Writer and The Sunday Times Style’s dating columnist Dolly Alderton knows a thing or two about life. In the second of our three-part festive series she explores the concept of family Christmas traditions and why a nod to the yuletide of yesteryear is often enough.
“I am fascinated by Christmas traditions. Some people do presents on the evening of the 24th of December, whereas other more disciplined households have the excruciating wait until after Christmas Day lunch. In Venezuela, they go to church on roller skates. In The Ukraine, they adorn their trees with artificial spiders webs. In Estonia, they spend Christmas Eve in a sauna. In my house: we eat pickled walnuts and smoked oysters on Boxing Day.
“My mum is not only the most boundlessly enthusiastic woman in the world, but she’s also Canadian, making her The No. 1 Cheerleader for Christmas. As children, we’d wake on Christmas morning to artificial snow imprinted on the carpet in the shape of Santa’s boot. Even now, my brother and I both in the latter half of our 20s, open stockings and when we shout “thanks mum!” as we open box sets and miniature lip balms. “Don’t thank me, thank Father Christmas!” she says in outrage.
“She makes a tower of meringue on Christmas Eve, covers it in whipped cream and edible glitter for snow and frost then places miniature plastic snowmen and trees on top. She has more than one pair of Christmas tree earrings. She even puts themed books in the downstairs loo with titles like: “How do Reindeer fly? And other scientific Christmas Questions” and even “Hannukah Explained” for visitors of Jewish faith.
“Boxing Day is my favourite part of Christmas in our house. The buffet is a time travel machine to a bygone era – Delia’s hollandaise baked potatoes, Delia’s coleslaw, cold cuts, a cheese board, deviled eggs, grape juice. Not one chi-chi canapé in sight. And a plate of smoked oysters and pickled walnuts – exactly the sort of food you’d find out of date in tins and jars at the back of cupboards in a church hall from a mid-80s harvest festival.
“We eat them because my Grandpa loved them. He is sadly no longer with us, but the oysters and walnuts are there every year in his memory. And we all begrudgingly eat them along with the rest of the Buffet Sponsored By Delia. And we talk about going for a long, brisk walk, then we just walk around the block instead and come back to watch a long classic movie like Gone With The Wind that will leave us stationary for so long, DVT poses a real thread.
“We will never do a long walk on Boxing Day, but we’ll always talk about doing a long walk on Boxing Day. And we’ll never really eat the smoked oysters and pickled walnuts, but we’ll always put them out on a plate. I hope these habits never stop and I hope we never try to work out why – because that’s the true meaning of tradition.”