I don't know when, exactly, we started this Christmas tradition, but it has to be about 20 years old. By then, our small children were no longer small. They were teenagers or more, my wife was working, and we had achieved a degree of comfort replacing the monthly panic over matching income with expenses.
We had developed other Christmas traditions. When our children were still sitting on our laps, we began lighting the Advent wreath and holding a family observance each Sunday of Advent. We would buy a Christmas tree on or near our oldest child's Dec. 13 birthday. The children would help decorate the tree, and the youngest would get to place the angel atop the tree.
Our new tradition began when my brother and sister-in-law began giving Cuthbertson Christmas china to each family in our extended family. They started with a pair of dinner plates, adding a couple more each year. My mother and sister took up the collecting and gifting, and soon we had plates, dessert plates, glasses and serving dishes.
It seemed a shame to use these handsome dishes only on Christmas or Christmas Eve, so we began using them every day during Advent, giving us four weeks, plus the days from Christmas to Epiphany to use the plates with their nostalgic, colorful, toy-circled fir. The tradition expanded a bit to include drinking our morning coffee from Christmas mugs, which we had collected by the dozen without ever meaning to.
So, today, with our children long departed and with families and Christmas traditions of their own, my wife and I sip coffee from colorful Christmas mugs. At dinner, we cover the beautiful painted Christmas tree with fish and vegetables and drink water from glasses displaying that same tree below a gilt rim.
How long this Christmas tradition will last I cannot say. The tradition has suffered as the deaths of my Mother in 2006, my brother in 2012 and my sister in 2013 undermined the family bond of precious Christmas china. None of my children have taken up this tradition, and I do not know whether my nieces and nephews might have inherited the China from my brother and sister or my mother.
I only know that my wife and I will continue our odd loyalty to a china pattern for as long as we are setting our own table. Through all the days of Advent and Christmas, we will eat from plates with a big Christmas tree and drink from glasses and mugs with Christmas themes. This exercise gives us Christmas joy and reminds us of our family and all the times we spent together in this time of the year.