Establishing Christmas rituals has been something I have very much enjoyed over the years since Nath and I were married, and have had children. We have put a lot of thought into what we would like our children to learn from the rituals we put in place, and what messages we want them to take away from the Christmas period. In recent years, we have become adamant that the commercial face of Christmas is not for us, and have tried to instil a different way of celebrating into our children's experience of Christmas.
We do this in a variety of ways. Our focus is on giving. We don't write Christmas wishlists, we write lists of what we are going to give to others. The kids don't get to peruse catalogues circling every toy they wish they could have. The focus is on how we can make someone else's Christmas that little bit lovelier.
Every year before Christmas, we ask the kids to choose some toys that they would like to give to children whose Christmas may not be as bountiful as ours. We donate these toys to our local women's and children's domestic violence refuge. Our kids choose without much input (sometimes I need to say, no sweetheart, that one is broken/sentimental/not in good enough shape to give as a gift)- it is their choice as to what and how much they give. They know where their gifts are going, and they accompany me to do the drop off. We discuss the traditional story of St Nicholas (a version of this story of the impoverished maidens) and talk about how this links to the modern story of Santa. (Interestingly, even though we have always been very upfront that the 'Santa' of today is not 'real', they cling to this belief in the jolly fat man in the red suit. We have given up and now just go with it. Childhood only lasts so long.)
Another tradition we have is to travel the 55km to the nearest metropolitan train station, then catch the train into Perth CBD to show the kids the Perth City Christmas Lights, the illumination of the old Perth GPO and then go up to the Myer Santaland so the kids can ride the Santa Express train. This year, instead of buying tea, we took a packed picnic and sat in the Government House gardens. We put all our leftovers in a clear plastic container and left it on a bench, hopefully for one of the homeless people who use the gardens as a sleeping place.
Of course, a much-loved part of our Christmas ritual is the putting up of the Christmas tree. We did this today, a couple of days early, but I felt it was deserved after we attended our local community Christmas fair with three very tired but very well behaved children. We dress our tree with homemade (mostly kid-made) decorations, and other homemade decorations adorn the room. This year, we set up the absolutely beautiful wooden Nativity Scene that Nath's parents bought the kids from Taiwan when they moved back to Australia, and used it to tell the story of Christmas to the kids. Over the coming weeks, we will have more craft days and make more decorations to put on our tree.
Finally, our last Christmas ritual is to go camping over Christmas. We head down to Margaret River and spend a few days camping, swimming, beach-going and exploring. Christmas Day is quiet, usually a roast on the Webber or prawns and cold meats, and as it's just our family, we kick back and relax and enjoy the day together. When the kids go to bed, Nath and I sit under the stars with a homemade alcoholic eggnog, Nath plays his guitar and we reflect on the year.
I'd love to hear what you and yours do around Christmastime - do you have any treasured rituals? What does Christmas mean in your family? Happy, happy festive season, everybody!