What are your festive family traditions?

From a Christmas Eve viewing of The Snowman to an ancient robin which takes pride of place on the tree, all families have their own festive traditions. Sarah Freeman reports.

Ian McMillan's Christmas isn't complete without watching The Snowman.
Ian McMillan's Christmas isn't complete without watching The Snowman.

Amy Leach

When I think back to festive traditions when I was growing up, I always think of crisps. Every Christmas morning, Mum would bring out an old serving platter and fill each of the segments with snacks – M&S Cheese Tasters, salt and vinegar chip sticks, Twiglets, peanuts and cheese crackers. We’d be in crisp heaven all day long – nibbling away on the sofa in front of festive TV and replenishing the segments when they ran low.

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Now I have a family of my own, I’m enjoying creating new traditions with my four year old son, Bertie. Each year, I make him an advent calendar. I hang 24 little red and white striped paper bags on a string down our banister and fill each bag with chocolate coins and a little Christmas treat for the day. It might be a toy tree to let him know we’re off to buy a real one, or cookie cutters for making mince pies.

Amy Leach, director of The Night Before Christmas.

Every Christmas Eve, we head to our local church where they hold a children’s nativity service. Every child in our neighbourhood goes dressed as one of the nativity characters and heads up to the altar when their character is mentioned in the story. It is adorable. Bertie’s planning to be a Wise Man for the third year running.

And every year, we see lots of festive shows at theatres across the country. Bertie has seen all of the Courtyard Christmas productions at the West Yorkshire Playhouse since he was six months old, so he’s delighted that Mummy has directed this year’s offering. He’s also excited that he’s now old enough to see the show in The Quarry too – especially that it features a flying car. It should be a very special Christmas.

Amy Leach is director of the Night Before Christmas, West Yorkshire Playhouse, to Jan 2.

Ian McMillan

Poet Ian McMillan

When my eldest daughter, now 32, was very young, we sat and watched The Snowman together on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve. I remember blubbering like a baby at the beauty and simplicity of the story and every Christmas I try and watch it and every year I blubber like a baby. In fact, writing this, there are tears at the edge of my eyes and a lump in my throat the size of a mince pie.

The song Walking in The Air gets me every time: I know it’s sentimental and soft but I’m a soft and sentimental man. It’s a song about innocence, and hope, and beauty and the possibility that one day we might fly. And then the ending (spoiler alert) with The Snowman melted away reduces me to so many tears that I have to go upstairs and grab toilet roll.

And now I’m about to become a grandad again and there’s just a chance that my new granddaughter will be born before Christmas. I can’t wait to sit and watch The Snowman with her. ‘Why is grandad crying?’ ‘He’s crying because he’s happy! I’ll just go and get him another toilet roll.’

Ian McMillan is a poet and Yorkshire Post columnist.

Lisa Riley who plays The Spirit of the Beans in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Lisa Riley

As a family we always open our main gift at midnight on Christmas Eve, but now my two nephews, four year old Jake and Joshua, two, have taken over all the traditions as they get so excited, which is wonderful to watch.

My oldest Christmas tree decoration is a musical robin that I got when I was 10 years old - 29 years ago! It still works absolutely perfectly - tweeting away on a branch. This year all my decorations will be in my dressing room at the theatre, making it festive for the run.

Come Christmas Day I will be with my dad, brother, sister-in-law, my two nephews and my grandad. We are going to a beautiful hotel near where I live in Manchester for a lovely Christmas lunch, and then back to my aunty’s afterwards to watch TV and play games. My boyfriend is working away this Christmas so I will also be spending quite a bit of time on Facetime throughout the day.

Carolyn Smith from Bettys.

We will all give a massive toast of whiskey to my Mum in heaven before lunch, then we always feel her with us as a family.

Lisa Riley is in Jack and the Beanstalk at Bradford Alhambra, to Jan 24.

Carolyn Smith

Luckily, I can’t enough of Christmas. Mine starts six months ahead of the rest of everyone else, taste testing stollen and mince pies in July. My personal Christmas begins on December 24.he Christmas tree is annually decorated with red lights and red baubles, save for a little snowman made of felt – he only has one eye now and a carrot nose that’s gone wonky but he’s been on my Christmas tree since I was little.

Once I get home from work on Christmas Eve, I put on some Christmas music (my favourite is Last Christmas, by Wham) and pour myself a glass of Madeira. My partner Michael and I then get stuck into wrapping presents for the Christmas stockings before meeting friends at York Minster for the Midnight Mass - the lights around the Minster and the Shambles always look so beautiful.

Christmas Day begins with a glass of Prosecco and we open our stockings, full of small and silly presents. Our cats Livvy and Moo Moo have stockings too and the special treat of a dish of tuna. We always listen to BBC Radio 2 Junior Choice with Ed Stewart, then friends pop round for nibbles.

Wendy Harris, artistic director of Tutti Frutti.

Boxing Day is always a walk at the coast – maybe Filey this year – to blow away the cobwebs. I then check the freezer and count the mince pies left, to ration them out over the year to come.

Carolyn co-manages the stock flow of festive specialities at Bettys where she is affectionately known as ‘Mrs Christmas’.

Wendy Harris

We always host family at Christmas, we are all from different cultural and religious mixes, but we love the traditions that the festive season brings.

It all starts with my husband and boys going out to buy the biggest tree they can find. Then once home the Michael Bublé Christmas album goes on and a glass of Baileys and ice is poured. We all decorate the tree as we sing to the songs.

On Christmas Eve letters to Santa are put by the fireplace, stockings are hung on the mantelpiece, a mince pie, carrot and glass of whiskey are left for Santa and reindeer. We also scatter white flour on the fire grate and lo and behold Christmas morning there is always a big ‘Santa’ foot print left, the whiskey and mince pie are gone, and the carrot has been bitten into.

We discover stockings full of goodies alongside lots of presents under the huge tree. We serve buck’s fizz to the big family gathering and then the gift exchanges begin and continue throughout the day as people drop in. Early evening we all feast on a huge three course Christmas meal washed down with champagne and wine.

Wendy Harris is artistic director of tutti frutti and director of Snow Child which is currently touring and will be at York Theatre Royal in February.