In this post, I’ll write about our family’s Christmas traditions.
My husband and I have been together for five years. As far as Christmas is concerned, we have totally different backgrounds. My husband’s family is religious – especially his grandparents were religious -, while my parents are atheists. In my husband’s family, it was a tradition to go to church at Christmas and celebrating the religious aspect was also part of the holidays, in my family, Christmas was the celebration of the family. In Hungary, it’s the baby Jesus who brings children presents. Well, in my family, it wasn’t him. Presents were bought by my parents – I knew about it from a very young age -, and our relatives came to have Christmas lunch together or we went to visit some of them and had lunch at a relative’s house. 10-20 people were sitting around the table at those events and we were enjoying each other’s company.
When I was a child, we used to open the presents on the 24th of December after a late lunch. This is a tradition all over Hungary. Hardly anyone waits until Christmas Day. Often there were a lot of surprises under the tree, but it wasn’t the reason I was looking forward to Christmas. I liked to prepare, and experience the excitement and the intimacy of the holidays. This is in stark contrast to how I’m feeling nowadays. Last year, I wrote about it in a blog post which you can read HERE. At Christmas, everything slowed down in my family. My father and I often used to decorate the tree together and on Christmas Day, we visited my paternal grandmother who lived in Miskolc, so the only busy event of Christmas was the family lunch.
In my husband’s family, the situation was completely different. My husband and his sister believed in the baby Jesus, their Christmas tree was brought by the angels while the two kids went for a walk with their grandmother. In the morning on Christmas Day, they went to visit their maternal grandparents and celebrated Christmas there.
The first few Christmases we spent together were really about attuning our different backgrounds. When should we open the presents? Who should we visit and when? In the morning on the 24th, we went to visit my parents, then went home, had lunch together – just the two of us – and opened the presents after that. Early in the morning on Christmas Day, we left home to visit my in-laws who live 400 km from us, spent a few days there and came back home. We often got home dead tired.
Janka’s birth changed a lot of things. It was the Christmas of 2016 that brought the first major change. On Christmas Eve, Janka was exactly one month old, there was a flu epidemic and I was still suffering from birth-related complications, so we decided to lock ourselves up in the house and nobody would go anywhere. On the 23rd, my parents came to visit us but they left after 15 minutes. The next few days passed quite calmly and peacefully – as far as one can have a peaceful Christmas with a one-month-old newborn on board. I remember that taking care of her left me so little time that I decorated the tree at 2 a.m. because that was when I had some break in the chaos of breastfeeding on demand. I kept the menu at a minimum. I baked salmon because my husband and I both like it. (Before that, I used to cook something special for both of us.) I didn’t have to spend time preparing food for the rest of Christmas. Because of my diet, I usually bring my own food when we visit my in-laws, so this is another hassle. We exchanged presents with my in-laws who live far away via post.
Last year, things were different. I had more time, so I started to think about how to celebrate Christmas from that year on. My first idea was to participate in the Shoebox Campaign of the Hungarian Baptist Aid. You can read about last year’s post about it HERE. I put together two boxes, and my mother made one. In late November, I put Janka in her pushchair, the boxes went to the basket of the pushchair and my kiddy and I went to the office of the Hungarian Baptist Aid here in Nyíregyháza to drop off the boxes. This year, we are making four boxes, so it is now a tradition.
The next tradition is that Janka gets a new ornament every Christmas. For her first Christmas, she got an ornament which I made from LEGO. I assembled it while I was in labour. I was in labour for 12 hours alone at home as I wasn’t willing to go to the hospital until it wasn’t too painful, so I had enough time to make that ornament. Last year, she got a black cat ornament because she is fond of cats. You can read about the ornaments in THIS post.
Not everyone likes it
The third tradition roused the biggest disapproval in the family. My parents come to pay us a short visit us on the 23rd of December, on the 24th and 25th it’s just the three of us – my husband, daughter and I -, and on the 26th – a day later than we did before Janka was born – we go to visit my in-laws.
Who brings the presents?
The fourth tradition is that it’s not baby Jesus who brings the presents, but the angels. When I was a child, it was really weird for me when my classmate said that baby Jesus brought their presents. It wasn’t because of the atheist background that I found it weird, but because of the fact that baby Jesus is a baby, so how could he bring presents?! It’s his birthday anyway, so why is it him who brings the presents? Last year, this idea crossed my mind again and even as an adult I still find it weird. I came up with an idea: couldn’t it be the angels who bring the presents? I told my idea to my husband who laughed at me because it’s baby Jesus everyone believes in here in Hungary and no-one questions it. He also said that this has been the tradition in the family for decades. Looks like critical thinking doesn’t exist in this country. I felt like an idiot until December when one of my teachers at the university told my class about how weird she finds this whole baby Jesus idea and in her family, it’s the angels who bring the presents. Although my parents are atheists, I’m not. I was baptised as an adult (so now all three of us, my husband, daughter and I are Roman Catholics). In my family, the nativity story, the three wise men and all the other Christmas stories will be parts of the holidays. So finally, my husband and I reached an agreement: Janka’s presents will be brought by the angels. You can read about some other traditions related to it in an upcoming post. The tree will be decorated by all three of us and won’t be brought by the angels. Decorating the tree will be an important part of the holidays in our family. I almost forgot to mention that, contrary to the Hungarian tradition, it’s not on Christmas tree when I decorate the tree, but earlier. Three years ago, I decorated it on the 22nd. I don’t exactly remember when it happened two years ago and last year, but I’m sure the tree will have been put up by mid-December. What I remember though, is that last year, our cat Mini “helped” my husband assemble our tree which is a 180-cm tall artificial one, and the cat made a huge mess because the fallen plastic pine needles stuck to her paws, then she hid in my box of the tree. Fortunately, my husband I spotted her, otherwise, she would have ended up in the garage. Then I decorated the tree with Janka, and the process took twice as long as usual.
Janka likes to be involved in housework. Vacuuming and mopping are her favourite activities, but she likes to put smaller objects (e.g. wrapping paper of chocolate, paper napkins) in the bin. Also, when she finishes eating, she wipes the tray of her highchair. I’m not the kind of woman who does a huge holiday baking, but this year, I’d like to bake Christmas cakes and cookies with her. If she stands on a chair, she can comfortably reach the table and I’m sure she will enjoy cutting the shapes from the rolled out dough.
What are your family traditions at Christmas? Write about them in the comments section below.