Like many of you, our Christmas this year will be far from traditional. For a start we won’t be meeting up with the wider family. What we usually do is celebrate Christmas Eve, either at my daughter Lucy’s house in Bristol, or with David, my son, in Nottingham. As many of the extended family as possible get together for a Christmas lunch. We all bring food and we each have our signature dish: David’s is bigos, a Polish Hunter’s Stew, Tasha’s is cheese and potato bake, I bring what is known as pig in coke, while Lucy makes golumbki, Mike his chicken liver pate and the grandchildren help with the construction of the pirogi, filled with cream cheese, onion and potato.
There’s more to eat, having a Polish background our meal has to involve twelve courses, one for each of the disciples and when I was a child the savouries were all fish or vegetable based as Christmas Eve was a day of fast and abstinence in the Catholic Church. Since Pope Paul V1 changed the rules in 1966, however, we’ve been able to eat meat.
As a child I had to wait until evening, when the first star appeared in the sky, before I could open my presents and that couldn’t happen until after dinner. This was a tradition I changed for my own children. Presents came first, food later, so that everyone could enjoy taking their time.
Nowadays we still have the present giving first, but we eat lunch not dinner as the family is increasingly far flung and some people can only come for the day and have a long drive home.
Bit by bit we have adapted our Christmas rituals to suit our circumstances. One thing however never changes. In our house and at Lucy’s there is always a crib and this year Lucy’s will be very special because she is the custodian of Mum’s crib set.
Mum’s nativity scene was always a wonder to behold. The earliest figures, plastic depictions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph date back from my childhood. Gradually over time more and more figures and creatures appeared. They vary in size which adds to the charm and right to the end of her life the crib was the focus of the decorations at Christmas time.
This December it takes pride of place in Lucy’s sitting room. When she set it up, she worked from a photo she’d taken last year in Mum’s apartment and was helped with great solemnity and concentration by five year old Ollie who was determined that everything should be as it was at Baba’s. Needless to say there have been one or two changes. The two little angels which I gave Mum when the greatgrandchildren were born and that used to stand on her dresser, now have joined the others beside the manager.
And so, with once again a slight twist, the family traditions are handed down to the next generation.