What really matters at Christmas? At Cohesive we come from many places, cultures and communities, but it turns out there are simple treasures that we all share.
Here is a collection of short stories from each of us reflecting traditions old and new, centred on the mid winter festival, the precious pause, the holiday – of Christmas.
Family and friendships
You’re given your family, so it’s nice you get to choose your friends! Turns out, for the Cohesive collective at Christmas, both matter a lot.
Christmas for me is about lights, warmth and lots of food! We don’t really do any additional traditions aside from the turkey lunch and Christmas presents in the morning… and the boxing day walk. I absolutely love how everything feels so much more alive in the Christmas season – everyone feels happier, contented and even though stressed about shopping it just feels uplifting.
To start with – our tree has always been very colourful. Don’t get me wrong – I adore colour-coded trees that are golden or completely red – absolutely stunning. But my tree… how to put it nicely? It is more than 10 years old, an antique in itself, and all of its toys have been collected through the years and come from many different places. Each Christmas my mum and I buy one or two new toys to put up, so we now have more than 70 different toys – and believe me none of them match!
Another mini tradition me and my mum have, that is quite incidental, is the burning of the Christmas cookies. Please, no one tell my mum I have said that because she gets very sad. But it is the simple truth is we can never manage our Christmas cookies! One year, they melted from their beautiful forms into a gigantic, orange puddle, and the second year we burned them so much we had to carve out the less burned parts to eat them. But I love making cookies together – it’s fun, gets me excited to have some nice homemade cookies and I always enjoy the chocolate me and my mum share after we burn the very same homemade cookies we were excited about.
My paternal grandparents were humble people from simple backgrounds. We would traditionally visit them on Boxing Day along with my dads brother, sister and all my cousins. They would always prepare a small buffet, which amongst other things consisted of Ritz biscuits with grated cheese and tomato, and a bowl of Cadburys chocolate which my Gramps had carefully cut into individual squares. We still do this at my parents’ house when we meet on Boxing Day, to honour them and their belief in treasuring the sweetest things in life.
Having kids of my own we do enjoy elf antics. Trying to come up with different, often extremely naughty ways for them to get up to mischief. It wears a little thin and a friend suggested they could have a ‘positive’ flow test to isolate them for 10 days. It’s become somewhat of a tradition and I hope they’ll enjoy with their families one day.
Tis the season to spice it up in the kitchen and enjoy the warmth of Christmas on our taste buds. We all have our personal recipes and traditional dishes this time of the year. Here’s a peak at what Cohesive people have to offer.
Like many families, a lot of our festive traditions revolve around food. Christmas morning should start with croissants and juice, there might be a visit to a neighbour to eat stale twiglets, exchange cards and boxes of chocolates, then there’s preparing and eating lunch accompanied by loud radio carols and squabbles about bread sauce. The evening usually involves leftovers from the evening before. For as long as I can remember, we hosted a Christmas eve party for friends and family starting in the afternoon. There would be a buffet, always the same, and the crowning glory was my Dad’s December hobby; the spiced beef.
Some time in early December, he’d go to the butcher to buy a hunk of beef, carefully bringing it home before spending every evening after that salting and spicing it according to a ‘secret’ medieval recipe. As children this was mysterious to us, but knowing him better now, he probably made most of it up. After weeks of preserving and resting, he’d cook the meat in time for the party and wait for the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from our guests. However many people we had that evening, there’d always be plenty of leftovers for Christmas day sandwiches with pickle.
Christmas Day is the only day of the year that every person in my incredibly big family has the day off. So as a Muslim household that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, the 25th of December is traditionally a very important day to us. The whole family gets together and shares one big feast. It is not your traditional Turkey Christmas dinner, no. On that day, we bring the Middle East back to us. My mother cooks lots of different recipes from all around the Arab world. And so, we sit all around the sufra (floor mat where food is placed), roll up our sleeves and dive in! On the day that everything is closed, what better food to have than the food from back home.
Making and Baking
Nothing is better than the sweet and warm scents of Christmas coming to life in the kitchen and living room. Whether it’s the tang of mince pies or the fresh pine of the tree, it’s those smells that bring us all together…
‘Making’ is a tradition in our build up to Christmas. The crazy expectations of the holiday can sometimes get to me but it’s always been soothing and wonderful watching my kids put heart and soul into making something fresh and new for the season – images, music, food, decorations. Creating unselfconsciously is definitely a gift. I’ll put that on my Christmas list.
And then there’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Cliches earn their status right? At the last count I have six print editions, two of them illustrated (one by genius Quentin Blake) and three audiobooks. I’ve watched every screen production lots – though nothing tops ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’.
Two Christmas traditions. The first is making mince pies. I’ve always done it, as a child with my Mum, and as a Mum myself, and maybe this year on my own again as my chief mince pie helper and youngest daughter is away at University. We stick the Christmas CD on – it has to be the right one – our original Christmas compilation with all the classics on (including the disappointing instrumental version of Wham’s Last Christmas), sing along really badly and create a mince pie production line in the kitchen.
They’re always this weird shape because I left behind my proper pastry cutters when I got divorced, and have improvised ever since with some plastic flower cutters that came free in a kid’s magazine many years ago. Every year I promise myself I’ll buy some decent grown up ones, but never do. I guess weird flower shaped mince pies are now my tradition.
Spending Time Outdoors
POV: You’re spending your cold christmas day, with a hot chocolate in your hand, wrapped up in front of the…SEA!
A couple of years ago me and the kids were back at my parents in Northern Ireland and Christmas Day was beautifully sunny and calm. My parents live beside a lovely beach and there were lots of people swimming. So my 11 year old daughter agreed to go swimming with me.
I was psyching her up as we got ready saying we needed to run straight in and not hesitate. She told me I was the one likely to bottle it! Anyway we ran in screaming, dived in twice and ran straight back out.
It felt quite exhilarating at the time. But by far the best bit is how worthy you feel on social media showing everyone how brave and healthy you were!!
Consequently we did it last year and if it’s not terrible weather we will do it again this year. In fact we both have wet suits now so whatever the weather we’ll be showing all you lazy indulgent folk up again!!!
My Christmas(ish) tradition typically takes place the day after Boxing Day when the family decamps to the tranquility of Cornwall for a week. A quiet retreat, typically near a secluded beach and coastal paths where we can share time as a family, reconnect and recharge following the hectic festive period. There’s something quite magical about walking with my dog (Cwtch) on a deserted beach. The solitude and connection with nature really nourishes the soul.
Special Places and Songs
Christmas is always that special time of year where we record all our favourite memories, and yet we always have that one special memory that we will never forget…
I don’t know that I’m much of a fan of traditions, so instead I’m sharing my happiest Christmas. I was in Paris, staying with my partner’s family, sleeping on a fold out bed in his mum’s dressing room, and eating cheese in such quantities I’m embarrassed to admit. We had been to see one of my most favourite singers, Andreas Scholl, perform at the Grand Auditorium. The concert wasn’t recorded, but I have a video of Scholl singing something festive . I hope it helps get you into the Christmas spirit.
Everyone always talks about Paris in springtime, but it’s magic at Christmas too. We queued for hours at a patisserie that looked more like a jewellery store than a bakery, and came home with the thing no French Christmas is complete without; the buche de Noel. A tour de force of the baker’s skill, it is about the only thing inpatient Parisians are prepared to queue for, and I don’t blame them.
All in all probably a good thing I haven’t made a tradition of that Christmas – I don’t think my waistline could cope with it every year – but one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.
So, 2021 is nearly all done. Put your feet up. Relax. And however you choose to spend the holiday, we’re wishing you some rest, peace and a well-earned celebration.