Traditions connect the past and the present. Some are passed down through many generations and some are made for passing on to the next. Each generation adds their own traditions to their families and communities. Many are unique to our communities or country and some are taken from other countries or cultures. Black Friday shopping is a great example.

Unheard of here ten years ago, now we are bombarded with sales, special offers and must-haves. It has become a big shopping day which, traditionally, for those of us raised in the country, was 8 December (a holy day with schools closed). The tradition of going to Dublin to see the lights and do the Christmas shopping on that day has stayed in my memories and I continued it with my own children. It’s no longer a day that schools close, so it’s hardly the shopping day it was.

In my childhood, Christmas started a few weeks before 8 December, when the cakes and puddings were made.This is a tradition based on practicality, as it allows plenty of time for the flavours of the cakes and puddings to develop before they are eaten on Christmas Day. My children grew up thinking it was traditional to have a house smelling of cinnamon and allspice and a kitchen full of steam from pots of puddings bubbling away at Halloween.They also loved, as I did, making a wish while stirring the pudding mix.

I was away this year, so didn’t bake until two weeks later than usual – so I broke with tradition. But the sky didn’t fall in, and I’m sure the cakes will taste as good as ever. This is one tradition, I suspect, will not be passed on as none of my adult children like Christmas cake or puddings – though I continue to make them for friends and family.


In fact, this year there will be no turkey or ham for Christmas dinner as we’re having fish for the main course. Many families now have fish, beef or vegetarian main courses, depending on what they regard as a special meal. I’m fine with a change, though I suspect I’ll miss the turkey and ham sandwich around 9pm.

That’s the great thing about traditions – we can amend them to suit different stages of our lives; making new ones as we go and as trends develop. Watching The Late Late Toy Show has been a tradition for many families since Gay Byrne started it in 1962 – I can’t believe it’s been going that long. In the last few years, it has become the norm for families to wear matching Christmas pyjamas on that night. I can imagine children loving that sense of family togetherness. I can’t, however, imagine my mother trying to get matching pyjamas, never mind Christmas ones, for all eleven of us and my parents. Mind you it would have been some sight.

In my childhood, Christmas started a few weeks before 8 December, when the cakes and puddings were made.

We never had visitors over on Christmas Day as my parents regarded it a day for family only. The evening of the first Christmas I spent with my new husband and his mother, I was surprised to see loads of neighbours arriving at around 8pm. They had a strong tradition of card playing on Christmas night. I thought it would be a jovial affair, but I learned then that playing 25 is a serious thing; the only levity coming when I brought in the aforementioned turkey and ham sandwiches with tea and whiskeys.

Midnight mass is no longer at midnight, Christmas trees go up in November and you rarely see people in the toy shop with a dog eared copy of the Smyths Toys catalogue as it can all be viewed online.

So yes, things change, but the feeling of Christmas, I hope, remains the same. It’s the time of year we most want a feeling of belonging. If a family member who lives abroad comes home, they want the Christmas they remember when they were young. They want that feeling of being home among familiar customs.

Whatever your traditions are, I hope they bring you joy and make happy memories with those you care about.

Read more

Backchat: family fun around a board game

Margaret Leahy: what are all these labels telling us?