As an Aspie, I love a tradition or two. They make me feel comfortable and safe and more importantly, because everyone else has family traditions, they give me the opportunity to appear and to feel normal. Christmas time often contains the most amount of traditions for everyone and it's so easy to hide my compulsive behaviour behind the guise of tradition. However, since having children, that guise has begun to slip. New traditions have had to be created to include my children. I'd even take it further back. Catherine and I married back in the summer of 2009 and ever since then, my christmas traditions have had to change in order to incorporate Catherine's traditions. This has been no easy task.
My most favourite traditions are most likely like everyone else's. Father Christmas stockings can be opened in the morning upon waking. There will be a satsuma or clementine within that stocking as well as a magazine. We have a Christmas breakfast of some kind. My favourite is smoked salmon and scrambled egg. This is a good opportunity to get some bucks fizz involved, but there is never an obligation to drink. We make our way to church but fully understand that not everyone does. To be really honest though, it never feels like Christmas without a few carols having been sung. I will often berate the carol choices for a good few hours if we have not started with Once in Royal David's City and ended with O Come All Ye Faithful. I always love getting Hark the Herald Angels Sing in too but would happily avoid O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I'm one of those who will belt out whatever carol it is at the top of my lungs. There is nothing like a good sing on Christmas day.
After church comes the slow walk home after wishing all those in the local community joys of the season. I must stress that by this point the main presents under the Christmas tree have NOT been opened. This is a direct result of having been a little Chorister in my youth and not getting back to my family until the early evening on Christmas Day. My poor sister had to wait the entire day just for me. Back home, the children play as Catherine and I get started on the main dinner. We eat around 3pm and opening presents, one at a time, after dinner has been cleared. I will keep my Christmas cracker hat on until I go to bed or until it is ripped off my head by Ben. We ring around the family expressing gratitude for their generosity and we talk about what we've done during the day. Then the kids go to bed and Catherine and I will fill our evening with whatever we want to do. A board game, TV, booze, snacks etc.
There is nothing out of the ordinary there in my opinion. I know many people get presents done ASAP and I know many eat their Christmas dinner at lunchtime rather than slightly later in the day. It's those smaller things that make a Christmas. Variety is after all the spice of life and how boring it would be if we all had the same exact traditions.
One of my most important insistences for Christmas Day is opening the Christmas presents one at a time. It allows for an inspection of the gift, it allows you to make a note of who it's from so we can send a thank you card and it encourages you to try to be grateful for each gift no matter how much you dislike it. I always liked that as an idea. I used to think that that is what everyone did. My Dad would hand out the presents, my sister and I would collect the rubbish and put it in a black bag and Mum would keep everyone topped up with food and drink.
My first experience of Christmas with Catherine's family opened my eyes to how important that little piece of routine was to me. Catherine is one of five. All have children and including partners, Cath's side of the family adds up to 24 people currently. We've not all been under one roof for Christmas since that number was hit. There were only 16 people at my first complete in-law Christmas back in 2007 and when everyone descended upon the Christmas tree, opening their presents simultaneously, I was completely overwhelmed. Everything disappeared so quickly. It was so alien to me. It took me a while to digest what I had seen at the time, but as Catherine told me then, everyone has a different way of doing things and that was a good thing otherwise the world would be a lot more dull. My desire to open presents steadily has been met and this has now become a tradition for us.
One of the Catherine's traditions that has now been added into our ever growing list of Christmas season traditions is that on Christmas Eve, you have a takeaway meal. She used to visit her Nana on Christmas Eve and they would always stop for "a chippy tea". We've elaborated on that idea as I'm not the biggest fish and chip fan, and have made it any takeaway you fancy.
Catherine and I went to university together. We both had different partners when we started but were together by the end of our 3 years there. One of the first traditions we ever shared together was an annual trip to Bluewater shopping centre just outside the south east of London. It started as an accident. I had a car and I drove Catherine to Bluewater as a favour. We repeated the journey the following year but the year after that, we were together. We continued that for ten years in total before work put a stop to it in 2013. Now we've relocated up North, it may well be time to start it up again with a more local shopping centre.
I suppose the fear about my need for family traditions is how they can end up completely controlling a day. We must do this at this point or else the day is a failure. However, the benefits of these traditions far outweigh the fears I may have about them. After all, Christmas is the one time of year that I can have my compulsions indulged without seeming too weird or selfish and Christmas Day is so choreographed anyway that I pretty much know exactly what is going to happen which allows me to get an idea in my head for when things will happen. That truly is a great gift for me.
Now we have children, my family traditions have taken on two new categories. Those that I insist upon because I need them in my life and the new traditions that I can sneak in under the flag of "it's for the kids". One of our newest traditions took place last night in fact. We put Harry Connick Jr on (Harry for the Holidays), mulled some wine and decorated the Christmas tree with the kids. Ben took great care in placing a snowman decoration as high up as he could. Martha insisted on putting all the angels and fairies on. Mummy did the lights on the tree and around the house and I chainsawed the tree stump so it would fit in the holder we have for the Christmas tree. I also delighted in my own personal tradition. I put the penguin decoration and the train decoration on the tree myself, quite high up and near to a blue light. I'm 33. I still can't get past that need. But it's ok, because it's tradition.