I remember my first ever Christmas away from the family home. I was 18 years old and my new, would-be-forever friend and I were on our northern, shoe string version of a gap-yah in the Far East; excited but devastated to be doing something so grown-up as spending Christmas on our own. Naturally, we had a dramatic teenage fight two days before C-Day and, if I remember rightly, spent most of Christmas Eve sulking in our respective corners. Recognising the emotional meltdown for what it was, however, we resolved to spend Christmas Day having as much silly fun as possible; starting some new traditions and putting our own novel twist on the ones we couldn’t do without. And so there we were; December 25th, 2003; a cut out Christmas tree decorated with sweet wrappers; presents made from paper and glue; a lavish mound of beans and mash for lunch; a pyjama-clad cabaret karaoke and me… at three… In a paper crown, sari and dressed-up deckchair; delivering my first ever Queen’s Speech to an audience of One. In the evening we treated ourselves to a special 4 course meal at the restaurant next door; a fittingly funny finale as they delivered all 4 courses at once! And so as the sun went down laughing, we ate our ice cream, soup, curry and spring rolls (in that order); safe in the knowledge that we had just enjoyed one of the most memorable Christmases we were ever going to get!
Now. Fast forward 6 years to my second Christmas away from “home”; that is the first ever Christmas at home with Husband. Naturally, we also had a dramatic, teenage fight two days before C-Day and, as I obviously remember rightly, we also spent a great deal of time sulking in our respective corners! In fact, this particular evening went down in history as THE fight; the only time I’ve ever dragged a pillow and blanket down the stairs and made myself a bed on the couch. (We had a sofa bed in the spare room, of course… but you don’t get half as many drama points for that!)
What, I hear you ask, did Bridget Jones’s baaaaad boyfriend do?!
Brace yourselves… I’m about to get real honest up in here…
My brand new husband suggested- nay, insisted– that our Christmas dinner did not require… Yorkshire Puddings!
Yep. The worst fight we ever had was about puffed up craters of batter from Yorkshire. I kid you not.Our lives are on the brink.
Of course, I’m not really suggesting that it was actually about the puddings, deep down. (Nor was it daddy issues; just so we’re on the same page there!) It was about traditions. This wasn’t a one-off gap year; it was us; our new family unit; trying to determine right there and then, two months off the starting line, what our version of home was going to look like. We each had things we were fighting for that the other couldn’t care less about; and each had to compromise, grudgingly, on things we really, really did. It was an emotional Christmas, but in the end, a pretty nice one.
Of course, each year after that became less and less of an issue, as we learned to go with the flow. We moved around, changed jobs, visited wider family, grew our own family… and realised that traditions are simply the things that naturally stick when everything else changes. No biggy.
No biggy at all.
No, no biggity.
Until this year of course. This Christmas; 2016. Biggity. Much, much Biggity!
This year, as I sat around the dinner table with Husband and Toddler and Ti… the other Toddler, and my parents, and my Granddad, and my niece and sister and brother-in-law… I pulled a cracker like a trigger and I’m afraid it emotionally broke me. (Again, I live a sheltered life!) I realised that while we enjoyed a number of firsts with the kids, that this was actually the Christmas of lasts.
We are moving away in six months time, to fully join the CofE Circus; we will never sit round the table and have Christmas dinner with this group of people- my people!- ever again. More than that; Christmas will be a working day. Husband (who is a clergy kid himself), warns me that he might end up doing midnight services; and early mornings; and that he may or may not be so exhausted on Christmas Day that he can’t engage with the family side of things until at least mid afternoon. We have this conversation with a number of friends in varying stages of ministry/clergy kid heritage and they more or less agree. After Christmas is family time; the run up is mud, sweat and tears. Friends, other spouses here at college, shrug it off. It’s not a giant leap from what they’re used to. But I wasn’t raised in church; going to church wasn’t part of our Christmas period, never mind running it. And so, as my sister talks excitedly about all of our childhood traditions (that word again!), and how much she’s looking forward to starting them with my niece… I realise that, 8 Christmases on and with actual real life children… I can’t even begin to visualise what our family home will look like.
Now, on a good day this could be incredibly exciting! However, as student-Vicar Husband goes to bed, exhausted, at 7 pm on our last Christmas of freedom… and doesn’t get up until midday on the 27th of December… this is not a good day! I put the kids to bed, I sit on my own and I dwell. I reflect. I mope. (Yes, I wish you had been there to slap me too!)
But here’s that darn root again… it’s not actually, really, just about Christmas, is it? I wasn’t raised in Church; I never moved house, let alone counties; I was never the new kid at school; (and I was never the poor kid at school for that matter.) I never had any of the experiences I am going to put my children through. Some of them may be incredibly exciting, enriching opportunities (in fact, I’m sure they will be.) But others may be terrifying. And I don’t know! My children will never have a childhood that resembles anything like my own…. and mine was really, really good.
Depressed yet? Irritated? Don’t worry… it picks up!
See, I sulk about this for quite a while, until two things happen. Firstly, we manage the epic drive down to Husband’s family and I remember that there are two of us in this parenting team (cheese points again, ta very much!) and that he did experience all of those things… and that his childhood was also really, really good. So while I continue to worry about them, he can soldier them on. Excellent. Secondly, I get a very excited text from that now-actual forever-friend that I told you about before:
“Just got signal… BEST ONE YET!!!” (Emoji, emoji, emoji)
Because, you see, in my depressive lamenting over the loss of traditions; I forget that there’s something else I did on this Christmas Day. Despite being surrounded by my whole family for the last time ever and all that; I looked at my watch, and at about three o’clock, I took my phone and I sneaked away. I took the scribbled out script that I wrote in the car, and I dialled her number… for the 13th year in a row. She let it go to Voicemail, as she always does, and I delivered my annual Queen’s Speech… with my fingers against my nose!
See, it might not have been around from the start,
(And strangely always begins with a fart…?!)
But my most longstanding tradition was one unlikely to stay…
A consolation act- from the most memorable Christmas- half the world away!