Sunday, September 26

From a shrimp to a soup in a stocking: the unusual Christmas traditions of readers | Christmas

A Christmas slogan

My mother has a habit of telling us which parts of dinner she could have made better and one Christmas almost 20 years ago she said, “I overcooked the broccoli a little.” I responded with dramatic gestures of devastation: “You have spoiled Christmas for everyone!” Now every year when something minor goes wrong, we repeat those words with a big smile and a chuckle, to remind ourselves that you don’t need everything to be perfect to have a merry Christmas. James Field, charity worker, Manchester

Oh my!

When my nanna died in 2017, my family made the decision to create new Christmas traditions that year. While starting the day with a parkrun was a very deliberate new tradition, watch Mamma Mia! on Christmas Eve it was more spontaneous. Having seen it on television that first year, it was such an uplifting experience (though possibly not for my dad) that we now try to watch it together every Christmas Eve, much to my dad’s dismay. Covid’s travel restrictions mean that I won’t be able to see my parents at Christmas this year, but my mom and I will continue the new tradition and WhatsApping during our shared screening, while my dad quietly complains about it. Well, it is tradition. Carly, Jersey

Olive and protein bars

My partner, Hugh, and I spent our first Christmas together on a backpacking trip through Central America. On Christmas Day, we were in Belize and we hadn’t realized that all the stores would be closed. We’d forgotten to buy anything to eat, so our Christmas dinner was a crumbled organic bar I found at the bottom of my bag and a jar of olives that Hugh had been carrying for weeks. Six Christmases later, we always put olives and protein bars in each other’s stockings in remembrance of our first Christmas together. Max, Office Manager, Toronto

Sleeping under the tree

The Wolfe family sleeping under their Christmas tree
An unforgettable evening for the Wolfe family. Photography: Jess Wolfe

We always celebrate by dragging our mattresses downstairs on Christmas Eve and waking up together under the tree on Christmas morning. It started when our children were five and three years old. Eight years later, Rosie and Emily still look forward to making the beds and sleeping under the twinkling lights. Jess Wolfe, social worker, Nottingham

Frozen pizza

A frozen pizza in a freezer.
Perfect Christmas meal? Photograph: Tom Viggars / Alamy Stock Photo

My mom’s parents were divorced, so we always had a lot of Christmases to celebrate. After all our rushing, we were always so exhausted that we defrosted a store bought pizza for dinner. It never occurred to me that this was unusual until my teens, when other people talked about all the wonderful things they ate at Christmas. Now, with in-laws and friends added to the mix, there are more Christmas celebrations than ever, so when I get home on the night of the 25th, I better believe there’s a pizza in my freezer waiting for me. Katie Spicka, Health Clinic Manager, Minnesota

A curious questionnaire

I give the same questionnaire to my brother’s family every year. My wife and I travel to his house and after the gifts are exchanged, the questionnaire is unearthed. It had its origins about 30 years ago. On no occasion has anyone reached 100%, and over the years this is likely to continue. Afterwards, the answer papers are ceremonially destroyed, the drinks come out, and the television is turned on. Our sons and daughters are only present occasionally and of course they think that we are pretty crazy. Derek Raishbrook, retired teacher, Torrevieja, Spain

Happy Birthday

A Christmas pudding on fire
A burning Christmas pudding is the signal for Becky Sallis’s family to start singing. Photograph: Photograph by Linh Moran / Getty Images / iStockphoto

When I spend Christmas Day with my mom, my sister, and my brother, we sing happy birthday to Jesus when the Christmas pudding goes up in flames. This has been going on for about 15 years. I have no idea what started it. Too much wine, I imagine! Becky Sallis, Data Manager, Nottingham

Tasteless tattoo

A pink poodle Christmas tree decorations.
In the pink … will this poodle go unnoticed in the tree? Photography: Catharine Jenkins

One of my closest friends has great taste; his house is like a perfect Victorian scene, with a log fire, tartan blankets, the smell of mulled wine, and a beautiful traditional tree. Over the years, he has tried to help me improve on the messy and careless approach I have taken to decorating my tree. It has become a tradition for me to resist his advice. Not only that, I make an effort to undermine his own well-thought-out environment. This takes the form of smuggling a tacky item – my goal is to place it on his tree so he won’t notice. This year, I have a light pink fluffy poodle tree decoration, which I will try to place front and center. It will be a great challenge. Catharine, Tutor Nurse, Smethwick

