From a shrimp tree to soup in a stocking readers’ unusual Christmas traditions


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One family plays the same 30-year-old quiz every year, another sleeps under the tree on Christmas Eve – 15 quirky rituals from readers

James Field, charity worker, Manchester
Mamma Mia!
When my nanna died in 2017, my family made a decision to create new Christmas traditions that year. While starting the day with a parkrun was a very deliberate new tradition, watching Mamma Mia! on Christmas Eve was more spontaneous. Having hit upon it on TV that first year, it was such an uplifting experience (although possibly not for my dad) that we now try to watch it together each Christmas Eve, much to my dad’s dismay. Covid travel restrictions mean that I won’t be able to see my parents for Christmas this year, but my mam and I will be sticking to the new tradition and WhatsApping throughout our shared screening, while my dad complains quietly about it in the background. Well, it is tradition.
Carly, Jersey
Olives and protein bars
My partner, Hugh, and I spent our first Christmas together on a backpacking trip through Central America. On Christmas Day, we were in Belize, and had not realised that all the shops would be closed. We had forgotten to pick up anything to eat, so our Christmas dinner was a crumbled-up organic bar I found in the bottom of my bag and a jar of olives that Hugh had been carrying around for weeks. Six Christmases later, we always put olives and protein bars in each other’s stockings in remembrance of our first Christmas together.
Max, office manager, Toronto
A night to remember for the Wolfe family.
Photograph: Jess Wolfe
We always celebrate by dragging our mattresses downstairs on Christmas Eve and waking up together under the tree on Christmas morning. It started when our children were aged five and three. Eight years later, Rosie and Emily still look forward to making up the beds and sleeping under the twinkling lights.
Jess Wolfe, social worker, Nottingham
Frozen pizza
Perfect Christmas fare?
Photograph: Tom Viggars/Alamy Stock Photo
My mom’s parents were divorced, so we always had lots of Christmases to celebrate. After all the rushing around, we were always so exhausted that we would defrost a store-bought pizza for dinner. It never occurred to me that this was unusual until my adolescence, when other people would talk about all the wonderful things they ate at Christmas. Now, with in-laws and friends added to the mix, there are more Christmas celebrations than ever, so when I come home on the evening of the 25th, you’d better believe there is a pizza in my freezer waiting for me.
Katie Spicka, health clinic manager, Minnesota
A dog-eared quiz
I give the same quiz to my brother’s family every year. My wife and I journey to his home and, after gifts have been exchanged, the dog-eared quiz is dug out. It had its origins about 30 years ago. On no occasion has anyone achieved 100% and, with advancing years, this is likely to continue. Afterwards, the answer papers are ceremonially destroyed, the drinks come out and the TV goes on. Our sons and daughters are only occasionally present and, of course, they think we are quite mad.
Derek Raishbrook, retired teacher, Torrevieja, Spain
Happy birthday
A flaming Christmas pudding is the cue for Becky Sallis’s family to break into song.
Photograph: Linh Moran Photography/Getty Images/iStockphoto
When I spend Christmas Day with my mum, sister and brother, we sing happy birthday to Jesus when the flaming Christmas pudding comes out. This has been going on for about 15 years. No idea what started it. Too much wine, I imagine!
Becky Sallis, data manager, Nottingham
Tasteless tat
In the pink … will this poodle go unnoticed on the tree?
Photograph: Catharine Jenkins
One of my closest friends has very good taste; his house is like a perfect Victorian scene, with log fire, tartan blankets, the smell of mulled wine and a beautiful, traditional tree. Over the years, he has tried to support me in improving the chaotic and slapdash approach I have adopted to decorating my tree. It has become tradition for me to resist his advice. Not only that, I make an effort to undermine his own well thought-out milieu. This takes the form of smuggling in a tasteless item – my goal is to arrange it on his tree so that he doesn’t notice. This year, I have got a luminous-pink fluffy poodle tree decoration, which I’ll aim to get front and centre. This is going to be a big challenge.
Catharine, nurse tutor, Smethwick
Something from the chippie for Christmas Eve.
Photograph: Geoff A Howard/Alamy Stock Photo
I work in a church, so Christmas Eve is busy. Our family had always eaten fish, usually a fish pie, for dinner on Christmas Eve. About 10 years ago, I did not get it made before I went to work, worked late and despairingly said to my husband: “It will be midnight before we eat.

