Family Christmas traditions

We all celebrate the end of the year differently. For many of us, it is our only significant holiday break for the year and this in itself is reason to celebrate.

Some have family Christmas traditions that have evolved over generations and others mark the festive season by spending time with whanau and friends at holiday homes or camping. We buy gifts for those we love but often don’t begin our shopping till December.

The key is to enjoy these end of year celebrations without suffering too much stress and pressure. We spoke to a few Ponsonby News readers to find out their favourite traditions and shopping tips as well as seeking out a few thoughtful gifts from local retailers and businesses that might be perfect for Christmas.

Tito Cucciniello of Pane e Vino & Ciao Belli
Tito moved to New Zealand from Italy decades ago – opening his restaurants and raising his family in the Ponsonby area. For Tito, Christmas is about food, family and friends. “We always spend our Christmas Day with our dear friend Valeria of Studio Italia and her family on Waiheke Island. Our Christmas tradition is to simply spend all day with our family and friends around a table drinking and eating.” Tito explains that the fun is in filling plates and having lots of laughs around the table together. “We always finish with a bottle of Limoncello and walk to the beach with our dogs before we start eating again!”

Marysa Theiler, owner & founder of barrefigure
A business owner and busy mother of two young children, Marysa looks to re-create her own versions of the Christmas baking of her talented mother. “Our house was always filled with tins of delicious festive treats (florentines, Russian fudge, biscotti, caramel logs, mince pies and spiced nuts, etc). My mother always gives her friends baking as Christmas gifts and I have attempted to be creative like her,” explains Marysa.

In the past, Marysa has made muesli in jars, and spiced nuts but this year will attempt to include her children Lexi (2) and Tom (1) in the process of making gingerbread Christmas cookies for family and friends.

Sid & Chand Sahrawat, Sidart, Cassia and Sid at The French Café
Sid and Chand are an impressive team with multiple award-winning restaurants and a real passion for giving back to the community while juggling the fun and challenges of their two young children, Zoya and Roan. While the family often goes away for Christmas, this year they will be trying something different. “We’re having an ‘Orphan’s Christmas barbecue at our place. We’re inviting all our staff and friends who don’t have plans for Christmas Day to join us and celebrate together,” explains Chand.

With young children, it’s no wonder that Christmas is a favourite time of year. “Chand makes advent calendars for the kids and this year’s theme is LEGO,” says Sid. “Chand and I both buy presents for each immediate family member, as do the kids, and they’re wrapped and under the tree for opening on Christmas morning. Our ‘go to’ stores are Chambers, Milly’s, Shut The Front Door and MECCA.”

Martin Leach & Jay Platt
There is little that’s nicer than a handmade gift. Last Christmas we decided to give our friends jars of pickled onions, which we produced from home. For weeks Jay worked away tirelessly, with tears in his eyes and all for giving at Christmas. The kitchen bench was full of jars, which were filled with 18 onions. To give them some punch, Jay included coriander, mustard seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves.

We created a simple label and the jars looked great. Jay then put them in a dark cupboard to allow them to mature for six weeks. They proved very popular with family and friends. They are perfect to dress up salads and they are especially good with roasted pumpkin or sweet potato salad. Friends told us they were delicious served as a side condiment with scrambled eggs, omelettes and in a frittata. You can also use them as a flavour enhancer over freshly baked pizza. Or simply enjoy them with a glass of something.

This Christmas we are also pickling chunky beetroot along with the pickled onions. We tried to make pickles (small cucumbers) last year but for some reason they didn’t work.

Pippa Coom
Auckland councillor Pippa Coom and her wh-anau have adopted a low-stress tradition that preserves all the fun and festivities of Christmas with a special Secret Santa game.

“All the adults from both our families bring just one wrapped gift of modest value to put under the tree. After a large, festive lunch we begin the game. There are a variety of rules for playing the game but we’ve found a way to make it fun and create a bit of tension,” explains Pippa.

Each person draws a number out of a hat. The person with number one can choose from any of the gifts. They open it up but have to be prepared for it to be ‘stolen’ from them. Person number two can chose from the opened gift or one from under the tree. If number one has their gift stolen they select another present. This continues until everyone has a gift. “What keeps it interesting is that each gift can only be stolen twice. There are clear favourites each year but everyone goes home happy with just one ‘anonymous’ gift and mostly no unwanted presents,” says Pippa.

“My nephew Tomu is the only child of the family so the tradition continues for him to receive as many presents as possible from all the adults!”