In our house, this includes continuing to hang up the decorations made of DAS modelling clay which I made when my partner and I were students and couldn't afford to buy decorations:
Or my late mother's 1930's cherubs, complete with the piece of cotton tied unceremoniously round one of their necks, the one with the tetanus-inducing wire hook on its wings and the one with no wings at all. These used to glow in the dark, which has spooked the odd guest who wasn't expecting it, but are now completely glow-less.
And then there is the falling-to-pieces rocking chair my sister gifted us as she didn't have the space for it, and about which we keep saying "We really should get rid of this" - except it's where Rudolph the stuffed reindeer spends his Christmas! Originally, he was placed over the back of the chair to stop our small children rocking it back into chimney block or - worse - the glass doors of a cabinet when it was moved to accommodate the tree, but they're now adults and we are only keeping the chair so Rudolph has somewhere to sit...
These are all 'traditions' which relate to our immediate family, and are changing now the kids are grown and off doing their own thing. We don't 'go away for Christmas' (partly so as to minimise the change/disruption for our autistic daughter) - our family get-together is held a few weeks' earlier, when we de-camp to Bristol for the weekend to visit my mother in law, and where my family come up from Devon to meet for a meal. At one time there were 12 of us, but the passage of time has reduced the number and this year we were 6 and likely to get smaller still over the next few years, as the younger generation have their own work, study, or families to contend with.
There is one major component missing from the Christmases of my childhood, though. My mother was a dancing teacher and she and my dad ran an amateur theatre group in my home town. Despite having a Municipal Theatre (later re-named the Hazlitt, after one of Maidstone's few notable residents), the Borough Council didn't see fit to put on a pantomime, so mum and dad decided to fill the gap. Mum always said her pupils had little outlet for their dancing other than interminable 'dancing displays' and that it would be good for them to get some actual theatre experience, and for their parents to see the results of the lessons they were paying for.
Between 1966 and 1976, we provided the town with its panto - mum's rule that only pupils of six and over could take place, meant that I missed out on being in the inaugural production of Cinderella (I was 5), although I did sit in the audience with my granny, fuming that I wasn't allowed on stage, especially as I knew all the dances. From the next year (Aladdin) until I left home, I was in every production, initially as one of the dancers, then taking on small parts and eventually principal boy (Aladdin, Dandini) or - much more fun - comedy sidekick.
From September every year, when rehearsals started, the house turned into Panto Central. I told my first proper boyfriend "This is what I do every year. You don't have to get involved but..." and bless him, he subjected himself to several years of dancing, singing and tights on my behalf. We lived 'above the shop' - dance studio downstairs, flat above) so scripts were churned out on the dining table on an old Gestetner machine:
The living room was festooned with costumes, the sewing machine had to be moved in order for me to do my homework, scenery-painting took place in the cellar (there's a whole other story connected to that - see "A broken mug"), it completely dominated our Autumn and Winter. On Christmas Eve, the panic would set in and mum would rush round un-hanging the costumes from the living room picture rails and hanging them up somewhere else for the duration; the ironing board would be stowed away and the living room would again become a normal family space for two and a bit days.
My special Christmas job was emptying the ashtrays, in advance of the Christmas Eve open house my parents held for friends and family. Mum baked industrial quantities of mince pies and chicken patties (I was never sure what these were - the filling suggested some kind of poultry-based, short crust vol au vent) and a punch which I've never managed to recreate - cider, brandy and a cinnamon stick thrown at it. Mum also used to make her own Christmas puddings which - every year - dad would assess as "Lovely, Fred, but not quite as good as last year's." Her reputation for them grew and at one stage she was producing about 6 puddings for friends and neighbours as well as ours. She never quite got out of the habit of mass-production, though, and was still producing extra puddings and tons of mince pies even when it was just the two of them. The mincemeat recipe - dad's thing, nicked from Mrs Beeton - was passed down to me. It was only when I was discussing mum's newly-diagnosed diabetes 20 years later and mentioned the mincemeat having no added sugar that we realised dad had missed the sugar off when typing out the recipe (I still make it without).
Christmas pudding, 1972 (the year I got a Kodak Instamatic). Not quite sure what that drink is in my sister's hand...
Anyway, back to panto. Once Boxing Day was over, the costumes reappeared, and we prepared to move into the theatre. As my birthday falls between Christmas and New Year, my birthday tea was very often held on trestle tables onstage, between the matinee and evening performances. In a pre-Whacky Warehouse/stretch limo era, this was pretty damned cool. And we all got to wear fancy dress (there wasn't time to change...).
When the council finally cottoned on that they might be able to make money out of a professional pantomime, we found ourselves without a gig so mum and dad simply re-designed the existing productions and took the show on the road, visiting residential homes and village halls, taking panto to the masses (or at least those sections of the masses for whom getting in to the rival panto at the Hazlitt was a bus-ride away).
After a few years, we realised that those people who'd taken the kids to the panto in December were ready to submit themselves to another round of it in January (when, let's face it, there's not much else to do), so we returned to the Hazllitt after the pro show had finished. Mum and dad continued to put on shows until their retirement, at which point the costumes were given away to other local groups and they moved to Devon.... where they proceeded to join a choir and carried on doing performances well into their 80s, when they finally decided to call it a day.
And as for the camel? That was me aged about five. Like all good amateur drama groups, we had a pantomime cow (stage name: Christabelle) and a camel whose name was Phyllis. One day the gas man came to read the meter and I announced "There's a camel in our cellar." "Yes, dear" he said indulgently, only to emerge from the cellar having read the meter and said to mum "She's right, there is a camel in your cellar." Grown-ups, eh? They don't believe a word you say.
It was an odd childhood....