Crisp mornings, dark evenings, falling leaves... it can only mean one thing: Christmas is around the corner!
No sooner have we finished lamenting the end of British Summer Time, our thoughts are already turning to the festive season. Well, as Andy Williams famously crooned, it is 'the most wonderful time of the year'.
Fairy lights twinkling, the sweet scent of pine needles, the jingling of Christmas tunes, the sumptuous delights of mince pies and mulled wine – Christmas is like a sprinkling of magical fairy dust over our otherwise grey and gloomy winter.
But the best thing about the festive season has to be those treasured family moments. The little traditions that take us back to our own childhood Christmases – but are even better the second time around, when we experience them with our own children.
Here are some of our favourite family Christmas traditions...
1. Watching your child's Christmas play
As a parent, nothing makes the heart swell with pride quite like watching your little angel tread the boards in the Christmas play – even if she is playing 'second sheep on the left'.
From the moment that line of little people files onto the stage, you can guarantee the hairs on the back of your neck will be standing up, and there will not be a dry eye in the house.
But if you want to get a glimpse of the action, you'll need to get in early and have your elbows at the ready – the battle for those front-row seats is more cut-throat than at London Fashion Week.
2. Trimming the tree
Nothing heralds the start of Christmas quite like the erection of a large fir tree in your living room. Decorating it with all manner of sparkly trinkets and baubles is, of course, all part of the fun, while the fairy on the top is like the icing on the cake.
Think mince pies on the table, Christmas tunes on the stereo and all hands on deck. And if you want to make it really special, allow your children to choose a different tree decoration each year, so that by the time they're all grown up, you'll have a collection that's meaningful to the whole family and tells a story of all those Christmases past.
3. Visiting Santa's grotto
Father Christmas is up there with Elsa and Spiderman when it comes to childhood icons, so what could be more exciting for your child than meeting the man himself, ahead of the big day?
Whether it's at a lavish winter wonderland, complete with acres of snow and roaming reindeer – or a cotton-wool-and-tinsel bedecked shed in the local shopping centre – that first Santa's grotto moment is guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye (or a tear to theirs if you don't plan things carefully!).
4. Opening presents
We may lament that Christmas has become too commercial over the years, but few things are more heart-warming than seeing your child's wide-eyed glee, as they burst into the room in their PJs, and see that Santa has paid a visit.
Add to that the ensuing frenzy as the room is filled with paper, boxes and toys, amid yelps of joy – and there it is: Christmas chaos at its best.
5. Preparing for Santa's arrival
The anticipation of Christmas is even more exciting than the event itself for most children. So getting ready for Santa's annual visit is not to be taken lightly. From hanging up stockings by the fire, to leaving a mince pie and a glass of sherry for Santa (and a carrot for Rudolf), it's all in the planning. One wrong move and he might not come at all. Just don't slip up by getting caught scoffing the mince pie and guzzling the sherry!
6. Christmas shopping
Children are not known for their patience when it comes to shopping. But the high-street takes on a whole new meaning at Christmas. Shimmering lights, the sound of carol singers, magical fairytale window displays, the sweet smell of gingerbread and cinnamon wafting from bustling cafes, the excitable chatter of shoppers, laden with gifts and rolls of wrapping paper.
Okay, we may have skirted over a few of the more stressful aspects of Christmas shopping here. So remember, it's always handy to have a few treats in your pockets - and know that there will be a mulled wine waiting for you when you get home.
7. Watching a Christmas film
Whether it's The Snowman, The Grinch or Home Alone, snuggling up on the sofa and watching a festive film together (big mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows optional but highly recommended) is the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit – or a brilliant way to get your kids to chill out for 90 minutes when the pre-Christmas excitement gets too much.
They may be reminiscent of the Victorian scenes on old-school Christmas cards, but pop-up outdoor ice-rinks are all the rage right now. Wrap up and head off to your local rink with the family. Whether you're a budding contender for Dancing On Ice – or you spend half the day on your bottom – it's guaranteed to fire-up your festive spirit.
9. Writing to Santa
There is something beautifully innocent about the act of writing to Father Christmas – not just because it means your child believes in Father Christmas, but because it revives the lost art of letter writing, too.
Even if they are asking for the latest XBox model, at least they are taking the time to write a letter as opposed to pinging him the list as a spreadsheet attachment via email. Appreciate this tradition while it lasts - and don't forget to take a copy of the letters to keep for old time's sake.
10. Making the Christmas cake (and making a wish)
Of course, you could just buy a cake or semi-cheat with a ready-to-mix kit. But nothing compares to the old-fashioned pleasure of making your own Christmas cake from scratch, especially with the help of your little ones. And the exciting part for them (apart from licking the spoon) is that when it's their turn to stir the mixture, they get to make a wish.
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