Nothing evokes cosy, familiar images like Christmastime: loved ones eating mince pies around a log fire, playing games, hanging baubles - the holiday season makes up so many cherished family memories.
While the leading supermarkets would have you believe that no Christmas is complete without a painfully specific list of "must-haves" - posh crackers, artisan puddings, commercially crafted paper garlands and so on - celebrations are like the families who throw them: no two are alike.
This fact struck me particularly on a recent visit to Action for Children's Monksfield service in Northumberland, which provides residential care and short breaks for disabled children. I spoke to parents who highlighted the fact that, for many of the children we work with, particularly those with autism, typical Christmas activities are not always a point of excitement. Things like a tree suddenly being brought into the house, bright lights and loud music wherever they go, or loud pantomimes and parties can be unsettling.
Needless to say, this can make the festive season challenging. Siblings sometimes miss out due to their family circumstances and parents can struggle to entertain friends at home, pop out for Christmas drinks or do that last-minute mad dash around the shops. The families I spoke to were far from gloomy, however: they told me that with a disabled child, Christmas is sometimes different, but that doesn't mean it can't be loads of fun.
Vicky Muir, a mum of four from Northumberland, said her family loves the traditions they've created to accommodate the needs of her son James. James, 17, has severe autism and what he loves about Christmas is the predictability. For years, Vicky and her husband bought James presents they thought he should want - as James is non-verbal, it's always been difficult to know what he likes. After a few years, however, they realised what made their son happiest was opening the same DVDs every year. They always buy new copies, but the act of unwrapping presents alongside his sisters and the fact that there are no surprises - his gifts always include Mr Bean and A Bug's Life - are James's unique Christmas joy.
Sitting down for a family meal can also be challenging for James, so Vicky and her husband ensure Christmas lunch includes two of his favourites: turkey dinosaurs and potato waffles. It may not be a typical Christmas meal, but it's what makes the Muirs' day a happy Christmas and isn't that what tradition is all about?
At Action for Children, we celebrate the diversity of the families we support. At Christmas, some differences may present challenges, but, ultimately, can bring families together, helping build new, unique traditions.Suggest a correction