Parenthood

When I start to talk about Christmas traditions, my husband often does what he thinks is a secret eye-roll, and says things like “Oh yes I forgot there was a strict rule that says you can only put up a Christmas tree at the weekend” and “Ah, I didn’t realise that pasta isn’t a suitable dinner for St Stephen’s Day.” Admittedly these are my own little foibles and not actual rules, but instinctively, I like the idea of doing certain things on certain days and in certain ways.

So we have our “everything but the tree day” – a week before the tree goes up, we string fairy lights along the mantelpiece, put the wreath on the door, and bring down all the tasteful Christmas candles and the not remotely tasteful stuffed animals in elf outfits. The purpose is to get a bit Christmassy but without putting up the tree too early – this tradition evolved after one too many Christmas Days spent looking at a dry, wilting husk.

We have our “dinner and a movie day” between Christmas and New Year’s, where we go to the same restaurant every year and then take the kids to see the most blockbuster-y film we can find.

And we have a new tradition of going to a pantomine on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, because it feels like a day for doing something special, but the weather doesn’t always facilitate the cold, crisp, sunshine-filled walks I picture in my head.

But the one day that hasn’t quite taken shape yet is Christmas Eve. Possibly because it changes every year – sometimes I was working, and sometimes my husband was. Possibly because there are always last minute things to do. Or possibly because we just haven’t found the right traditions yet.

We are learning through a process of elimination what not to do, which is a start. We usually visit family in the late afternoon, and two years ago, we discovered that coming home to cook a dinner at 7.30pm on Christmas Eve is a terrible idea, especially when three anxious kids are afraid they’ll be up too late.

But I’m still waiting to find some good traditions – something we can do every year on Christmas Eve; something the kids will remember and talk about in years to come. I’m not there yet but here are some ideas from parent bloggers around the country – a selection of which I fully intend to steal:

First of all, it seems a lot of people go out to eat – I really like that idea, though I can see how (like any given meal out with small kids) it could go either way.

Kelly Felton of MummyMomentsDublin says “We always have Christmas brekkie in town with the family and then go to see the display in The Shelbourne which is always lovely and magical. We also put our now annual homemade gingerbread men out for Santa!”

Advertisement

Ellen O’Keeffe of BumpsandRoundabouts also goes for the eating out option too, but on a bigger scale. “Every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember my whole family go for dinner. There are about 35 of us all together and it is one of my favourite parts of Christmas.”

Sinéad Fox of BumblesofRice says, “We've started a new thing since we've been having Christmas at home for just the five of us – we go out for a late lunch, and walk around town afterwards, we get home around 5, full of food and watch a movie. It was Home Alone last year and then just a snack at bedtime.” (That’s the bit I got wrong – a snack at bedtime sounds much more sensible than cooking a full dinner.)

And if the pressure of eating out is too much (it might be in my house) you could always just wander out to enjoy the atmosphere, as Catherine Hickey of BusyParentBlog does. “We go into town, look at lights and shops. We head for hot chocolates and whatever the kids want to eat! We head home and my in-laws call. Just a relaxed family day before the chaos of Santa calling!”

Staying at home and inviting people over is also an option, which is what Elizabeth McDonnell of LifeOnHushabyeFarm does. “We have begun inviting our neighbours in for a glass of mulled wine and finger food in the afternoon. It's a great way to call an end to the never ending preparations and a chance to see everyone. We go to Christmas Eve mass together and then home to open the Christmas Eve box which includes new pyjamas, a small treat, and The Night Before Christmas book, which we read before bed.”

Another fan of the quintessential Christmas Eve book is Anne-Marie O’Dwyer of themummyyears.com. “We always read The Night Before Christmas with hot chocolate, and also open one tiny present. We are still making traditions as smallie is only two!”

And the Christmas box idea is popular in Yasmine O’Connor’s house too. The blogger behind GlitterMamaWishes says, “We have a Christmas Eve box left by our elf Jingles every year - even before Jingles arrived we've been doing it. The kids get something along the lines of new pyjamas, a dressing gown, a DVD, a hot chocolate sachet, marshmallows and a book or annual each. We all sit and watch the movie and have our hot chocolate before bed and Santa’s arrival.”

Playing board games is a lovely idea, and this is something Kellie Kearney of MyLittleBabog does with her family. “Each year since my eldest was one, we play newly gifted board games and build a ginger bread house for Santa. It's never actually stayed in one piece but we still try ever year. Another tradition at Christmas is to leave out a glass bottle of coca cola. Santa is apparently lactose intolerant and needs the sugar to stay awake too.”

Eimear Kelly of ChrirpsFromALittleRedHen has solved the dinner problem. “Dinner for some reason has become a large sausage roll - it’s so handy and kids love it, so happy days! The kids get a box with their pyjamas in it and there’s hot chocolate along with a cookie or two from a batch we make for Santa that day.”

Jennie Dennehy of MummyVsTheWorld is another fan of hot chocolate. “Hot chocolate in our new pyjamas whilst watching 'The Snowman', then we stick on our wellies and go out into the garden to watch 'Santa's sleigh' soaring through the sky!”

Gwen Loughman (WonderfulWagon.com) does the one thing that I think would free me up to create some traditions. “I make sure I have absolutely everything done by Christmas Eve. Right down to the last food item bought so we can enjoy the day just absorbing the atmosphere without any last minute jobs. Oh and of course, a MASSIVE hot chocolate with all the trimmings before bed!”

And it’s not all about the kids – grown-ups have their traditions too. Ours is to open a bottle of Prosecco after the kids go to bed, and then my husband and I exchange our gifts, then we watch a film while waiting to make sure the kids are really, really asleep.

Karen Mulreid (BeatingMyselfIntoADress) also does this. “Every Christmas Eve my husband and I exchange our gifts before we go to bed. We set up all the Santy stuff, peel vegetables, set the table for breakfast, all of the usual 'chores' and then sit down together on the sofa in the quiet with just the tree lights on and exchange our gifts. I host Christmas at my house and between cooking the turkey and relatives arriving and an excited small boy, I don't really sit down all day and certainly wouldn't get time alone with my husband. So Christmas Eve is our time.”

So if like me, you’re still looking for Christmas Eve traditions, I guess it’s about finding something you can fit into your family and your day, and making sure it contributes to the wind-down – not to the stress.

I’m thinking new pyjamas (are we the last family in Ireland that doesn’t do this?), then hot chocolate and a treat, while we read The Night Before Christmas, then we’ll have a final look outside at the night sky to see if we can spot a distant sleigh. And then Prosecco – I’m keeping the Prosecco. Some traditions are here for the long haul.

Read more about:

Christmas, christmas eve traditions