It’s Christmas Eve 1976 and my mum is cooking in the kitchen. It’s a tiny kitchen but it’s her first home with my dad and they only moved in a few months ago.
Little does she know, she’s starting a family Christmas tradition that still exists to this day.
I’m yet to be born, so I don’t remember this milestone moment, but, for some reason, she decided that for tea that night she and my dad would have freshly cooked roast beef sandwiches.
Family traditions are incredibly important. They bring us closer together, they create memories that will last a lifetime, and they give us something to look forward to.
It could be that you all dress up in the same pyjamas the night before the big day, perhaps you all have the breakfast of your choice on Christmas morning, or maybe you go for a specific afternoon walk betwixtmas.
As youngsters, my sisters and I would sit eating them in our dressing gowns before leaving mince pies and beer for Father Christmas.
As we got older, we’d scoff them down as we got ready to go out to Christmas parties with friends.
I’m not sure why it worked so well for us. Maybe it’s that a roast dinner is such a fundamental part of British life already.
The smell of a roast can evoke the best and happiest of family times in almost all of us.
So, over the years, as we’ve grown and found ourselves in different places on Christmas Eve, one thing has remained constant.
We’ll be eating roast beef sandwiches wherever we are… and I, for one, will stop at nothing to get my festive fix.
I’ve begged the chef in a pub I worked at to make me one during a Christmas Eve bar shift, commandeered ovens if I’ve been away from home, and (rather ashamedly) once bought a ready-made sandwich when I couldn’t make my own.
But every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a roast beef sandwich on Christmas Eve.
Adding our own touch
Back in ’76, Mum would have probably cooked it similar to the way celeb chefs of the time like Marguerite Patten would have. It’s quite possible she would have made her own bread too.
46 years later the tradition continues but we’ve each added our own twist on what mum started.
I prefer to get a fore rib of beef, cooked medium-rare, served on white tiger bread with either horseradish or mayonnaise. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I may even add some rocket salad.
My sisters also have theirs on tiger bread, with a range of sauces from English mustard to, bizarrely, bread sauce. I’m told it’s delicious.
We’ll share pictures with each other on the family group chat of the younger generations in our lives also tucking in, as if to make sure we can’t be accused of not keeping the tradition going.
Mum has never forced us to carry this tradition on with our own families, but each year she’ll always ask each of us if we’ll be making some. Even if she asks by text I can sense the smile as she reads my reply, “of course”.
As time goes on, especially with many people moving away from meat, who’s to say if mum’s tradition will continue with future generations of our family?
I hope it will, but maybe it’ll evolve to include plant-based fillings or something different altogether. Whatever happens, I’m sure the sitting together eating sandwiches part will remain.
And I like to think many years from now, someone will ask why we eat sandwiches for tea on Christmas Eve, and they’ll be told the tale of mum, in her little kitchen, in her new home, back in ’76.