big family get togethers became too much for them. It wasn’t just their age that was a factor. Our family had also grown quite a lot. There were a lot more children born for a start. Up until 1998, there was only me, my sister, my brother and our cousin. But within the next few years, we had 2 more cousins, and I had 2 children of my own too.
Being at a big family gathering with a husband who didn’t want to be there (and if I’m honest, a husband everyone else couldn’t stand), and 2 small children was a very different experience. It was much more fun being a part of it without responsibilities!
Years later, after I separated from my second husband, and moved back to my home town from Scotland with my 4 young children, we started new family traditions.
Instead of going to my Grandparents, we would go to my Mum’s instead. My Mum would make pizza and mince pies, I would make sausage rolls (because I am the Queen of homemade sausage rolls) and gingerbread and we’d have our own little get together.
Christmas Eve in an Italian family is like a starter to a main course. You’re kind of warming up your stomach for the main event : Christmas Day Lunch.
When Emily began attending a pre-school attached to our local Church, we heard about their crib service that they held on Christmas Eve.
We went that year, and it was just lovely. The whole service was centred around the children, and they were able to dress up and take part in the Nativity.
It was so different to the long boring Catholic Mass that had been a major part of my childhood Christmas.
My favourite bit is the children hunting for the baby Jesus.
In our old Catholic Church, children were permitted to attend, but it wasn’t exactly child friendly.
But at this Church, the Vicar involves all the children as much as possible. He even hides the Baby Jesus somewhere in the Church.
As he gets to the part of the Nativity story just before the baby is laid in the manger, he tasks the children to hunt for the baby Jesus.
The Church becomes a veritable hub of excitement as children as young as 1 and as old as 15 run around the Church looking for him. It’s such a lovely sight to see. Whoever finds him first, gets to be the one to lay him in his manger in the crib set. Then the whole congregation get to sing Happy Birthday to him, before singing away in a manger.
That first time we went to this service was back in 2013. And we’ve been every year since then. Although my children have never been the ones to find the baby Jesus, they still love taking part and trying to find him.
I guess it’s become a new family tradition now.
Another of our new family traditions are tracking Santa as he flies through the sky delivering gifts to all the children.
As if Christmas isn’t exciting enough for children, this is a way of really hyping them up! Actually tracking the sleigh flying through the Christmas sky is super exciting.
Timings vary for when the International Space Station (ISS) is flying overhead depending on where in the world you are. But there’s usually a couple of minutes at some point during Christmas Eve where it’s visible to the naked eye.
We all look forward to searching the skies for a glimpse of
the ISS Santa in his sleigh!
You can find out when
the ISS Santa Claus is going to be flying over your area here.
Things have changed again this year. We were invited to have Christmas drinks and nibbles at my Uncle and Auntie’s house.
I’m rubbish at social gatherings, I find lots of people very overwhelming, and I was really struggling with not wanting to go. But I’m so glad I did.
We had a really lovely time. For a start, my Auntie makes the most incredible cakes. My favourite was this cherry bakewell one. I wish I could describe how amazing it tasted!
A friend of the family brought along his homemade Samosa which were again, incredible. I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of them because they disappeared so quickly! They were gorgeous on their own, but he also makes this peanut chutney which when combined with the samosa is like an explosion of heat and tastiness in your mouth.
Not only did we have a superb time catching up with family and friends that we rarely see, but my Uncle made my decade!!
Return of Christmas past
I thought I would never get to taste my Nonna’s Pettele ever again. But he absolutely pulled Christmas out of the bag. He made his own Pettele and they were actually better than my Nonna’s! (Sorry Nonna!)
I ate more than I should have done, but they were just so gorgeous.
Sitting with my daughters, nephews, cousins, sister and pug watching Shrek was without a doubt the highlight of 2019 for me.
If I could have one wish, it would be that this could be repeated every year, and becomes one of the family traditions that my children remember when they grow up.
Yes, I know I could learn to make Pettele myself, but honestly, if I knew how to do them, I’d be cooking them all the time. And as delicious as they are, I would get very very fat.
Also, I think it’s a secret family recipe, because I can’t find any recipe online that comes close to what we eat in our family.
So what about your family? What traditions do you have?
I’m genuinely interested to know whether things are different in non-Italian families. What do you do every year that makes December feel Christmassy? Which day is the main event for you? Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Does your family have a special Christmas Eve menu that you have every year?
If I don’t catch you before the big day, probably because I’m busy eating. I hope you all have a