NICOLA MILLER: Building new Christmas traditions

Nicola Miller

Nicola Miller

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My natural cynicism abates in December, firmly pushed back by sentimental Christmas films, Phil Spector’s Christmas album and toasted Pandoro for breakfast.

The start of the season of goodwill is marked not by the John Lewis advert, but by The Grinch and A Hobo’s Christmas, finally coming to a festive climax with Miracle on 34th Street. At last count, my film tally reached 48 and on the first of December, they are retrieved from the cupboard to go on display as part of our Season Of Tat along with Malibu Santa in a convertible, the glass snow globe, the Virgin Mary in flamingo pink robes and a herd of reindeers on the fireplace. Christmas at ours is all about decorative excess and a measure of flash trash, taking its lead from the Three Wise Men who brought gold, frankinsense and myrrh to the stable, not an understated ornament a la Elle Decoration. (The fact that the snow globe nearly burned the house down with a prism of furious concentrated light directed on a nearby birthday card has been forgiven, although it no longer has pride of place on the window sill.)

I am hoping that the children will be equally as forgiving when they wake up at Christmas to find that their parents have flown the nest and gone to Germany to celebrate with our little nieces – one of whom we were told by eminent doctors, would not live – whereupon she stuck two tiny newborn fingers in the air to show them where they could put their prognosis. Our rather more adult children are planning a different Christmas this year. Without us.

As they establish their own homes and traditions there are only so many hours in the day to visit a myriad of relatives, especially when, in that modern parlance, you live in a ‘blended family’ with what can seem like eleventy billion obligations: what they really want to do risks getting lost, especially if it is quiet time in their own homes.

At heart, I know the kids will be cool with us not being here although my son’s favourite game is to activate my guilt gland: “Can you tell me what you might like as a gift this year?”

“To see my mother’s face at Christmas,” he says mournfully, followed by an evil laugh at my stricken face. (I fall for it every time.)

Watching those films, I see now how they formed an important part of us building new traditions as we brought together two sets of kids under our roof. That first Christmas as a ‘blended family’ also saw all five of them around the table emblazoning new stockings with initials and feathers and baubles. Eleven years on they are still in use, shedding maribou and felt in their wake, although every Christmas sees different combinations of children, at different times and often with partners in tow.

It hasn’t always been easy and we have made mistakes because parenting doesn’t come with THE definitive manual, let alone one for step parenting (no matter how many ‘experts’ try to write one). No book told of the happiness we’d feel at seeing them in their new homes, in relationships or confidently single either: the eagerness with which they host us is heart- swellingly lovely. At Christmas this is pleasure squared as we are sent instagrammed images of Christmas sweaters bought and answer their questions as to how to cook a turkey – or if indeed one should (I sometimes wish they’d invent a new animal – so tired of all the usual ones). There are a lot more trees to admire, too. And as time passes, they pass on advice to us about cooking that turkey and other practical know how acquired through their experience and we are no longer the always-expert – something that is a real relief.

I think back to those first years of our new family and what I thought would happen. The future can be so fundamentally different than the one that appears in our minds eye and realising this is helping me relinquish fixed ideas about what our future Christmases might be like and embrace those in the here and now.