It's unbearably close to Christmas, but somehow I'm still not quite feeling as festive as usual (which probably has more to do with impending exams than anything else but lets just gloss over that). So I thought I'd tell you about the Christmas traditions in my house and basically what we do during the run up and the day itself. I'm very conscious that this is going to be my last year living at home, so although I'll obviously be back for Christmas I'll miss out on some stuff.
Awful as it sounds, I tend to start thinking about Christmas shopping in the summer, or at least the pre-Halloween holidays. I'm usually in England then, so I like to take the opportunity to either have stuff sent there from Amazon to pick up, or generally browse the shops where things tend to be cheaper with a bigger variety to choose from.
Then there's usually a bit of a lull on the Christmas front until the 6th of December, when we celebrate Sinterklaas (or St Nicholas) here in Belgium. For many people this is even more of a big deal than Christmas, but as we're English we keep it very small and my brother and I usually just get chocolate and a satsuma, haha. But the key thing about Sinterklaas is that it marks the beginning of the end of school and the start of the actual festive season!
The next Christmassy event is, of course, putting up the decorations. Despite my annual pleadings to get the tree earlier, my dad usually gets round to it by about the second week of December, so that's when the rest of the decorations go up too. We have the usual fun of carting all the boxes up from the basement, and then the Christmas music goes on while the decorating ensues: my job is to put the greenery around the archway between the living room and dining room (no mean feat as this involves fairy lights and decorations, all the while balancing on a chair) and to try and create the illusion of snow by sticking snowflakes in the windows, while my mum does the mantelpiece and supervises my brother with the outside lights. Then we all help with the tree, after which my brother and I use the leftover decorations to decorate our own little 2-foot-high trees. Here I ought to remark that my dad will generally hide upstairs while this is going on, or else doggedly watch the football which we drown out with the music.
I know some people wait until Christmas Eve to wrap presents and put them under the tree, but we always wrap them in the couple of weeks leading up to the 25th and put them under as soon as they're ready. My mum usually wraps a few of mine and brother's each day while we're at school, and as soon as we get home we rush to be the one that gets to put them under the tree (although I always rearrange his ones afterwards so the display looks more artistic!).
We don't really have many traditions on Christmas Eve, except for hanging our stockings in front of the fire and leaving a mince pie and a glass of milk for Father Christmas, along with a carrot for his reindeer. I'm fairly sure I used to leave a letter with a list of things I wanted (what a demanding child I was!), but that's a tradition that's long since died out. I remember I always used to try and be asleep by about 9pm, my thinking being that the earlier I went to sleep the quicker the morning would come!
As none of our family live close, or even in the same country, we don't usually spend Christmas with them (instead they come at New Year) except for on the odd occasion. I recall a few years ago we had something ridiculous like 10 people over, which stretched our house to the limits! But usually we're all in our respective bedrooms, so first thing on Christmas morning (by which I mean about 8am at a push, although it used to be much earlier when I was little) either I wake up my brother or he wakes me up, and then we rush downstairs to get our stockings, and then take them into our parents' room to open in our pyjamas. This was a clever move back when we were little to keep us occupied for a few hours while my parents actually woke up properly, because we were so desperate to get to the present-opening part of the day.
Then everyone gets up, dressed, and breakfasted, and my dad will start the preparations for lunch. Around 10am, when me and brother can't wait any longer for the actual under-the-tree presents, he can finally be persuaded to leave the kitchen and be dragged into the living room for the legendary present distribution. This can only begin once everyone is seated in their traditional places (me in front of the TV, my brother by the window, my dad on the sofa nearest the tree and my mum on the other one), at which point my brother and I will proceed by picking up a few at a time and giving them out to their respective recipients. We have actual footage of this long-established tradition from 2000, when my brother was only a baby and I was nearly four, in which you can hear me reading the tags and saying very loudly "And this one's for Benjamin! And this verryy big one is for Sophie!" and so on. Once everyone has their presents the opening begins. This used to be an orderly process in which everyone unwrapped one and we went round the circle until there were none left (so my parents could watch our reactions, I think) but nowadays it's more of a free-for-all, while a mountain of wrapping paper grows steadily in a heap between us.
The excitement over, the rest of the day passes among half-eaten selection boxes and Terry's chocolate oranges, until the main event around 4pm: Christmas dinner. The first course is prawn cocktail with avocado, followed the main of turkey, sausages, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts (naturally), carrots, parsnips, stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce and gravy. Dessert is Christmas pudding and custard, which always fails to catch fire properly, and sometimes fancy little petit fours as well.
Then comes the annual semi awkward Skype call from my cousins in California, after which the Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who Christmas specials are usually on, so we collapse in front of the TV for a few hours. Next comes the slightly hollow feeling that accompanies the knowledge that it will be a whole year before this day comes round again, so we finish off the selection boxes to remind ourselves it's not quite over yet.
And that concludes my Christmas Day account! I hope you found this vaguely interesting (and well done if you got all the way through it!), and I wish you a very merry Christmas.