Many people around the world will probably agree with me that Christmas is the best time of year. (Cue Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”)
There’s so much to be said for the month that we’ve dedicated to celebrating the birth of the Saviour of the world! But apart from this marvellous opportunity, we all celebrate the day in many different ways - and have formed traditions unique to our families.
I’m going to share 7 of my favourite Christmas traditions, which I've picked out from the different traditions of the Lewis extended family.
(Cue Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp singing “My Favourite Things!”)
It’s just as exciting to decorate your own house as it is to walk around (or drive around) and see how other people have decorated their homes. It’s a sad reality that the ever-increasing cost of power in Jamaica has made it difficult for celebrants to justify decorating outside their homes at Christmas. Where several houses in neighbourhoods would have had grand Christmas displays in years past, nowadays, they are few and far between.
But even if we can’t afford to decorate outside our homes, inside our homes is usually a winter wonderland. From the tree to the bannisters, tables, windowsills, and arches, I love decorating at Christmastime. Tinsel, garlands, bows, ornaments, stockings, lights galore - and let’s not forget about the presents - a good Christmas dressing never disappoints. There are many themes to choose from but my favourite is the traditional red, green and gold.
I love the smell of real trees but I can be satisfied with a well-dressed fake one. It’s the ornaments that do it for me. One of my sisters and her family decorate their tree together and almost every ornament has a special story behind it - a child’s birth, a souvenir from a visit, a gift from a departed loved one. The tree becomes a memorial to the highlights of their life up to that year, and her children get to place the ornaments and remember what they represent. Now that takes dressing the tree to a whole new level!
I've discovered a more recent tradition that may be interesting for any puzzle lovers. My sister and I bought a Nativity scene Christmas puzzle and started it a week before Christmas. We worked on it a little at a time (in between household tasks) and finished it on the eve of Christmas Eve. It was finished in time for Christmas and became part of the house decor.
I watched a Youtuber discuss ways to secure completed puzzles using painter’s tape (instead of glue) and hang them on a wall using giant bulldog clips. So if we wanted to display the puzzle more prominently then we could have used that option. Once it’s time to take down all the decorations, the puzzle can be taken down, the painter’s tape carefully stripped off and discarded, and the puzzle broken up and returned to its box for future Christmases.
Now let’s move on to the traditions that take place on Christmas Day.
Sangria is a Spanish/Portuguese alcoholic beverage that’s traditionally made using red wine, chopped fruits and other spirits.
For the last few years, sangria has been served with my Christmas dinner alongside sorrel and other beverages. I love making sangria - and remixing old and new recipes. Every year, the sangria I serve is slightly different from previous years (I’m a bit of a sangria-alchemist).
My favourite sangria so far was made with red wine, triple sec, brandy, non-alcoholic wine, Stone’s ginger wine and chopped fruit. It was potent - potent and delicious. My siblings and I were extra giggly that year and I made the mistake of getting full on sangria fruit. I don’t even remember what else I ate that year.
Honey-glazed ham, deboned and stuffed chicken, turkey, roasted lamb with mint jelly, macaroni and cheese, rice and gungo peas, cream of pumpkin soup - these are a few of my favourite dishes.
I don’t mind cooking the entire meal for Christmas - my family usually hosts Christmas dinner and we love having guests over. But though cooking most of the meal gives me a certain high, I prefer sharing the blessing/burden of preparing the meal with my loved ones. You get to try culinary delights from other family members and friends. Life would be absolutely and utterly dull without my Aunt’s Macaroni and Cheese. And a potluck means less work for you. Less work means more time to actually enjoy the day and not be completely exhausted afterwards.
There are few things more delightful than seeing a table ladened with different foods! Then you get to taste a bit of each and set off a celebration of flavours on your tastebuds. If you manage to finish eating that you can fill up with seconds of your favourite offerings.
After our bellies are full of good food and drink, we tend to be easier to please. Cue Christmas concerts displaying the musical talents of a few amateurs and a few seasoned professionals.
When I’m sated, my brother (one of the seasoned musical professionals) can usually convince me to sing any Christmas song - whether suited for my vocal range or not. But what an audience my family is! They’ll make you think that you’re on par with Mariah Carey or Celine Dion. But regardless of levels of talent, our Christmas concerts are usually fun, light and a blessing. And we always include a few group numbers to get everybody involved.
Our Christmas concerts are open to everybody, so if you’re looking for a nighttime activity after you’ve had your Christmas meal at home, come join us at Admiral’s Mountain Great House in St. Andrew, Jamaica. When you show up, tell my family, “Gabby sent me,” and I promise you’ll be welcomed.
Root beer floats and smores!
My older siblings attended American military service academies and introduced a Christmas tradition to our family - root beer floats and smores. Do Americans even have root beer floats and smores at Christmas? I honestly don't know. But even if they don’t, the Lewises do.
Our 400-year old home has 3 working fireplaces, but with the climate being what it is in Jamaica (tropical) we only ever use one of them, and only during Christmastime. Daddy lights up the fireplace and we make smores and wash them down with root beer floats. Those of us who don’t favour the toothpaste taste of root beer drink Coke floats instead.
My 2-year-old nephew got his first dose of unsupervised access to dessert one Christmas. The room was full of people milling about preparing root beer floats and smores. He managed to stuff his mouth with marshmallows before an adult saw him. Later on, he escaped whichever adult was monitoring him and once again stuffed his mouth - this time with chocolate - before he was caught, by me. But being “the best aunty in the world” I thoughtlessly gave him something to wash it down with - root beer. Talk about sugar overload! He was a ball of frenetic energy for the rest of that night.
Singing Happy Birthday!
And finally, let’s not forget the reason for the season.
(Cue Harry Fontane singing “Mary’s Boy Child”.)
Christmas Day is when we celebrate Christ’s birth (even though most of us know that it’s not the day He was actually born). In the middle of all the gift-buying, gift-giving, dinner eating and drinking, don’t forget what it’s all about - Jesus, the Saviour becoming a human baby, just to grow up and fulfil God’s promise to mankind to redeem us from our selfish rebellion and give us our only opportunity for forgiveness, peace and eternal life.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16 NLT
My youngest brother’s birthday is on Christmas Day and every year we sing him ‘Happy Birthday’ and sing it for Jesus too.
So that's my list of favourite Christmas traditions.
“When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don't feel so bad”
So what are some of your favourite Christmas traditions?