Jayne Dawson: Stand by - it’s time to bring out your festive rituals

PUDDING MIX: We all have our own ways of doing Christmas.
PUDDING MIX: We all have our own ways of doing Christmas.
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Well then, after tomorrow it will be all over.

Yeah, I know. I haven’t got my dates wrong, I’m not just Going Too Early in a blur of festive frenzy.

There is no time like Christmas for bringing out a family tradition. Every year we dust them down along with the fairy lights.

Jayne Dawson

But Christmas Eve is the peak of public excitement, isn’t it? Tomorrow morning there will still be people on the streets, giving their Santa jumpers a final crowd-pleasing moment.

They will still be in the shops: the organised ones picking up their pre-ordered turkey, ham and stand pie; the disorganised ones casting around, wild-eyed, for That Jewellery Shop That Sells Charm Bracelets, or That Posh Candle Shop. They are the male shopper of the species, obviously.

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But after that it all goes a bit family. Well, very family.

There was a time when Christmas Eve lunch was the time for office booze-ups, for trailing around town tipsy with tinsel on your head. And the night was for filling the pubs to bustin’ point - but that’s all a bit retro now. Basically we left that behavior behind in the 1980s. It’s not really done to make merry with your mates anymore, from mid afternoon we are all behind closed doors - kicking off the family rituals.

Because there is no time like Christmas for bringing out a family ritual, is there? Every year we dust them down along with the fairy lights and the few remaining old baubles from the days before they all became made out of plastic.

I very much approve. I like a ritual, and the more bonkers the better. And the great thing about Christmas is that not all its rituals have to be as old as time itself - some are quite sprightly and new.

Because you never know when a new one might emerge. You take a risk one year, try a festive tweak, it works and, Lordy Lordy, you have a new ritual right there.

That happened to me five Christmases ago. I went out on a limb and bought a cracker set that contained little handbells and music with numbers so that we can ring out festive tunes.

I won’t lie to you, it was dear, but I’ve got enough miniature screwdriver sets to see me to the end of days now, and I needed a change.

And it went down a storm. A storm, I tell you. Well I liked it and since I was hosting mine was the only opinion in town. Jingle Bells never sounded so sweet. So now it comes down from the loft every year for another sensational performance.

My sister conducts, because she is the bossy one. My mother misses her cue every time. It’s a hoot - and a ritual.

You will have your own. I read recently about one family who not only flame the Christmas pudding in brandy but all line up behind it and do a conga to the dining table. I find that a bit flamboyant, a bit flashy for my taste. I’m tempted to say a bit ...foreign.

I prefer to set the pudding alight all alone and then run in with it, looking frightened. That seems more quintessentially British to me - festive yet brave in the face of almost certain disaster. But each to his own.

Many rituals revolve around the timing of the dinner - or maybe you call it lunch round your parts.

Ours is 1pm. I would like to move it to 2pm but I can’t on account of my mother-in-law. Her own ritual used to involve crackers pulled at noon, dinner one minute later, but now she has passed the Christmas baton on to me, and has to spend the time between noon and 1pm feeling that Christmas has gone to the dogs.

What you eat will also be the stuff of ritual. Our starter has involved avocado since my mother discovered them in ‘76, which means a huge amount of festive emotion is expended each year trying to bring a bowl of avocados to ripeness, but not over-ripeness, by Christmas morning.

But still, it’s worth it. Straight up, I mean it.The dafter the ritual, the more fun it makes Christmas.

It’s the only time of the year when all life hinges on the ripeness of a fruit - long may it continue. Merry Christmas.

Top marks for a TV schedule

This is the time of year when the age old divide no longer applies.

No one cares whether you are a cat person or a dog person. No one cares that one group is warm and cuddly while the other is cold as ice and hard as nails.That’s all unimportant.

The only relevant difference between us is this: Do you mark up your viewing on the festive issue of the Radio Times.

If the answer is yes, then you are on the side of the gods. You appreciate Christmas, you know what is right, and you are a good and decent person.

If you don’t then you are wrong. Just plain wrong. What is the matter with you?

In our house the Christmas Radio Times is a high point in the year, a moment of giddy excitement.

One year, I issued everyone with a different colour pen, to cut down on the viewing confusion and, yes I’m going to say it, the unseasonal arguments.

Mine was the red pen, because my choices were the right ones, and the ones that prevailed.

Now I am an empty nester and different colour pens are not a necessity, and neither is marking up the Radio Times.

But still I persist because it is the right thing to do. I will not watch all the programmes I highlight. It would not be possible.

But that is not the point. Of all the rituals of Christmas this is the finest, because television makes a British Christmas special.

Small talk gets a seasonal boost

This is the only time of year when small talk deviates from its usual topic: the weather.

We can give all climate-based chat a rest for a while because there are other things to discuss.

Before I do just that though, I need to just say that all this warmth is doing my head in.

I want to see frost patterns, I want a nip in the air. Instead I had, this very morning, a confused bluebottle blundering around my kitchen.

Okay then, we are still discussing weather. But for the past week or so there has been that other conversational opener: “ Is everyone coming to you.”

I have heard this in supermarkets, on buses, in queues, in every possible location.

The answers have varied from a surprising : “There will be 26 of us” to “Yes, and I haven’t even cleaned the cooker yet”.

Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Tony Yeboah scores in the 1995 Christmas Eve clash between Leeds and Manchester United.

Rob Atkinson: A very Leeds United Christmas Eve