This Christmas was a special one for the PJ family. Did you hear that?
The PJ family.
All four of us.
I’d lost count of the number of Christmases I’d spent in the past dreaming of having a family of our own. Having lost my mum when I was 24 and being estranged from my step-father, we’d spent most of our adult Christmases in the south of France celebrating with my Frenchie hubby’s father and step-mum. And while I loved it, especially the fact we got to celebrate on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a lovely setting, it always felt like something was missing. I felt nostalgic about the Christmases back home in the North East and saddened by the passing of another Christmas (16 and counting) without my mum. I’d also look at all the Facebook pictures posted by my brother and my friends with their kids and feel a pang of envy and longing. When would it be our turn?
A beautiful, yet lonely, Christmas card we received in 2013
That turn came in Christmas 2014 with the arrival of our gorgeous little Choupie just eight weeks earlier. The year after, I was then pregnant with mon Petit Pudding and we’ve now just had our first ever Christmas as a family of four. The past few years have been marked with a number of losses in the family. My hubby lost his dad in 2013 (he was the only parent left between us), followed by my sister-in-law losing both her parents within a space of a few months, so there was a time when it felt our numbers were dwindling. But with the arrival of our two little ones and our nephew’s twin boys last December, numbers are starting to pick up again.
Time to create new traditions
For various reasons, we decided to spend this year at home together on our own. One thing I’ve realised since having kids is that I now completely appreciate the effort my own parents put into making Christmas so magical for us in our childhood. We didn’t really put much though into what we’d like to for our kids this year, as they are still very young at 26 months and eight months. However, a few things did surface.
Five new traditions in the run up to Christmas
1. Christmas card photo shoot
My hubby has recently discovered a love of photography and this is the second year in a row that we’ve turned our living room into a studio to get pictures for our own Christmas cards. The thing I love most about this, once I get over the fact my job is chief snot wiper and gofer, is that you often get the best shots when you think the photo shoot is over. Here are a few that pics he got on the day and you can see the finished cards in my recent post about the custom of sending Christmas cards.
An unexpected pose after our photo shoot
The best photos happen when you don’t try too hard
2. Advent calendars
My hubby’s mum was Danish and when they were ydounger their advent calendars had a special design which my sister-in-law has recreated for each of the kids in the family. I love the fact that we’re handing down this tradition to the next generation and 11 kids in the family now all have the same one each year (even if four of them are more grown up now!)
Preparing the advent calendar for Choupie
3. The nativity
My father used to take my brother and me to Durham Cathedral every Christmas to see Baby Jesus in a manger, and it always felt very magical. Christmas has become so commercialised that I think it’s important our kids understand the true ‘reason for the season’. The year she was born, we received a gorgeous wooden nativity set from my daughter’s Godmother and we have loved playing with it together, re-enacting the nativity scene while singing along to ‘Little Donkey’. Speaking of which, I love a good sing-along and I usually make it to a carol service with my friends one evening. This year we were very badly organised so had a ‘festive’ gathering instead, which resulted in a few sore heads the next day.
4. Christmas books
Monsieur Bout-de-Bois (Stickman) by Julia Donaldson is already a firm favourite in the family, and not just with the kids. We’ve also been given a few French picture books from my sister-in-law which will help them to understand all the vocabulary around Christmas. What cracks me up is the fact that there’s a whole page dedicated to the Repas de Noël. And we’re not talking Brussels sprouts here. Oh no! It’s all about the foie gras, oysters and champagne. Hmmm, no wonder French kids don’t throw food…
Reading the beloved Monsieur Bout-de-Bout in bed with papa
Reading Barbapapa – a French classic, not just at Christmas
5. Meeting Santa
I was pretty organised this year and made my hubby take the first week of December off work so we could all enjoy a lot of pre-Christmas activities, Santa included. I may have gone a bit overboard by booking two sessions, but it was worth it. Our first was at Chessington Garden Centre (apparently it’s well known locally) and the second was at Bocketts Farm. Both were amazing, and although Bocketts was more photo-worthy, I loved the first one the most and it will definitely be one we’ll return to next year. Choupie’s reaction to meeting Santa for the first time was priceless. She just rocked up like he was her old mate and said “Hello, Santa”.
Waiting to meet Santa at Bocketts Farm
Because we were at home this year, it was lovely to do it our way, even if I’d have preferred to be surrounded by a lot more family. Christmas Eve was marked with the unwrapping of new sets of pyjamas, some fizz for papa et maman once the kids were tucked up in bed, followed by us setting out all the presents and a half-eaten mince pie and carrot for Santa and Rudolph. I scattered a few stars on the ground to leave a trail where Santa had been and Choupie’s little excited dance once when she discovered all her presents the next morning was probably my best gift ever.
The true Jingle Bell Rock
The only thing I’d like to add next year is a stocking at the bottom of both their beds. My parents didn’t do this for my brother and I when we were younger, so the thought never crossed my mind. But I think it would be a lovely touch – even through I may regret it when they’re older and I’m being woken up in the middle of the night to gasps of “HE’S BEEEEEN!”
Petit Pudding’s first Christmas
The rest of Christmas day was a bit of kiddy fest if I’m honest. We had no water in the region until mid afternoon, so Christmas lunch was a cheese sandwich and we had the seafood and pasta dish that evening instead. Later down the line we may go with the traditional turkey lunch with all the trimmings, but while the kids are little (and fussy!) I didn’t want it to be a big drawn out affair. I guess you could say we have a blank canvas for a new tradition on the food front next year.
The two gorgeous babies that make us a family
Next year I can’t wait to take Choupie ice skating a Hampton Court Palace and it’s something I’d like us all to have a go at once Petit Pudding is old enough. I’ve always done this with Frenchie ever since we moved in together back in 2000 and I’ve missed it these past few years. I’m also looking forward to going to a pantomime, re-establishing the tradition my mum started to celebrate my birthday which falls just after Christmas.
Today was our last day all together before Frenchie returns to work and it’s been so lovely to spend this time as a family without having to rush around everywhere. I’d hardly say it’s been relaxing – is it ever with two little ones? – but it was an amazing Christmas. It was our first family Christmas, our way.
How has Christmas changed since you’ve had your own family?