Hearing the word Christmas as the Summer turns to Autumn fills me with a mixture of excitement and dread.
I love Christmas!
However, I hate all the pressure that goes with it:
The pressure to make a perfect day, to squeeze all the happiness of the year into a single day, to get the perfect gifts for everyone, make the perfect food. For this reason before having children Dadonthebrink and I often escaped over the holiday period and spend Christmas in a jungle in Thailand, on a mountain in Patagonia, by a lake in New Zealand.
… and I often regreted it.
I’d miss my family.
I’d miss decorating the tree together on Christmas Eve.
I’d miss my dad’s fish soup (which now I have perfected too).
I’d miss my mum’s walnut beigli, a special Hungarian Christmas loaf. (I’m yet to get that one right.)
I’d miss the traditions I was running away from.
I’d even find myself missing the family squabbles.
Christmas in a multicultural family is complicated. Traditions are different.
St Nicolas (who in other parts of the world has morphed in Santa Claus) comes on the 6th of December; the presents on Christmas Eve are brought by little Jesus. We still celebrate the Christmas season our way with the kids.
In a world that is ever-changing, traditions intermingling more than ever, mass media and commercial interests weaving the story, it is quite a challenge to maintain the traditions we bring from our childhood. I realised over the years it’s not about the actual story but more about the feeling and the magic of the festivities.
7 years ago, as my beautiful daughter was getting ready for her first Christmas, I had an idea: let’s bring the Dutch and the Hungarian part of the family together. I
persuaded bribed my best friend, Angelina’s Godmother, Katy, to host us all in their house near Heviz in Hungary. The location, absolutely picturesque. The house is in the side of a little valley overlooking a lake and a pine forest opposite.
Our Christmas party included 12 adults and our 8 month old little girl.
We all arrived on the day of Christmas Eve: my in-laws and brother-in-law with his partner drove from the Netherlands; my parents took us from Budapest; my sister and her husband followed from Budapest too.
The weather was changing, the roads were icy and there was snow forecast. Yet we all made the journey safely, be that 250 km or 1250 km.
With a little planning we more or less removed the two most stressful elements from the day- presents and food.
Presents were prearranged through a secret santa website. We all wrote a list of things we’d like and the site allocated who you were the secret santa to. This meant less worry about what to get for who.
Food preparations took some negoitations, as we divided the courses. Starters were Dutch, specialties prepared by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. My dad made the fish soup with fish from the lake that we were looking out onto.
We all helped make the schnitzels and other goodies for main course.
Although we allocated the desert too, we ended up with more, as everyone brought a little bit.
As we got to Katy’s house and settled in we found a natural rhythm and everyone found how to pitch in despite language barriers. We decorated the tree and busied ourselves with food preparations.
The clouds thickened and just after my sister and brother-in-law, the last to get there, arrived it started to snow, heavily.
The sun gradually sank beyond the horizon, we lit the candles and sat down for our special Christmas Eve dinner around 6 o’clock, squeezing around the table. Angelina gurgled at the head of the table, delighted by all the attention she was getting. (Thankfully she’d had a long nap in the afternoon, which meant she could cope with staying up later.)
We chatted and ate, shared and translated jokes, drank and enjoyed great company. I really wish I had videoed some of our antics, especially the jokes translated. There were a lot of lost in translation moments, which made for hilarious looks as people just didn’t get it.
During dinner we broke tradition: we paused after the exquisite fish soup to open presents amid lots of laughter. Surprise, surprise everyone got something they really wanted and Angelina got lots of presents.
Moving back to the table the family indulged in further feasting and it was nearly 11 o’clock by the time we finished with our liqueur coffees.
And this is when, for me, the real magical part of Christmas happened: we donned our coats, hats and gloves and walked down to the village. The snow still falling, the fresh snow crunching under our boots, us giggling as we walked and slid, walking arm in arm. The pushchair needed to be lifted over some snow drifts, Angelina slept peacefully.
The little church was lit up and could be seen from far, the sound of the organ drifting out across the village.
We arrived just in time for the midnight mass. It was beautiful! It was extra special because we had all of our nearest family and my dear friends with us.
Angelina was angelic in church, sleeping through the mass, the singing, the bussle. We even joked about popping her into the nativity scene.
On this Christmas Eve 7 years ago we managed to pull off the most magical Christmas, with everything that for me is Christmas: family, warmth, feast, lots of laughter and celebration of love and life.
… and amazingly none of the squabbles.
What’s your favourite Christmas memory?
Share yours too and you could win a chance to experience all the magic of Lapland in a single day with my local, Oxford-based travel agent Transun. (Here are T&Cs, their competition closes on 21st Oct 2014 )