Fish and French fries

Fish and French fries
Some of the chippie on Christmas Eve. Photograph: Geoff A Howard / Alamy Stock Photo

I work in a church, so Christmas Eve is busy. Our family had always had fish, usually a fish cake, for dinner on Christmas Eve. About 10 years ago, I didn’t get it before I went to work, I worked late and desperately told my husband, “It will be midnight before we eat.” He suggested we go for fish and chips. I protested because it was Christmas Eve, but he won and we went to the chippie. Our guys thought it was great and we’ve done it every year since. Wendy Tiffin, Church Administrator, Essex

A Spanish horror movie

A scene from [Rec]
Let the horror begin … a scene from [Rec]. Photograph: Allstar / Filmax

I’ve seen the 2007 Spanish movie [Rec] every Christmas Eve since about 2010. I was living in Ireland at the time, where I was born, and I had just watched the Christmas episode of Father Ted and started changing the channel when I found out that Film4 was playing it. I’ve observed [Rec] every year since then, without fail. This is my first year living with a partner, so she will have to see it with me. Daniel, student, Germany

The shrimp tree

As a mother and teenage wife, my mother cut recipes from a women’s magazine and her favorite for Christmas was the shrimp tree. He is now in his 70s, but we continue to insist that he does so every year. It is basically a 2 foot tall Styrofoam tree with lettuce leaves attached with toothpicks. The peeled and boiled shrimp are also attached with toothpicks, in an arrangement that resembles a garland of Christmas tree candy canes. It will always remind me of the optimism and enthusiasm of my very young mother at the beginning of life. In that Alessi, medical assistant and artist, Houston, Texas

Christmas betting

Lots of chocolate coins.
All bets are active when the chocolate coins come out. Photograph: Lynne Sutherland / Alamy Stock Photo

After Christmas dinner and a few glasses of wine, it’s time for Christmas gambling. Chocolate coins ready, we make our predictions for the following year. There are a few regular categories (celebrity embarrassment, retail disaster, politics, royal family, etc.) and new ones are added every year. This year I hope Donald Trump’s attendance / no attendance at the inauguration is on the list. Bets are recorded and chocolate coin bets are placed in the pot. We take a look at the list when we celebrate birthdays or other family gatherings throughout the year and pay the proceeds to those who can face a little stale chocolate. Christine, Salisbury

Turkey lasagna

Turkey lasagna
Some Italian food before roast turkey? Turkey lasagna. Photograph: Alexander Mychko / Alamy Stock Photo

Since moving to Italy four years ago, steaming lasagna has become our Christmas Day tradition. We couldn’t stop eating pasta al forno as part of our traditional British Christmas lunch. It is made the day before with four cheeses and prosciutto layered between lasagna sheets, ragú (with minced turkey replacing the traditional beef / pork) and bechamel sauce; Our choice of meat aside, it is a typical recipe passed down to us by our Italian neighbors. And there’s always enough for Boxing Day leftovers. Scott Maxwell, podcaster and olive grower, Puglia, Italy

A standing / sitting dinner

We have one album in particular that we like to play at Christmas dinner: A Classic Christmas by the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. We always start it when we sit down to eat and when it hits track five, Herbert’s Babes in Toyland – March of the Toys, we all looked at each other in anticipation. When the chorus plays, we all stand up and sit at the table to the beat of the music, regardless of our food. Then we wait for the next chorus and do it again, and so on. Smile everywhere as we share this tradition. However, the funniest times are when we have guests for Christmas dinner; We don’t mention it and, at first, our guests are anxious about our strange behavior. However, in the end, most laugh and join her. It is such a silly tradition, but one that we keep close to our hearts. Jackie Harding, writer, Netherlands

Sock soup

I put food in my children’s socks. It started about five years ago when our oldest daughter made her first wish list as part of a school assignment. His number one order was a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. I hadn’t realized how much she loved it, so I bought her a can of soup and stuffed it into her stocking. That year it was their favorite gift and our other two kids wanted to know why they hadn’t bought anything. Since then, I’ve given everyone something from the grocery store: no gourmet items or special orders, just everyday food that is a particular favorite of that child. It is a success every year, and now that they are older they have serious discussions about what each one should ask for. Denise Pamudji, homemaker, Mississippi

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