He suggested we went for fish and chips. I protested about it being Christmas Eve, but he won and we went off to the chippie. Ours boys thought it was brilliant and we have done it every year since.
Wendy Tiffin, church administrator, Essex
A Spanish horror film
Let the horror begin … a scene from [Rec].
Photograph: Allstar/Filmax
I’ve watched the 2007 Spanish film [Rec] every Christmas Eve since about 2010. I was living in Ireland at the time, where I was born, and had just watched the Father Ted Christmas episode and started channel flicking when I found Film4 was playing it. I have watched [Rec] every year since then, without fail. This is my first year of living with a partner, so she will have to watch it with me.
Daniel, student, Germany
The shrimp tree
As a teenage mother and wife, my mom clipped recipes from a ladies’ magazine and her favourite for Christmas was the shrimp tree. Now she is in her 70s, but we still insist she makes it each year. Basically, it is a 2ft tall Styrofoam tree with lettuce leaves attached with toothpicks. Peeled, boiled shrimp are then also attached with toothpicks, in an arrangement that resembles a Christmas tree candy-cane garland. It will always remind me of the optimism and enthusiasm of my very young mom starting out in life.
Alessi, physician’s assistant and artist, Houston, Texas
Christmas bets
All bets are on as the chocolate coins come out.
Photograph: Lynne Sutherland/Alamy Stock Photo
After Christmas dinner and a few glasses of wine, it is time for Christmas bets. Chocolate coins at the ready, we make our predictions for the following year. There are a few regular categories – celebrity embarrassment, retail disaster, politics, royal family, etc – and new ones are added each year. This year, I expect Donald Trump’s attendance/non-attendance at the inauguration will be on the list. Bets are recorded and chocolate coin wagers put in the pot. We have a look at the list when celebrating birthdays or other family gatherings throughout the year and pay out winnings to those who can face slightly stale chocolate.
Christine, Salisbury
A little Italian something to eat before the roast turkey? Turkey lasagna.
Photograph: Alexander Mychko/Alamy Stock Photo
Since moving to Italy four years ago, a steaming lasagne has become our Christmas Day tradition. We couldn’t not have a pasta al forno as part of our otherwise traditional British Christmas lunch. It is made the day before with four cheeses and prosciutto layered between the sheets of lasagne, ragù (with minced turkey substituting for the more traditional beef/pork) and bechamel sauce; our choice of meat aside, it is an otherwise typical recipe passed on to us from our Italian neighbours. And there is always enough for Boxing Day leftovers.
Scott Maxwell, podcaster and olive farmer, Puglia, Italy
A stand up/sit down dinner
We have a particular album that we like to play during Christmas dinner: A Classic Christmas by the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. We always start it as we sit down to eat and when it hits track five,
Herbert’s Babes in Toyland – March of the Toys
, we all look at one other in anticipation. When it hits the chorus, we all stand up and sit down at the table in time to the music, regardless of our meal. Then we wait for the next chorus and do it again, and so on. Smiles all around as we share this tradition. The funniest times though are when we have guests for Christmas dinner – we don’t mention it and, at first, our guests are agog at our strange behaviour. By the end, though, most are laughing and joining in. Such a silly tradition but one we hold close to our hearts.
Jackie Harding, writer, the Netherlands
Stocking soup
I put groceries in my children’s stockings. It started five or so years ago when our eldest daughter made her first wishlist as part of a school assignment. Her No 1 request was a can of Campbell’s tomato soup. I had not realised how much she loved it, so I bought her a can of soup and put it in her stocking. It was her favourite present that year, and our other two children wanted to know why they did not get any groceries. Ever since, I have given them all something from the grocery store: no gourmet or special order items, just everyday food that is a particular favourite of that child. It is a hit every year, and now they are older they have serious discussions about what each should ask for.
Denise Pamudji, homemaker, Mississippi

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