Christmas is a time for joy. Christmas is a time for family. Christmas is a time for giving. Christmas is a time for stuffing yourself so full of marvellous food that it is a struggle to lift the TV remote or that ‘last glass’ of your favourite tipple.
Everyone has their own slight twists on what you do at Christmas, that little thing they do differently, and I find this absolutely fascinating. I’m nosy like that, OK? It seems only fair though, that since I like nosing into other people’s Christmas deviances that I should share a little of what happens at my house. So this doesn’t run to about a gazillion words I’ll just stick with my decorating responsibilities and – most importantly – the food.
The run up to Christmas was very strange this year. For the last four years I’ve been in St Andrews and home for a fortnight (max) during the Christmas holidays. This meant I missed decorating the tree and missed most of the planning and preparations that take place before the 20th (or so). This year, however, I am back living at home (that cool, what can I say?) so I was back in at the organisational deep end.
One thing I have missed the last few years is decorating our family tree. I can’t remember how it became my mum and I’s sole job on the Christmas decoration front, but when the five of us reserve the night we’re doing the decorations on it’s the only thing on the list that has my name beside it. And this year it only took two hours – a new record… I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s time well spend or not, but please bear in mind that this includes untangling the lights and the time it takes to unwrap the baubles (90% of which are individually wrapped). I feel it only fair to give special mention here to Mr Skiing Penguin who sits by our TV. Laugh as you may, but this is one of the decorations I love the most. Partially because a hat and scarf wearing, skiing penguin is such an utterly ridiculous concept; but mainly because he (obviously he’s male…) was bought for my older brother and I by my Granny when I was about 3 and he’s survived for almost 20 years, despite the best efforts of several small children and a few dogs.
If I’m honest, one of my favourite parts of Christmas is all the food. In fact, pretty much all of Christmas Day revolves around food. More specifically, Christmas Dinner. Many people say this is the most stressful meal of the year, but not here. By a bizarre trick of the years our family is distinctly smaller than it used to be, but there are now more of us capable of cooking the dinner. This, coupled with our excessive organisation, makes the whole process much, much simpler. This year it started on Thursday when I made the cranberry sauce. It was touch and go for a while when I thought I was going to run out of port (the recipe suggests 50ml, but quite frankly recipes are written to be improved upon) but it turned out pretty well in the end.
Fast forward to Christmas eve and our house is full of the smell of Christmas cooking. I started, a little bleary-eyed, by making the chestnut, bacon and cranberry stuffing (from BBC Good Food) which, of course, involved a little more port. By the time I got back from getting my hair cut the bird was almost ready for the oven (it continued the booze theme as it had a little mead added over it to help ensure it didn’t dry out) and from then on walking into the house was like walking into a wall of cooking smells. The only thing left to make was the trifle. I know. I know. But after years of being far too full to have more than a spoonful of Christmas pudding (read: being too full but having a large bowlful anyway and promptly entering a food coma) we took the decision a couple of years back to switch desserts with boxing day and have our delicious homemade (nothing to do with me, sadly) Christmas pudding on boxing day and a trifle after the turkey. We love trifle, and the family recipe comes from my maternal great Grandmother, so it’s had a while to be perfected. I won’t spill the beans on it (sorry, but it’s not written down anywhere and mainly just done by sight, so a bit hard to share), but I’ll just say that it is as liberal with the sherry as everything above is with their various beverages (or quite possibly more so). The eagle eyed of you will spot that the photo has no custard or cream on it, that is because they are added at the very last minutes and I was more keen on eating it than taking photos of it…
There’s only one other essential Christmas food item that we haven’t covered yet and that is the Christmas Cake. After we ended up with two last year (such a hardship, let me tell you) my mum and I decided to collaborate and experiment using the recipe she used in school. With a little tweak here and another there and a while spent working out how do turn a Celsius oven down by an exact number of degrees Fahrenheit we created a monster sized cake with enough fruit and brandy in it to sink a battleship. We faithfully ‘fed’ it in the weeks before it was iced and six days before Christmas, using an old Good Housekeeping cookbook for inspiration, I spent an hour and a half cutting and sticking triangles of icing onto it. We didn’t actually get around to cutting it on Christmas day, but when some family came round on Boxing day evening it was brought out and sliced up. Thankfully it received the seal of approval from everyone who had a slice and apparently is ‘our best yet’. Thank goodness for that.
Everyone has a different take on exactly what Christmas is, but one thing most people agree on is that by the time it comes to the evening of Christmas day it is time to sit back, watch a film (Ratatouille, in our case) and generally fester in front of the TV with a glass of your desired tipple in hand. The papers yesterday said that the ‘ratings war’ was firmly won by BBC 1 this year and whilst I agree that Ratatouille and the Gruffalo’s Child were excellent we jumped ship for the main part and spent a great couple of hours utterly glued to the ever wonderful Downton Abbey, with a glass of G&T in hand. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why you’d watch anything else, but then again what do I know? By the time we all deicded to call it a night we were still full and thoroughly exhausted. In fact, it had already proved to be too much for some of us.
However you spent your Christmas I hope you have a wonderful day and I wish you well for the new year.