It seems bizarre that we are actually approaching a third Christmas in our house – a third tree, a third mince pie baking session, but this time the first we’ll be spending the whole day at home. It was important that after all the building work we really had a chance to enjoy the new room and put the kitchen to use, so doing Christmas dinner ourselves for my parents is going to be quite a big event!
As it’s also the first year the toddler has really begun to understand Christmas, so it’s a chance to establish our own family traditions which she will hopefully enjoy and remember as she grows – some of which I touched on in last year’s post about our Christmas tree.
Sometimes it’s a question of blending the traditions we’ve inherited – do we open presents before or after lunch, or a bit of both? What goes on Christmas pudding, custard or cream or brandy butter (to satisfy both sides of the family it looks like the answer is all of the above, though not necessarily all together!) And where does the stocking hang if you have no fireplace?
Then there are the things which come down to personal preference and the level of effort you’re prepared to put in – both of us grew up in homes where Christmas cake and pudding would have been made by hand, but I have never made a fruit cake or steamed pudding in my life and I doubt I’m going to start now, so no Stir-Up Sunday tradition for me, I’m afraid
I attempt to make up for this domestic failure (oh and did I mention fruit cake is the Mr’s favourite cake….oh dear..) by perfecting my mince pie recipe – Nigella with a hint of Delia has become my staple. Knowing I can do shortcrust pastry and have a recipe that works for me is much more confidence-building than the thought of trying out a brand new style of cooking which involves pudding basins and complicated stuff to do with pressure and steam.
Another tradition which draws on both our childhoods has been retained, but adapted – the Christmas playlist which comes out when decorating the tree (and any other suitable festive occasion). It mainly features things like White Christmas, Santa Baby and lots of Perry Como – none of which was part of my childhood, but the playlist has been updated to include more recent Christmas songs, including the very naff (I always have to veto Wham, though) and the alternative (we both love White Winter Hymnal and the always-tear-jerking White Wine in the Sun, and a recent addition is the Christmas LP by Low).
Then the music tradition from my family is the absolute necessity to listen to Carols from King’s at 3pm on Christmas Eve – usually while making mince pies. And you can always watch it on TV later if you were out running some urgent last-minute errand which kept you away from hearing that first uplifting verse of Once in Royal.
Another tradition we started last year – and I hope will continue for many more – was visiting the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree. We have an old family photo of my mum being taken to see the tree by her dad in the 1950s, when of course it was still a relative novelty – so I feel like it’s a tradition that’s really worth maintaining – and Trafalgar Square is always great fun for kids, with the fountains and lions to look at and lots of space to race around.
I also remember being taken to see Fortnum and Mason’s windows and Burlington Arcade at Christmas, much more vividly than I ever remember seeing Oxford St or Hamleys, but when we walked past Fortnum’s with the toddler I was a bit underwhelmed by the windows. This year they are all monochrome snow scenes and not the glittering jewel-like delights I remember, and it was more bottles of gin where I was expecting to see Turkish Delight and gorgeous chocs, though I suppose gin has its place at Christmas too, eh?
We aren’t instigating a panto or Carol service tradition this year – I don’t think the toddler is old enough to take a full length panto yet – but we are going to a couple of shorter shows, including Peppa Pig which was already a big hit. And I have been trying to sing my favourite carols to her whenever the opportunity arises, so I hope some of it sinks in when we do finally take her to a carol concert.
So far she only really likes Jingle Bells, but I favour the really traditional English carols like The Holly and the Ivy, I Saw Three Ships, and The First Nowell (which many of my generation love, I suspect, because of the opening credits of the Box of Delights, which is not only one of my favourite Christmas stories but one of my most loved books, full stop).
I have also kept up a few traditions of my own this year – I’ve been looking out for interesting and unusual wreaths as displayed by my lovely neighbours, and have some very tasteful examples to show, but I think they will deserve a blog post of their own. Plus I have been making decorations in every spare minute (hence the slow-down in blog posts) and these have mostly been packed off as presents so I will have to keep them secret a bit longer.
And of course we have our tree up – I was going to wait a bit, but thanks to Timehop reminding us that we’d put it up on the 16th last year, we decided the 16th was acceptable again.
I’ve added a few new decorations to the collection, but have *tried* to be restrained – with a new room to fill, though, we went for the full 7-foot and it is about as big as the room can take. Still, if not this year, when the room is relatively free of clutter, when will we get a chance to do it again? Make the most of it, until the next tidal wave of toys hits the room….