For most of the last 46 years, since we have lived in this house, we given a Christmas Eve party for the half a dozen or so couples, who moved into the area, about the same time as we did, and who we met through taking our children to the local primary school. These wereÂ subsequently dubbed the â€˜old faithfulsâ€™ , we also invited Â a few other village folk, making up around 30 or so. In the early days they would all bring their small children with them, but as each family grew, both in numbers and size, it soon became impossible to house so many people, so the party was then restricted to â€˜ adultsâ€™ other than family – this, despite some of the â€˜ childrenâ€™ still being classified as such in their 30s and 40s!
Our house is a idyllically designed for such an event, particularly if there has been a dusting of snow in the garden and on the thatch. You could say it comes straight off the most sentimental Christmas card. The main sitting room has a large inglenook fireplace at each end — the room originally being the ground floor of adjacent peasant cottages in the 16th century. At one end there would be a roaring log fire and the other housed a Welsh didan, (Court cupboard) which now cleverly conceals Â modern musical equipment which softly played carols from King’s College Cambridge. â€˜ My lovelyâ€™ usually decorates each of the oak beams over the inglenooks withÂ woven branches of laurel leaves, green tinsel with large red bows between and maybe a little Holly with red berries, (no doubt our laurels substituting for the ivy, in the traditional British carol, The Hole in the Ivy). The tables and windowsills would be covered in colourful Christmas cards and there would be a laurel wreath and red ribbon on the front door and some further appropriate decorations in the hall.
In the early days I used to delight in giving my guests hot, spiced mulled wine, indeed, initially, wine that I had made myself. Nobody complained but Â we were all young then! As the years went by, and the preparation of the mulled wine became a bit of a fag, I switched to Bucks Fizz (champagne with a dash of orange juice) or for the purists, a decent glass of champagne. Alice would produce some little cocktail eats, miniature sausage rolls, sausage on sticks, prawns in batter etc The funny thing is, I never really enjoyed these parties. Having done what I needed to do, in terms of preparation, I would have happily slunk away and sat quietly in my study. I just do not like large gatherings. On the other hand give me a small dinner party where you can speak to everyone present and I’m in my element.
The last of the guests having left – and isn’t there always one couple who comes late and leaves long after everyone else, when you’re dying to have your supper? (I shall not shame and name them but if they read this blog they will know who there are!) The remaining family, who were to spend Christmas with us, would then sit down to a light supper as we knew that the following day held many gastronomic treats for us. Sometimes we might be entertained by a group of local carol singers Â Â or perhaps make a trip, to the other end of the village, where there was traditionally an open air carol service attended by 40 or 50 villagers, who would dole out glasses of mulled wine and mince pies. (Did you know that there is an old country saying that you should eat 12 mince pies before Christmas to ensure good luck for the following year?)
As our own family grew and grand children appeared, the number of people invited also grew to a point where overflow rooms were necessary. But, the onset of the MND meant that it was Â with little regret that we ceased giving this party two or three years ago.
When our children were young and the last of the family or guests had gone to bed, my final act would be to don on my Father Christmas outfit and creep into the children’s rooms to deposit a large sock full of small presents, on the end of each bed, (always finishing with a tangerine in the toe of the sock, why?) which would greet the youngsters when they woke up in the morning. They had, of course, earlier in the evening, insisted that we left a glass of sherry and something to eat, by the fireplace, for Father Christmas when he came down the chimney to deliver these presents!
I only describe this in this amount of data as it was our traditional way to begin the Christmas festivities. No doubt, similar to thousands of other British families but perhaps of interest to many of my overseas readers.
This year, of course, it was different. We were the smallest gathering we have ever had. Inevitably because Chloe and family have gone off to her in-laws and what parents, Â â€˜my lovelyâ€™ and I still have living are too frail to undertake the long journey to our house. Nevertheless, my dear son Smiler and Kimberl arrived late afternoon after a not too difficult journey on the roads and we shall enjoy Christmas, in our own way, as much as we ever did.