Oh, the Weather Outside is Inconsistent

I’ve always thought it would be cool to write a book about all the different ways people do Christmas. Not a particularly profitable book, I suppose, because now that I think about it, it would probably be kind of boring, and the demographic would more or less basically just be me. Maybe just a magazine article then, or a Powerpoint presentation.

I’d still find it really interesting. I’m fascinated by the protocol of Christmas. Every family who celebrates the holiday has their own special way of doing it. Stockings on the bed or over the fireplace? Christmas Eve in with the family or out on the town? Presents all at once or spread throughout the day? For some, I understand, this protocol is relaxed and malleable. Your formula for the ideal family Christmas may be altered by varying circumstances, and family traditions may be subject to drastic change from year to year. This is not, however, the case for my family.

You see, we’re somewhat of a mobile bunch. In a few weeks’ time when we’ve all returned to our respective homes-away-from-home, my brother will be in Singapore, my sister will be in San Francisco, my twin will be in Scotland, my parents will stay in San Diego and I’ll be dodging bullets back up in Oakland. It’s always been this way, all of us spread out across the globe like a bunch of family diplomats each responsible for keeping up appearances in one corner of the Earth. Consequently, Christmas has become not just a time of celebration, but a time of reunion, when we get to eat homecooked food and wait with anticipation for each other to arrive from the airport. The location of that airport has changed many times over the years too. With each new move, we find a new place to call home, and a new quandary over which room in the new house we should put the Christmas tree in.

Among this swirling maelstrom of change, December 25th remains an island of unwavering consistency. Apart from the ever diminishing role that Santa Claus has taken as the years have passed, for the most part Christmas has remained more or less unchanged in the Burns family since around 1986.

Maintaining such ruthless regularity has not been difficult. You see, Papa Burns contributed a lot of German DNA to the family gene pool, and the clockwork precision and efficiency of our Teutonic heritage becomes apparent at this time of year. My sisters, who appear to have inherited the majority of this DNA, adopt the unofficial titles of Christmas Coordinators. Some years I forget portions of the Christmas protocol, but they are like the village elders, the keepers of ancient Burns family lore, always at hand with knowledge of old customs set by precedence of previous Christmases. Not sure which way the dessert spoons should face? Susie will tell you that since 1997 we have been facing them to the left, except between 2001 and 2003 when we broke tradition and used forks. Not sure if our mother will like the lavender hand soap you’re giving her? Consult with Holly and learn that over the years Mama Burns has received fourteen lavender-related items, and shown Medium to Medium-High recipient satisfaction for all of them. Should you have any doubts or queries, kindly direct them to the Christmas Coordinators (but please, if you wish to avoid any arguments you will be unable to win, keep all comments and suggestions to yourselves).

And so, keeping with the tradition of all past Christmases, this one was excellent. The food was overwhelming, the presents were fantastic and my family were as fun, gregarious and highly-efficient as ever. Now that my parents are happily settled in their current house (or at least, for now, their current state) and their children are gradually feeling the gravitational pull of America (Tom moves to New York in April), it seems like the restlessness of our past is finally starting to fade. I’m really looking forward to us maybe one day all being in the same country, to the day when we won’t have to worry so much about the effects that snowstorms or lost passports may have on us being reunited with each other every year. As much as I love the pomp and tradition of Christmas, I’m also kind of looking forward to the day when it won’t be such a big deal, when it’ll just be another day in December that I get to spend eating food and cracking jokes with my family.


You know what I really really don’t get? Maybe I’m missing something here and one of you can correct me, but I just can’t understand why artists insist on covering Christmas songs. I’m still waiting for the day when a band covers Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas better than Sinatra or Fairytale of New York better than The Pogues. For me, each Christmas song is so wrapped up in the symbolism and meaning that hearing someone else cover it just sends me into uncontrollable convulsions of cringe.

However, there is one song in particular that kind of breaks this mould. Lisa Hannigan (she of Damien Rice duo fame) once released this amazing version of Silent Night, where she took the melody and some of the familiar lyrics of the song, but totally rewrote its meaning and delivery.

It’s a beautiful song, and is available for you to stream or download below. I really think that is the secret to a good cover; totally revolutionising the song, making it your own, but keeping enough of the original that people can still realise what an improvement you’ve made on the original.

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5 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. A says:

    You write about your family and Christmas so beautifully.

    How exciting that your brother is moving to the US.

    Happy New Year to you.

  2. 2

    This is the blog post that I was trying to write, and you pretty much did it for me! Thanks for making my life easier. I think perhaps we share a brain.

  3. anonymouse says:

    I love this line…….. all of us spread out across the globe like a bunch of family diplomats each responsible for keeping up appearances in one corner of the Earth.

  4. Elaine C. says:

    I came here for the first time via Nothing But Bonfires, and got lost in the rabbit hole of your words. Well done! I thought I would give you a glimpse into my family’s Christmas, since you and your sister have done that for the rest of us. I’m from South Louisiana, and my mom’s family all lives there. Christmas Eve belongs to them. We congregate at Granny’s house (she came out of retirement this year for “one more” after my mom hosted the last two) for Gumbo, carols, and presents. Then off to midnight mass. Christmas Day we had stockings by the fireplace and piles of presents from Santa (unwrapped) in the living room, and wrapped presents from each other and our parents under the tree. Then we would make the hour trek to Mississippi to visit my dad’s dad and stepmom. Now that they are gone, we usually spend that time with my mom’s parents again, or now that some of the siblings & cousins are married, the in-laws. I’d say the most consistent part of Christmas is the Gumbo, carols, and presents on Christmas Eve.

  5. Vanessa says:

    I just finished reading every post on this blog, and I think I’m a little bit in love with you. You write beautifully. You’ve made me laugh, ponder some seriously deep issues, and even tear up just a little bit. And most importantly, your posts remind me of everything I love about folk music but could never articulate as elegantly and with as much passion and humour as you do. I feel like I have stumbled across a kindred spirit. Dammit Luke, you’ve made me HAPPY and also gave me a wonderful excuse to procrastinate on studying for finals. I see that you have not updated since Christmas, but I am counting on you to come back and start writing again.

    Consider yourself bookmarked, sir.


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