Here’s to Christmas, a time of crackers, beetroot juice, stupid paper crowns, and love
In an age of change, there’s always good reason to cherish the unchanging rituals of the Bog Family Christmas.
Christmas has become a yardstick for the health of our family. It acts, much like a funeral which calls people together, as a time to strengthen alliances, mend wounds, cement bonds.
As the age gaps widen, and children grow into the perils of young adulthood, and parents atrophy with their own sets of triumphs and defeats, so the rituals that define this gathering are threatened by their relevance. We’ve grown up. Are we still the same?
Long gone are the days when we doted on babies crawling on the rug. Memories of boozy grandparents also fade. We have become more practical. Such and such happens at such and such a time. We want to get things over with. The decorum we invoke needs to be strong.
The last vestiges of the rituals that bind us refuse to die. The handing out of the presents, which involves the rotation of a Christmas hat to the person calling the gifts, can still involve a little tension, and calls for sensitivity towards anyone who has not received something for a while.
Gifts are opened immediately and thanked for with a trip across the room and a peck on the cheek. It’s a slick operation. It’s fun. I realise that my brother is fantastic at improvising tags on Christmas presents, with crazy exuberant messages of love.
This is preceded by the piling up of the gifts, a visual measure of family financial wellbeing. This year I suspect we may have to wrap small presents in big boxes. Family members will be silently or loudly evaluated on their Christmas outfit. My gentlemanly brother-in-law is guaranteed to have combed his hair. My sister, his wife, will be cursing into a beetroot salad at this point.
One of the images I associate with Christmas is the ham on my plate, alongside potato salad, both stained by beetroot juice. It’s the only time of year I deign to eat this peculiar root vegetable.
Like me, my children know that the eating of the Christmas meal demands a trip outside our culinary comfort zone. Christmas pudding involves one such journey. We also wear the stupid paper crowns. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps to let us all sink to the lowest common denominator, and join as slightly ridiculous equals?
The pulling of the crackers also has its rules. Each person usually gets just one cracker and tries to share the pulling around so that everyone gets a turn. Scampering across the floor to find bits of plastic is permitted and encouraged. In later years, my sister has provided an arsenal of handwritten jokes to compensate for the dire one-liners in the bought crackers. I hope she keeps this up.
It is good and healthy that we can put aside differences and perform these rituals together. They remind us of our love and acceptance, our mutual humility.
Although much has changed, the way we celebrate is an important reminder of our special relationships. They too, can change, because these rituals will always provide a check-in, a meeting and acknowledgement of who we are to each other. And so I become grateful for my siblings, my children, my mother, the other people here that I love.