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Keywords:

  • traditions;
  • Christmas;
  • atmospheres;
  • eras;
  • generations;
  • sensory experience;
  • family life

Abstract

Despite some macro level concern with the concepts of tradition and ‘detraditionalization’, sociologists for the most part have paid relatively little attention to the everyday realities of family traditions as they are experienced and narrated in people's lives. Based on a qualitative study of ‘Family Backgrounds and Everyday Lives’, this article explores people's experiences and narratives of family Christmases, and examines how traditions are conjured up and evoked in multi-dimensional, embodied, emplaced and sensory ways. The article argues that in recognizing and conjuring up family practices and happenings as ‘traditions’, people create a vivid and potent sense of generational eras, atmospheres and family styles. These have a moral currency that matters – sometimes quite profoundly – in people's lives, and are the subject of debate and negotiation between, as well as within, generations. Christmas traditions, it is argued, are central in the constitution of eras not least because they enable the bundling up of time – past, present and anticipated for descendant generations – into packages of generalized ‘time out of time’, characterized by distinctive atmospheres, and around which memories can coalesce and about which stories can be told. These atmospheric eras – more than broad or macro understandings of ‘tradition’ – are central in how generational dynamics and personal family histories take shape, and how memories are ‘indexed’ in and through time.