I absolutely love this time of year. Every day, Christmas is getting closer and as it approaches all the festive traditions start to emerge. There are the ones we all know and love, like writing our Christmas lists, sending cards and watching the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special! (Honestly not me – I have daughters!). There are also those that are particular to our families that have developed over the years and become regular fixtures in our own festive calendars.
As we start the run-up to Christmas in earnest, I’m always reminded of the traditions we had at home when I was a child, the spirit of which have survived to the present day and I hope will continue for many years to come. As a family, we always decant some vintage port on Christmas Eve and leave out a glass, a bowl of milk and a carrot for Father Christmas and his reindeers on Christmas Eve. I even track his progress on NORAD, but as my daughters are all in their teens now, I think this tradition is more for my wife and I than it is for them.
During the course of writing this blog post, many individuals have shared some of their traditions with me. My challenge to you all is to share any of your Christmas traditions by leaving a comment.
Setting a Charitable Example
My first Christmas in the UK was 1977. We moved from Kenya, but the relocation had not gone according to plan and we had lost everything. When we arrived in the UK – myself, my parents and my five siblings – we were back to square one.
Despite this, it remains one of my happiest memories, as my parents filled the house with decorations and the spirit of the season. It’s a custom I’ve continued. We always have two Christmas trees in the house, and I love putting up the decorations with the family, always around 3 weeks before Christmas day and left till the 6th of January.
During this era, my father started a tradition that said a lot about him and the example he wanted to set to his children. After the initial shock of losing everything, he set about getting a job and worked hard for the rest of his working life (and beyond – he retired when he was 70) to build up a new livelihood for himself and his family. On the 1st of January every year, he would buy a large can of beer. He wasn’t much of a drinker so he would drink it very slowly. When empty, he would put whatever spare cash he had into the can throughout the year. Then, when the following Christmas rolled around, we would open up the can, count the money. Some was given to the Children to buy presents for each other, some was always given to a homeless charity, and the rest was spent on Christmas.
Even though our financial circumstances had taken a blow, he still found a way to show us the importance of giving to others at Christmas. My father passed away a few years ago and when I was going through his belongings, I found his last can, still filled with his spare cash, £5 and £10 notes now he was comfortable, all set aside for the next Christmas. It was a tradition that was born at a time when we didn’t have much ourselves, but which he kept up throughout his life.
Instilling Values in the Next Generation
In my own way, I have continued this tradition in some way with my children. We don’t use the beer can anymore (although I did keep the one that I found after my Dad passed away as a treasured memento). But we do plan, write and send a small gift to all the children we sponsor every year before Christmas. It’s my way of passing on the importance of charitable giving to them, just as it was passed on to me.
In a similar way, when my wife and I got married, we decided that however much we spent on our own Christmas, we would also donate or give away the same amount to people and charity each year. The festive period is a time for celebration when it’s easy to get carried away with the excesses of the season. This is what makes it so enjoyable, but it can also be the source of much post-festive guilt about over-indulgence. Making sure we donate the same amount to charity as we spend on ourselves is how we bring some balance to the festive excess and try to do some good at the same time.
Like many families, we are lucky enough to be able to afford to celebrate Christmas, but with that luxury comes the responsibility of helping those less well-off to do the same.
Surely a true measure of our success in life lies not in what we achieve or acquire for ourselves, but in the positive impact we make on the people around us, those we know but also those we don’t and will never know. By trusting in these time-honoured Christmas customs, we can be sure to play our part in upholding the traditions that will keep on giving for many generations.
Progeny have launched a Charitable Foundation aimed at making a positive difference for years to come. We will provide children and young adults opportunities to help them achieve all they can, by way of education, sport or experiences, where they would not otherwise be able to due to illness or being disadvantaged by their social or economic background. If you would like to find out more, please get in touch.