Christmas Eve is my absolute favourite day of the year. For me, although Christmas Day is lovely (until the King has spoken, and all seems to descend into chaos, clutter, and bickering, fuelled by wine and lack of sleep), Christmas Eve is when the magic is real. It’s always been this way. As a teenager I would look forward to visiting my friends’ houses with presents, tinsel in my hair; when we hit the legal age Christmas Eve was for spending in the pub, under the mistletoe, creating gossip that would get us through the whole of January. (I can’t even begin to imagine the buzz on Christmas morning if we’d had mobile phones! “Did you see who Mark got off with?” We were so classy). And as an adult it was all about champagne and smoked salmon as we wrapped carefully chosen – expensive – gifts for each other.
But when the kids were born was when the 24th of December really came into its own. I have loved it ever since, and have gradually added in little family Christmas Eve traditions that I hope are what my children will remember about Christmas growing up in our family. As parents, we’ve gladly swapped our classy grown up gifts for a chocolate orange, and an evening spent wrapping brightly coloured plastic for our children, doubling our joy in one fell swoop. Here’s how our Christmas Eve usually goes:
Our Family Christmas Eve Traditions
Treats for lunch: I aim not to work at all on Christmas Eve, but it’s a rule in our house that we’re all done with chores by lunchtime, so that the rituals can begin. Then the Christmas playlist goes on, and we sit down together to eat. Usually by this point I want something easy, but exciting, so we go with a selection of those little party food bites that are in all the shops. Beige oven food, we call it. Then we’ll have a mince pie and hot chocolate for dessert, and everyone is in the mood! Maddie has recently discovered gingerbread hot chocolates, so this year I’ve got some syrup, and some mini gingerbread men to perch on top of the cream, for a really special treat.
A new bauble: Every year we each choose a new decoration for the Christmas tree. We visit a lovely local garden centre that has beautiful Christmas displays, and bring home a trinket each to add to the tree. It’s a lovely moment, and gives us a link to the next year, when we bring down the boxes from the loft.
Christmas lights: As soon as it goes dark, we set off on a tour of our local neighbourhood to see everyone’s lights. A couple of families near us go all out for charity at Christmas, with wonderful displays that delight the children, and raise money for great causes at the same time.
A visit to church: A complete must on Christmas Eve is the crib service. Aside from Christingle, it’s the prettiest church festival, and there’s something very peaceful about all the children in the church. Our local church does a lovely service that includes the children, who are invited to dress up. You’ve never seen so many tinsel-clad angels, and cute little sheep!
The Snowman! Next it’s home for crumpets in front of the fire, while we watch The Snowman, and The Night Before Christmas. We’ve done it for as long as I can remember, and even though they’re 16 and 19, my kids still want to do this every year.
New pyjamas: I still bustle the kids upstairs early on Christmas Eve, and though they know what’s coming, they pop their pyjamas on before they come back down to hang their stockings. Then there are exclamations of surprise and delight – along with a wink – when they receive cosy new Christmas pyjamas.
Reindeer food and Santa snacks: Father Christmas gets a mince pie and a Baileys, and of course, there’s a carrot for Rudolph, but we’ve also taken to scattering magic reindeer food on our driveway. We found this for sale one year at our school Christmas fair – it’s basically oats mixed with glitter, but shhhh! don’t tell!
Our favourite Christmas book: Finally it’s an early night, with 25 December Lane in the den. Both our kids have had bunk beds in the past, and that was my choice, sparked mostly by my falling head over heels in love with the tent in The Holiday. For Maddie, I draped the underneath of her high sleeper with gauzy, sparkly fabrics, and festooned them with fairy lights, layering rugs and cushions on the floor. It made for a magical place to lounge and read books; and 25 December Lane is a child’s book that we all still love, and whilst my kids now feel too old to have their mother read to them, I leave it lying around and I’m sure they both flick through it at some point in December.
What are your Christmas Eve traditions?