Saturday, 24 December 2016

Being traditional.

I thought certain members of my family could win prizes for their stubborn determination to resist change and to complain about it when it inevitably happens. However I have decided, on reflection, that we are all really very reasonable people.

Apparently quite a lot of people have been complaining because Cadbury's have changed the wrapping on their Roses chocolates. Instead of having twist-opening wrappings they now have something called "flow wrap", which I think means a sort of sealed wrapping which you have to tear open. Those who regard a tin of Cadbury's Roses as an integral part of Christmas are not happy with this: an over-the-top reaction to my way of thinking. Nor are they pleased to find that the chocolates are now all uniform sizes, instead of having a range of shapes and sizes according to the variety of chocolate. All this comes on top of the company having changed their chocolate bars so that the segments have rounded edges instead of square. It's all too much for the traditionalists to bear! 

Tradition is a funny thing, quickly established in some cases. My daughter decided last year to start a new tradition in her family; each child should receive "something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read". She didn't invent it; I have come across a number of people recommending it in the run up to this Christmas. I think it's quite a good tradition to have. It makes a lot more sense than her longer established one of everyone having new Christmas pyjamas each year. Surely you buy new pyjamas as you wear them out or grow out of them. But by now her kids expect this every year.

 I read an article by Niklesh Shukla in which he wrote about his family's Christmas tradition. He wrote, "As part of a non-Christian, immigrant family, I found Christmas tense as a child. You built up a set of cards from classmates that went unreciprocated; your parents grumbled at having to buy gifts for teachers paid to educate us; presents were a waste of money." But his family had the tradition of his mother cooking roast tandoori Christmas chicken, a dish they all loved. After his mother died, he and his siblings decided to follow their mother's handwritten recipe and recreate the dish, giving themselves a sense that she was still with them. They argued some over how to interpret the recipe but put together something very palatable in the end. But it was not quite their mother's dish: "I lifted the chicken to my mouth and put it in. There was a cacophony of tastes, the lilt of the lemon, ginger and garlic working like a tightly knit kabadd team, the piquant persistence of the chilli powder, the warm gloop of yoghurt and the singe of cumin all dancing in my mouth – like a parade of elephants surrounded by bhangra dancers hoisting their arms in the air, with trumpets blaring and dhols banging. I rolled my head back in hypnotised, dizzying jubilation and … it didn’t taste anything like my mum’s Christmas roast tandoori chicken. It tasted like an imitation."

So it goes.

He also said that one of the factors that contributed to his feelings of frustration and tension at Christmastime was that Diwali was always referred to as "Indian Christmas". Someone's attempt to make sense of the different religious celebrations, I suppose.

Jewish friends at my primary school had no problems dealing with Christmas. They sent cards through the school Christmas post system just like everyone else. It was a matter of pride that when the "postman" came round to your class with a delivery you were popular enough to receive a fine bundle of post. I remember one boy getting very angry when I did not return his favour of sending me a card quickly enough. He was clearly losing face end declared that if I did not send him a card soon he would like his back, please! (Almost as good as the child in my granddaughter's class who received a card from her last year - to Evan from Sophie - and returned the favour by giving her the same card back, simply overwriting 'to' and 'from' so that it read " from Evan to Sophie".)

Hadley Freeman, a columnist in Saturday's Guardian says her Jewish family has always celebrated Hanukah in the traditional way and then, immediately afterwards, put up a tree and decorations and celebrated Christmas. "Hey, we might say prayers in Hebrew instead of Latin but we want to eat chocolate Santas for 10 days straight too, OK?"

This year, she wrote, Christmas eve and the start of Hanukah coincide, for only the fifth time in 100 years. She is very pleased blut this and gave me a new term for the combined festivities: Chrismukkah.

Happy Chrismukkah to everyone.

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