Christmas with the Abbott* family

After the year we’ve had, there’s a lot of talk about celebrating a ‘normal’ Christmas this year. But is there really such a thing?

Across the UK, many families will be celebrating in December with their favourite food, their preferred time to share gifts and their own traditions. The chances are that no two households will celebrate in exactly the same way.

As we recognise that sometimes Christmas, New Year and other holidays need to look a little different for the families of care-experienced children, we want to celebrate the beauty and the joy in the fact that there’s really no such thing as a ‘normal’ Christmas.

"Christmas in our family looks different now, compared to when the children were little. We always tried to be traditional; we’d set a little mince pie out for Santa, we’d hang our stockings and creep down to see them first thing in the morning – I can still picture their delighted faces as they tip-toed down the stairs. We used to go to church on Christmas Day, and in our house we saved our ‘big’ presents until after church. I laugh at the memory of arriving at church, and all the other children having their ‘big’ presents with them to show everyone. Then there were my three beside them, with a little Slinky from their stocking.

We always had family around us at Christmas time when the kids were growing up. We’d take it in turns; one year it would be all my side, the following year we would invite whoever needed a place to go for Christmas. The last year, before we moved, it was my family’s turn. There were 23 of us in total for Christmas lunch! I had to borrow tables and chairs from the church to be able to feed everyone, and every floor in the house was taken by a sleeping bag or an airbed. It was completely mad and exhausting – you’d ask if anyone fancied a cup of tea, and then wish you never asked when an overwhelming amount of hands shot up into the air – but looking back, I think our kids really loved it. There was a real sense of belonging.

There were a few things that we had to be careful about, due to my children being adopted. For example, one of my children got a Christmas card every year from her former foster carer, while one got a present and a gift from his – he still does, every year. But one had lost contact with her foster carer. That was a challenging thing to navigate with them, particularly when they were younger and didn’t understand why it differed.

Each of my children are very different, and it was particularly interesting to get to know how each of them approached and understood gifts. For one of my children the giving and receiving of gifts is definitely her number one love language. She would, and still will, write each one of us an individual Christmas card even though we all live in the same house. She would get so excited by the presents, and would ask for lots of little gifts each year. Another one of my children, on the other hand, would only ask for one gift, but it would always be something nice like jewellery or perfume. We had to find ways to manage their different excitement levels without dampening them, whilst also helping them remember the real reason behind Christmas celebrations.

My children are older now. Two of them are adults, and my son is in his late teens. Christmas in our house has been much more low-key these past few years. I find it interesting that this is one of the only times during the year when our children really want to be with us at home. We watch movies together, we eat together, we chat around the kitchen table – it’s a really beautiful time, and feels particularly important for my children who sometimes still need that extra love, comfort and reassurance. We loved those mad, busy years. But there’s something special about being ‘home’, as family, at Christmas time."

*names changed for anonymity

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