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My Christmas by Julie Etchingham

My Christmas by Julie Etchingham

It’s all about family and laying down memories for her sons for the ITN newsreader – but she’ll never forget, she says, what happened in 2004.

Christmas is all about family, and for my husband Nick and I that means, more than anything, getting it right for our two boys who are 11 and eight. We have a tradition on Christmas Eve of lighting sparklers in the garden and singing ‘Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ – when they were little we told them we needed to guide Santa and his sleigh down, and we’ve always carried on with it. These days my eldest son sometimes gives me a suspicious look, but I always tell him when you stop believing, you never know what’s going to happen…

Like a lot of families we sometimes have a houseful of relatives, and other Christmases it’s just the four of us. There are advantages whichever sort of Christmas it’s going to be: it’s lovely to have everyone around, but it’s also wonderful celebrating with just the children and Nick. If it’s just the four of us, we’ll usually go to relatives on Boxing Day – that’s probably what’s happening this year.

The boys always leave out carrots and snacks for Santa’s reindeer, and then one really lovely thing they do is to always sleep in the same room on Christmas Eve, so they can wake up and open their stockings together. We always decorate their room with some bunting one of their godmothers gave them, so there’s a really festive feel. In the morning, when they wake up, there will always be a note from Santa by the fireplace… I’m not sure what my eldest son will make of that this year!

My ChristmasWhen the boys were younger we’d always go to the 9.30am family Mass and join that crowd of hollow-eyed parents who’d been up since 4am and were now trying to cope with totally frazzled kids. But these days it’s a lot more civilised: the boys understand that they can’t get us up too early, so we see what they’ve got in their stockings and then open a few presents before going to the 11am Mass. That’s one of the highlights of Christmas for me: not only does it really centre you in terms of what it’s all about, but also it’s such a wonderful opportunity to be able to share it with the wider community. My life is rooted in our parish: it’s where my friends are, it’s where my boys’ friends are, and it’s lovely to be able to see all those people on Christmas morning, it means you’re extending it beyond just your own family. It connects you to others, takes you out of your bubble.

After Mass we go home to another big tradition in our family, which is having a pork pie and a glass of Prosecco. My great grandparents ran a butcher’s shop in Leicester, where I’m from, and they’d always have pork pies on Christmas morning – so we still do it today. After that we open the rest of the presents and that’s always such a happy time.

Nick always cooks Christmas lunch, so if it’s a fine day I’ll usually take the boys out for a walk in the park: it gives them some fresh air, and it means Nick has a bit of space to get on with the getting the meal together. And then we’ll go home for our lunch, which is usually at about 4pm. After that we’ll usually just flake out in front of the telly: the boys are really into Dr Who, so if that’s on it’s perfect for us.

In my job I do have to work occasional Christmases, but it doesn’t seem to have been too much of a hardship for the boys – they say the Christmas I had to work a few years ago was their best ever! I had to go in at lunchtime to get ready for the evening news bulletins, so we told them we’d postpone our Christmas lunch until Boxing Day, but that they could choose whatever they wanted as the meal we’d have before I headed off. They chose cheese fondue followed by Angel Delight: can you imagine anything worse? But it was good fun because it was something different, and when I went into work Nick rang round a few friends with children and they went over to ours in the evening to try out the boys’ new scalextric set, and had an absolute ball.

It’s a strange atmosphere in the office on Christmas Day, because the truth is that everyone would rather be at home with their families, but – just like people who work in transport or the police force – we can’t not be there on December 25 as we have to cover what’s happening in the world that day just like every other. There are always huge boxes of mince pies knocking around and people just get on with things: mercifully, the news bulletins are fairly short and usually there’s nothing much going on.

2004-tsunamiOne Christmas I’ll never forget, though, was 2004. Our eldest son was a baby and we had a quiet day at home but then on Boxing Day the tsunami struck in Thailand, and I was on a plane a few hours later. It was one of those mad scrambles: I had to just throw some stuff into a suitcase and head off, and I was away for the next couple of weeks. And of course what I was going into was a terrible disaster, and heartbreaking: it was a real wake-up call after my cosy Christmas, a real reminder that not everyone is so lucky.

I felt bad about having to just leave Nick and my son, but that’s the business I’m in, and I know my family understand that. The truth is that when you’re in this sort of job you rely on the people around you to back you up, to help you out when you’re suddenly thrown into something totally unexpected as I was then, and all my family – my parents and my brother too – have always done that for me, which they know I completely appreciate.

I suppose what I hope, more than anything, is that when my boys are older they remember their childhood Christmases as having been magical. It’s one of those things you do as a parent, creating traditions and then passing them on so they weave into the fabric of your family life for another generation. When I see my boys lying asleep on Christmas night, exhausted after all the fun and all the busyness, that’s what’s most in my heart; plus thankfulness, because we’re very blessed and sometimes it’s important to think about that.

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