I can’t see an over-stuffed stocking at this time of year without thinking of my mother. Nor can I see a bowl of nuts without thinking of my father.
My parents, you see, are responsible for the festive traditions I’ve enjoyed for more than 30 years. Nuts and stockings, as well as decorated trees, turkey dinners, wintery television and general good cheer to all mankind, play a huge part in that. I remember all my family’s Christmas traditions. Even the ones we only ever did once.
There was the time my brother and I convinced Mum it was traditional to eat enormous home-made lasagne for Christmas breakfast. Or the experiment that saw the entire family’s shopping done on Christmas Eve.
Somewhere along the line, however, the divide between the fantasy and reality of my childhood Christmases became blurred. When discussing the ghosts of Christmas past with my wife, she was surprised at the details I remember. It turns out most of the things I could recall happened to TV families and not my own.
The Milners didn’t adopt a dog from the racetrack on Christmas Eve. That was The Simpsons. I didn’t ever fight other parents to get the last Turbo Man doll for my kids. That was Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way. And the more I think of it, the cool guy who caused chaos at my house one year was almost certainly Fonzie from Happy Days and not my neighbourhood mechanic.
Now that I look back, I don’t ever remember having a white Christmas. Eight of my last 12 Christmases have been spent in Dubai, so the beach is more a part of Christmas Day to me these days than snow and sleigh rides. Quite what my own children will remember about Christmas in decades to come is hard to imagine. My guess is it will be a semi-suppressed recollection of their father forcing them to eat lasagne while wearing woolly hats on Jumeirah Beach.
Because I can’t quite shake off those imperfect winter traditions I’ve been living with for decades. A fairy light doesn’t sparkle quite as brightly if the window behind it isn’t creaking in the wind and leaking in rain. A present isn’t as precious when you know the giver didn’t have to brave the elements to wade into the town centre to buy it. Christmas puddings don’t taste the same if they’re not a bit burnt around the edges.
Without the misery, the magic doesn’t thrill in the same way. So I’ll continue to mix traditions with new customs. One thing’s for sure, when my kids see a nut they will think of me.
Will Milner is our Digital Editorial Director. He suffers from chronic False Festive Memory Syndrome.