Every family knows there is only one way to have a “proper” Christmas Day – and that is their way.
The trouble always starts when other people show up and try to impose their own version. Some compromises have to be made, but, to avoid seasonal ill-will, it is essential to hammer out the important rules in advance.
Always make a point of drawing up a pre-Christmas Contract. Like this:
Whereas all persons participating in the celebrations held on this Twenty Fifth Day of December in the year Two Thousand and Nine have declared and affirmed that they wish each other a Merry Christmas, without prejudice, they also undertake to follow the procedures and formalities as laid out hereinafter, NAMELY: That, on the day, any children present in the household at such time may display any items from their stockings as they see fit to any adult but not until 5.45 am.
That a Sensible Breakfast shall be taken, involving toast, a hot beverage and persons seated round a table provided by the Host. Children will remain seated for a minimum of three minutes. All will attend, with the exception of the Teenage Niece (hereinafter known as “The Vegetarian”) who will be permitted to remain in bed – though not in perpetuity.
The Female Cousin from New Zealand (“The Cousin”) shall also absent herself from the Sensible Breakfast, having been up since 4.30 am and being otherwise engaged with T’ai Chi exercises, Bolivian yodelling and such activities as she may consider necessary for her spiritual renewal.
Revoking all dispositions made heretofore, it has been RESOLVED that Main Presents shall be exchanged and opened not before 11 am. This is the time at which the Nephew of the Host, his Wife and Their Various Children who have come all the way from Leighton Buzzard (hereinafter known as “The Leighton Buzzard Contingent” or “Your Lot”) have notified their intention of going to church.
It is therefore agreed that all Xmasees shall walk to church and, on arrival, “Your Lot” shall enter the church for the service, WHEREUPON all others shall run back to the house for the exchange and opening of the Main Presents.
EXCEPTIONS: the Cousin shall run both ways. Your Lot shall open their presents inside church, PROVIDED such presents do not contain any noisy electrical motors or explosive materials, whatsoever, in such a way as might cause a distraction. The Vegetarian shall remain at home at this time to receive telephone calls from the Grandparents who shall be driving down from Hampshire and who shall have lost their way.
For the purposes of this Agreement, the term “Main Presents” shall not apply to any wrapped item which may appear on the branches of the Christmas tree or thereunder. INSOFAR as there are such presents in the vicinity of the tree, they are to be opened at a time specified below in this Agreement.
We hereby appoint Your Lot to be trustees of all batteries and manuals of instruction. The oldest child of Your Lot shall video the Queen’s Speech, PROVIDED that this does not interrupt the Harry Potter video at a crucial stage in the plot.
The Christmas Lunch shall take place at 4.20 pm. NOTWITHSTANDING the arrival time of the Grandparents who shall be stuck in a one-way system (or similar traffic hazard) near Basing, Basingstoke, Basildon or Bracknell, or wheresoever.
While the Lunch is being prepared, no one shall enter the kitchen except the Host and Hostess. EXEMPTIONS: Each child shall be permitted a maximum of three visits to the kitchen for the purposes of securing a peanut butter sandwich, the peanut butter whereof shall be crunchy. The Cousin shall permit herself a glass of celery, beetroot and carrot juice.
The Lunch shall consist of a roasted turkey and such trimmings as may be deemed appropriate.
In order to meet the wishes, as far as possible of the lunchees, BE IT KNOWN that the turkey shall be cooked according to the procedures laid down by Delia Smith. HOWEVER, the bread sauce shall be prepared in such a manner as would meet the approval of Jamie Oliver.
Be it further known that a proportion of the roast potatoes (not less than 17% and not more than 23%) shall be soggy, howsoever this effect is achieved.
It shall be the responsibility of all those present (not excluding the Vegetarian) to pass the gravy on demand.
Nobody shall be obliged to try the lemongrass, bulgur wheat and galangal stuffing prepared by the Cousin from a Thai recipe.
The Vegetarian undertakes to have her mobile phone switched to “vibrate” for at least half the duration of the meal.
Refer to Annexe F of this Contract for the schedule of who pulls crackers with whom. In the event of a dispute between the puller and the pullee over the ownership of the novelty inside the cracker (or under the sideboard) it shall be decided by one of the Grandparents, or, in the event of the non-arrival of the Grandparents, by the Nephew. Should the Nephew have left the room with a headache, the matter may be settled with a fight.
All Xmasees must wear a paper hat for the purposes of the video being shot by the Cousin. After which, the Vegetarian may remove hers.
The Brother-in-Law hereby gives up his right to shout out the answer to all the riddles, absolutely and without reservation.
Refer to Annexe G of this Contract for a schedule of excuses which shall be deemed acceptable for not taking part in a brisk walk after lunch.
Presents from the tree shall be distributed at 6.30 pm (and not after 7 pm if the Cousin has not yet returned from her run). Following this, giftors and giftees will exchange shop receipts for all their presents. This constitutes completion after the earlier exchange of presents. Giftees are now legally responsible for all items they may have received.
In the event of Charades, and in compliance with the terms of the Peace Treaty signed after last Christmas, no charade shall include the title of an opera or a Polish film or a novel written after 1996. (See Annexe H for a complete list of clever-dick titles not acceptable for Charades.)
At the conclusion of the festivities, and as guests are departing, expressions such as “You must come to us next year” or “Let’s make the next one a great big get-together for the whole family” or “Wouldn’t it be great to do this in New Zealand?” shall have no legal status WHATSOEVER and shall not bind the blurter or blurtee in any way.
In witness whereof I set my hand, and seal with a blob of mince pie filling.
Coming up next …
I’m away on my Christmas holidays from 20 December until 4 January. The next posting will appear at 00:01 on 1 January (“12 useful things for today”).
Happy Christmas to one and all, may your Yuletide be filled with warmth, happiness and good cheer.