OTHER than a vague suggestion that they should take it as it comes and try not to feel too guilty for doing whatever it is they need to do to get through, I rarely give advice to new parents. But there is one exception: Think very, very carefully about family rituals you are about to embark on. Because you are likely to end up repeating them until the end of your days.

If your ritual is a fish and chip supper followed by an ice cream every Saturday night, I wouldn’t worry.

But if, as in our case, it involves a drive around the local deer park in the dark every Christmas Eve to see if you can spot Rudolf, that’s a little more difficult.

What was cute and exciting when they’re small can be weird and uncomfortable once they reach their twenties. But you can’t stop because they’ve always done it, and it simply wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

The other ritual I unwittingly embarked on when they were small was the crack-of-dawn birthday performance.

This was established at a time when their birthdays were, like Christmas, beyond exciting.

For months, they would be counting down the days, scrolling through the Argos catalogue to compile a present list, planning their party and looking forward to when we would pronounce them ‘king for the day’.

But before they came down for breakfast to discover the balloons, presents and cards, there was the performance to get through.

This involved me bursting into their bedroom to wake them up with the same words, declaimed to great dramatic effect, which they would hear every year, followed by an enthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday.

It is hard to get across in print exactly how the initial words are delivered, other than to say it is in a state of deliberately exaggerated excitement, designed to match the highly charged mood of the recipient.

You could do this at home, if you wish (although I would strongly counsel against it) by simply replacing the words in brackets, below, with the personal details of your loved one.

“(So many) years ago today,” I would begin, in a dotty, sing-song voice, with my arms outstretched: “(Forename, middle name, surname) POPPED into the world…” The capitals denoting this word must be eagerly pronounced, just as the act of popping sounds, before continuing “… and filled us all full of…” There is always a big pause here, during which the recipient tends to join in so that you pronounce the last word together… “joy”.

They clearly loved this ritual when they were small; the problem was, I could hardly stop once they were grumpy teenagers and would hide under the covers when I appeared in their room on their birthday morning.

At what age would you draw the line and say ‘You’re too big to be made to feel extra special on your birthday now’?

Every time I was tempted to give up, I’d have visions of them attending sessions with a psychiatrist in years to come, telling them: “My mother stopped caring when I was 14. She clearly didn’t love me anymore.”

And so I persisted. Even after the older boys left home to go university and eventually enter the world of work, I continued to ring them first thing on their birthday to go through the whole palaver. And I began to think they secretly liked it.

Last week it was Patrick’s 22nd. Because I was tied up with other things, I didn’t manage to ring him, as usual, as he would have been getting up.

So he had to find a quiet place in the office, out of earshot, before he could take my call.

It’s the first time this has ever happened, so I felt guilty before I started.

“Twenty two years ago today, Patrick Stevenson Savage POPPED into the world and filled us all full of… joy,”

I began, before launching into a hearty rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.

There was a pause: “You got something very wrong there,” he said.

“My middle name isn’t Stevenson, that’s Roscoe’s. My middle name is Randall.”

He was right: “Honestly, I have too many boys, you can’t possibly expect me to be able to remember absolutely everything,” I told him.

One more piece of advice to new parents from an old hand: A mother’s place is usually in the wrong.