‘Anything done once is a tradition,’ my husband says. ‘Anything done twice is a very long-standing tradition.’ Traditions take root easily and, given the right circumstances, grow and grow. The Christmas crib is a genuinely long-standing tradition, having been invented by St Francis and therefore being Older Than Protestantism. This particular crib has been a feature of the Jowitt family Christmas for as long as I can remember, so that’s almost as old. The angel with the violin showed up at some point in the mid-nineties, and that began the tradition of adding things to the crib. Next came the dragon and the penguin; the other animals and mythical beasts found their way in gradually over subsequent years; and I’ll swear I’ve never seen that triceratops before today.
The one figure conspicuously not present is of course baby Jesus, who is placed there after midnight mass. The shepherds and kings are lurking out of shot, too.
Traditions can be comforting and meaningful and also fun. They can get a bit out of hand if you’re not careful, and sometimes it’s helpful to pull back a little. After all, they can be reinstated with little difficulty if it turns out it’s Not The Same without them.