Don’t like my family’s Christmas rituals? Well tough!

From the games we play to the food we eat, we all have our festive idiosyncrasies. And they’re what make us who we are

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The Independent Online

Wait! Before I begin, let’s run through a quick check list. Have you worked out tomorrow's turkey timings? Are the potatoes peeled and ready to be mashed, roasted, or boiled? Are all the presents - carefully chosen and lovingly wrapped - now nestled beneath the rapidly deteriorating tree, the one you decorated in a fit of excitement on 30 November? Yes? In that case, snaffle a mince pie, pour yourself a festive sherry, and let us begin.

I’m nervous. Not terrified, you understand, just… a bit jittery. You see, my boyfriend of almost a year (hurrah, huzzah, hooray!) will be joining my family on Boxing Day. Gulp.

I can picture him now, watching with bemusement as we play the After Eight mint game: sliding chocolates down our faces and into our mouths against the clock. Or shove ha'penny on the board that belonged to my great-grandad, cheating and bickering at every opportunity. Of course, he'll have to listen to my step-dad, who every year counts his sprout-fuelled farts, hoping to make it to a round hundred before New Year's Day. And watch my sister prance about in her new Christmas wardrobe.

I wonder what he'll make of my mum's annual insistence that we eat "clean food" on Boxing Day, to atone for our gluttonous sins the day before. He'll certainly be invited join the traditional family walk, tramping across muddy fields, clambering over stiles, and chasing after our boisterous but beloved terrier. But he won’t be able to watch the Boxing Day football match, because we’re rugby fans – not to mention the fact that our tiny TV is kept hidden away in a cupboard. So yes, I’m a little nervous.

When it comes to Christmas, us Brits are sticklers for tradition. For some, this means watching It's a Wonderful Life on crackly VHS on Christmas Eve, or enjoying a lunchtime pint at the local pub on Christmas Day. For others, there’s a sense of ceremony in ending the celebrations with a blazing row over Monopoly, or in chopping the tree up for firewood come Boxing Day morning. Either way, festive family quirks are often lost on non-family members, who may find themselves hankering after their own household conventions.

Because traditions are powerful. They bring families closer together, connecting the dots of a shared history. Repetition of Christmassy rituals, whatever they may be, remind relatives of times gone by, of departed loved ones who live on in the traditions they established. By their very nature, such rituals take time and commitment and, as a result, people can become protective when faced with the prospect of trying something new. Sometimes, nothing but your Christmas feels quite right.

Our fixation with the customs we perform year in, year out can make spending the special day with a special someone somewhat problematic. What if your Yuletide traditions don't match up with those of your partner? My friend once celebrated the festival with her then boyfriend. She arrived at his house on Christmas morning wearing pyjamas and sporting spectacular bed-hair, only to be greeted by his entire extended family dressed in their Sunday Best. She endured a formal five course meal, all the while wondering when they were going to settle down to watch the Matrix. They didn’t.

What if your significant other doesn't want to sit through every single Harry Potter film from start to finish? What if they want to go to church first thing on Christmas morning, instead of staying in bed and eating Toblerone? What if - heaven forbid – they want to wait until after the Eastenders Christmas special to open their presents? Or, worse still, what if they don't want to watch Eastenders at all?

I'm worrying unnecessarily, of course. Sharing old traditions and creating new ones is the best part of Christmas. Traditions must, after all, start somewhere. Like rules, they are there to be broken, or remolded into things new and exciting.

I know my family. They’ll welcome my visiting boyfriend with open arms; eager to share old practices, and excited to include him in new ones. They'll teach him how to play shove ha'penny and will provide him with chocolates and encouragement during the After Eight mint game. And I’m confident he’ll throw himself into the occasion: his merry initiation into my weird but entirely wonderful family.