On this magical day, this RED LETTER DAY, around mid-morning, THIS BLOG PASSED THE 1 MILLION HITS MARK, isn’t that amazing, particularly when you consider that around 900,000 of these were in the last 12 months. I thought to celebrate this event I would describe, largely for the benefit of my overseas readers, a fairly typical Christmas day in the UK, at least a fairly typical Christmas day for my family.
We have lived in this house for 45 Christmases – this will be our 46th. – and established a routine early which has changed very little over the years. So much so that I could tell anyone who is interested what we might be doing at any time of the day. Sadly, this last two or three years year this routine has now come to an end but the memories will last forever.
What then would have been our typical Christmas Day? When our own children were very young and still got excited about Christmas, we would hear noises coming from their room around five or six in the morning. Provided it was not too early we would then invite them to join us in our four-poster to open their stockings. (Even I got one for the first 30 years or so as â€˜ my lovelyâ€™ always said I was deprived as a child and she was going to make up for it). Once the excitement was over and the youngsters had taken their new presents back to their own room, I would go downstairs and bring back to bed a cup of tea for both of us -although in the latter years this was taken over by Alice -before dressing and getting the children up for a late breakfast.
Then it would be time to get ready to go to the family Carol service, at the church, at the other end of the village – sometimes a 10.30 service or other times 11.00. (Our poor vicar now has three parishes and has to dash from one church to another on Christmas morning) This service was usually directed towards the children who the vicar would often invite to gather aroundÂ a model of the Nativity from whence heÂ would give his sermon. When the main service was over, those amongst the congregation who had been previously confirmed and wished to take communion stayed on for what was a relatively short service. In any event, we would all meet up after church at the William-Powlettâ€™s – one of the â€˜ old faithfulâ€™ families who live,Â conveniently for us, very near the church -where we would enjoy a glass or two of champagne.
In the meantime â€˜ my lovelyâ€™ would have stayed at home to prepare the Christmas Day mealÂ – is it the only day of the year you would have Dinner at Lunchtime?-Â (in the earlier days she would have gone to the midnight service) so we always got back around 1.00 to sit round a beautifully decorated Christmas dining table. Sometimes there would be silver candlesticks with red candles and other times they might be crystal. The family silver would be brought out and an array of glittering glasses of various sizes would adorn each place setting. There would beÂ gaily coloured crackers next to each to persons place andÂ a centrepiece ofÂ flowers; with nuts and sugared fruit on the table. A wonderful sight.
Traditionally we would have a free range turkey with, as they say, â€˜all the trimmingsâ€™ (although in Victorian times this would more generally have been a goose which would have been herded down from Norfolk over a week or two before Christmas pausing on local common land to graze, thus the large number of â€˜ Goose Green’s, in East Anglia). The turkey would be stuffed with something appropriate, such as sage and onion or chestnut stuffing and arrive on a large plateau surrounded by prunes wrapped in streaky bacon; baked sausage meat; golden crisp roast potatoes and, one of my favourite vegetables, brussel sprouts. There will also be a large honey roasted ham to supplement the turkey and a variety of chutneys and cranberry sauce on the table.
In some of the earlier years, with up to 22 sitting down for the Christmas meal, the turkey would be too large for our own oven and we would have to ask the proprietors of The Cricketers Pub, next door, to be kind enough to cook it for us.
After the main course, which you can imagineÂ took some time to eat, we would put out the lights and darken the dining room and bring in the Christmas pudding, adorned with a sprig of holly and doused in burning brandy. This would be eaten with brandy butter or cream together with perhaps a mince pie or for those who preferred it a bowl of tropical fruit. It would then be time to pull the crackers and to read out the crazy jokes and to don on the festive paper hats that we found inside them. After the pudding we would usually get stuck into a large bowl of shelled nuts or the sugared fruits. For those withÂ large appetites there was also a cheese board which would include a fine Stilton. Of course, all of this would be served with a decent red wine and port for those who took Stilton, with appropriate non-alcoholic drinksÂ for the teetotallers and the children. This feast invariably took us to 3 p.m when the Queen was due to address millions of her subjects throughout the Commonwealth. We would leave the dining room table and troop into the study to listen to this speech, standing to attention for the national anthem when it was played.
The children, having been palpablyÂ patient up to now began to get excited as this was the time we all went into the drawing-room to open their big presents and, indeed, when the adults would open theirs. In the early days I would have disappeared to don on my Father Christmas outfit and appear, suitably padded with a plump cushion, at the door. â€˜ho,ho.hoingâ€™,with a huge stack slung over my shoulder, mumbling about having tied up the reindeer outside and then seat myself next to the twinkling lights on the gaily dressedÂ Christmas tree, in the inglenook containing the didan, where a gross pile of gaily wrapped presents be waiting to be dished out. Father Christmasâ€™ little helpers will run backwards and forwards to the lucky recipients after which Father Christmas would make some excuse about having to move on to give presents to other children and I would disappear only to reappear a few moments later asking the children present what had been going on. (In the latter years, my dear son Miles assumed this role) All a complete charade, I agree, but one which even the adults appeared to enjoy.
This distribution of presents usually took the best part of an hour after which the more mature male members of the party could snooze over a glass of port and a cigar in between trying to decipher the instructions which accompanied a number of the mechanical or electrically operated presents. Around five o’clock it was time for tea and Christmas cake, (invariably baked and donated by Judith W-P ever since she became aware of my penchant for a really good fruitcake), if anyone could face it, after which the next hour or so would be spent again looking at and enjoying one’s presents. Six o’clock was traditionally the time I would open the champagne and that would take us through to 7.30 or so when we would usually have a very light supper of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs plus anything else we fancied on the pudding side. (This year, dear Kimberly, assisted by Smiler, gave’ my lovely a rest and)’ prepared supper for us)
Depending on the age of the children (or grandchildren) those who should then be in bed were put to bed, the older ones usually being allowed to stay up a little later, being Christmas. It was then time for party games. These varied over the years from the physical â€“ charades; acting out book, film or TV titles, to the mental such as Trivial Pursuits; Pictogram, Articulate or the â€˜ dictionary gameâ€™. By 10 o’clock or 10.30 most of the older adults were not only sated with food and drink but were also beginning to flagÂ doing battle over the games, with the younger members, and so retired. Another very happy and memorable day.
Nothing lasts for ever. For example, this year there only being four of us and the girls wantingg to read their books, Smiler and I decided to play a little backgammon although when it came to it I decided I was a little wary so we just chatted until bedtime.
Â Once our daughter Chloe was married we had to share her with our in-laws and then there was the consolation of repeating much of what we did in the earlier years with the grandchildren. We were also getting to the age where â€˜my lovelyâ€™ and I would kindly be invited to spend Christmas in the bosom of my daughter’s family.
This year, although we have been at home, with the smallest number we have ever been over the festive season, just the two of us plus Smiler and the lovely Kimberly. we had a lovely day/ Apart from not having the numbers for party games, the rest of the day was pretty close to typical. Just as enjoyable in itâ€™s own way as with the wider family. It’s just as well, we were few in number, as half the drawing-room has been given over to me as a bedroom but the other half is as always, festive and glowing with the log fire.
Having described this idyllic Christmas Day I would hate to leave any reader with the impression that we do not all thoroughly appreciate how very, very fortunate we are and spare a thought for the many who are nowhere near as blessed as we are. There are times, throughout the year, when we would have all done something to alleviate the misery of less fortunate people than ourselves but today is all about the family – Chloe and Karl would probably say the family of Christ – but in any event,Â one’s own family.