Many families have traditions in their families that they do year on year. They can range from things they do to presents they give.
A lot of family’s probably have similar traditions. I always got a little orange and a bag of chocolate money (except Father Christmas forgot my chocolate money last year!) and a pillow case with my presents in. My parents always got a new pair of slippers. Some may always have visited the same people on the same day. For us my grandparents always came for Christmas day and then we spent Boxing Day with my cousins, then New Year’s Eve was at our house and New Year’s Day was back to my cousin’s house. Other traditions for us include a real Christmas tree every year.
But how many of these traditions stem from necessity. Yes it was great that your ancestor’s got a new pair of slippers every Christmas, but if you think about it they probably needed them, so they got what they needed as a present. I can remember getting a new winter coat which makes a great present and is something I needed.
The further back you go through your ancestor’s the more this probably happened. Children probably just got the new clothes they needed and little else, or if they did they were most likely homemade and it would have been rare that the adults got a present, unless they were from a wealthy family that could afford to buy them.
Another form the traditions may take could relate to Christmas food. Tradition today for Christmas dinner is a full roast with turkey. In the Victorian era and before it would more likely have been goose. I’ve had a variety of strange foods for Christmas dinner. I’ve had a BBQ, a fry up and even pizza. Just because it’s Christmas day doesn’t mean it has to be turkey and Christmas pudding. Going back through your ancestor’s it may be that the family scrimped and saved just to have a small piece of meat for Christmas Day (think of the Cratchit’s in a Christmas Carol). If they were farmers like many of my ancestors were they may have had a better dinner as they had the land to grow their own veg and raise animals just for themselves.
Traditions could be things the family did. Pre WW1 it’s most likely that your ancestors would have attended church on Christmas morning before going home for the day. Many a time the man of the house may have gone to the pub after church before going home for lunch. Other traditions could be that on Boxing Day the family went for a long walk or went carolling in the days coming up to Christmas Day.
We need to remember though that the further you go back through your ancestors the less likely it would be that that had any kind of Christmas. Tradition for them could have been that Christmas was a non-event as any kind of celebration would have been beyond their means. Those in the workhouse could have had a better day as even they got a little more food on Christmas day.
Each new generation probably has a new a new set of traditions. Some may combine the traditions of their parents along with new traditions. Each generation will have access to new ideas, beliefs and material things which will mean they can have new traditions that your ancestor’s could never have imagined. Can you imagine your Georgian ancestor’s ever thinking that you can put electric lights on a tree in your house or even covering their houses in them?
So why not start a new Christmas tradition this year so that in the future your descendants can wonder where the Christmas traditions they do come from.