I have always loved Christmas, so decided to write about Christmas traditions in our household. But I used to get so stressed about it until one year I was too ill to bother–and you know what? We had a lovely Christmas without all the fuss! So we do the stuff we enjoy and that brightens lives and forget the rest. Some of our crazy (and cheap) Christmas traditions below:

Growing up in a third world country meant that tinsel, shop bought toys and clothes were a rarity. And when my kids were small, we didn’t have very much money. Yet many of the traditions from my childhood and cost-saving measures have become the best part of Christmas for all of us.

Christmas Cake

Our Christmas cake is a prime example. I always make the cake from a recipe given to me by Jean. She was a treasure–one of those people who is kind to everyone and always cheers you up. So baking the cake makes me think of Jean and smile.

Imagination grows when you don’t have much to work with. The children started decorating the Christmas cake with a few Santas and penguins so some toys were used as well. Each year another one or two were added, and each year, they thought up a new theme. There was the airport, then Lord of the Rings, Vampire Penguins, Midsommer Murders, Downton Abbey, the Olympics, Strictly Come Dancing, The Worlds Strongest Man and the Great British Bakeoff. Using your imagination, work out the themes for the Christmas cakes.

Stockings & Charity Shops

And, of course, we still do stockings.

And still use the same one as in the photo, nearly 30 years on. My challenge is to spend as little as possible (charity shops are a great source of funny things) and get as many smiles as possible.

Charity shops are a great source of Christmas jumpers, ornaments and gifts. One year we made a Christmas jumper for my husband by using some tinsel and old baubles to create a tree on a boring red jumper. The baubles kept dropping off which just added to the hilarity.

And if you shop at charity shops,  you’re helping people too. And you can make a double donation by taking the things back if they aren’t a hit!


Twenty five years ago, as instructed by Blue Peter, we made a nativity set–we still use it. Children love playing with it and we can always make more figures.   Of course, the village midwife attended (just behind Mary with the blanket. A certain small blond person insisted on a golden-haired princess, (travelling with the Magi out of shot). Baby Jesus is still up in heaven with the angels. Whichever child was awake the earliest on Christmas morning raced down to put him in the crib.

And the equally ancient papier-mache Advent Wreath kept three small people out of mischief one rainy day.  Abundant tinsel disguises its many knobbly bits and it still serves its purpose decades on

Our tree is not glamorous or colour coordinated, each ornament tells a story. We have an annual competition to see who can find the most hideous ornament for a pound or less!

I love to hear other people’s traditions–I just learned about the tradition of the Christmas Pickle (although I have not succumbed to the temptation to crochet it). I have given in to the temptation to crochet another very weird ornament but cannot reveal what it is until Christmas as it is a surprise for my son who is a Dr Who fan. If you would like me to send you the picture email info@nancyradford.com.

John Julius Norwich’s Christmas anthology is full of Christmas stories from a range of households.

Whatever your Christmas traditions, I hope you have a good time with friends and family. If relations are strained, here’s a few tips.