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Christmas Eve traditions across the generations

Christmas Eve traditions

Traditions abound around festivities, and that’s particularly true of Christmas. Yet amongst all the eating and drinking, decorating and carolling, and giving and receiving, we don’t often talk about the most excitable time – just before heading for bed on Christmas Eve.

Do you have Christmas Eve traditions? Have they been carefully handed down through the generations, or is your children’s or grandchildren’s Christmas Eve barely recognisable from that of your childhood?

We’ve been asking around amongst family and friends to find out how they approach the night before Christmas – and in particular how they welcome Father Christmas into their homes.

Way back when

When I was a child in the 1960s my very English Christmas Eve consisted of hanging up a stocking with a wooden peg on the fireguard around our very real living room fire. It was a very real stocking too – courtesy of mum – that was the perfect size for our small gifts of chocolate, pens and toys.

Then having prepared a glass of sherry and a mince pie for Father Christmas, all four children retired early to bed.

That does seem to have been the norm for many families, although I’m not entirely surprised that Scottish friends proffered Santa a choice of mince pie or shortbread. He was more likely to receive a small glass of whisky too.

There was that fear factor too – that we might be considered too naughty to receive presents. My own grandmother told me that the bubbles were watching us in the weeks up to Christmas, and would be reporting back to the North Pole. I was terrified – despite being the best-behaved child I knew.

Going large

When my children arrived on the Christmas scene in the 1980s, we had up sized our traditions. The stocking had been replaced by a much roomier pillow case laid out by the fireplace where our gas fire pretended to be a coal burner. And then that became personalised sack that was filled every Christmas until the children left home.

We were still holding out for the visit of Father Christmas – no imposter called Santa Claus for us – but we changed the snacks. The homemade mince pie was still there, but now it was accompanied by a glass of milk, all arrange neatly on the mantlepiece.

By now the reindeer had entered the feed-me game too, and Rudolph expected carrots. I was once caught out when I didn’t dispose of the ‘eaten’ carrot properly, and child number 2 found it. The trouble you can get into when you start with the white lies …

In our house Christmas Day was the only day of the year when people were allowed eat just chocolate for breakfast. Personally I like chocolate at any time – except first thing. A piece of toast and a proper cup of tea was my starter of choice. Nowadays a tea subscription would make a great thank you for all your hard work gift for Santa’s not-so-little helper.

Having started musing on our Christmas Eve traditions, I thought I would ask around family and friends, as we are quite a global bunch of people.

My Australian daughter in law reports that their Santa is welcomed in with a cold beer and a mince pie. Research suggests that this is quite a common occurrence for a country where Christmas lunch is prepared on a barbeque.

On the other hand, my oldest brother’s sons were born and brought up in Germany, to a British father and a Canadian mother. Sensibly, their parents kept to Germany traditions on the whole (although 40 years in and my brother still pines for a turkey Christmas dinner). That means the visit of St Nick on 9th December to fill the children’s shoes with chocolates, but not a sign of Santa on Christmas Eve.

Going global

This year, 2023, is our grandson’s 2nd, and how Christmas Eve traditions have changed in this country for children.

The biggest change is the amalgamation of British and American traditions. I’m not sure who this Elf on the Shelf is really, but I’m pretty sure he’s crossed the Atlantic on a ship and is set to cause trouble. Does anyone else find him a rather malevolent presence?

We now have the opportunity to give Christmas Eve boxes with more gifts for the children. That’s not one that has yet to enter our family traditions, I’m pleased to say. You can have too much of a good thing.

We’ve also had the arrival of cookies on the Santa Claus plate. These are a definite import from a land where all adults spend most of December perfecting their cookie recipes – at least if the afternoon Christmas movies are to be believed.

There’s actually been a bigger and better survey of British Father Christmas treats that reflects what we think our Santa needs to get himself around the globe in double-quick time today. It found that 63.4% give Santa milk – dairy or plant-based. That seems very sensible when our youngsters are now clued up about the dangers of drinking and driving. Mince pies and the up-and-coming cookies are a firm favourite. And while a growing number of families leave out special reindeer food for Rudolph, it’s so far a long way from feeling obligatory. Vegetables still rule.

And now where?

All this leaves me musing about how much might change in another 20 years.

Will the white lie of Santa Claus visits be too much for some parents to continue? Will children know what a chimney is? Will Father Christmas be a vegan?

Whatever the shape of Christmas Eve, it is nice to think that the stories and traditions will continue to be handed down over generations in ever-evolving traditions.

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash


This post is in conjunction with The Modern Milkman, but all thoughts and opinions are those of When They Get Older.

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