I love Christmas and the frenzy of excitement during build-up, but the reality is that between September and December we are frantic at JoJo, plus there’s always a lot more parties and school events to fit in. I have to be clever to make sure the additional work load does not get out of hand and festive cheer is not ruined by a neurotic over tired mum only fit for a stay at the priory during the holidays.
My boys, Toby and Ben, (now 13 and 17) have wanted Christmas at home in Clapham ever since they could speak. They worried that Father Christmas would not find the right chimney if we were away. Our tradition includes putting out the same lovely fabric stockings they have always had, alongside a carrot for the reindeer and a mince pie for Santa himself. Whist it’s a long time since they were true believers, they still love their stockings and were appalled when I suggested they were getting too old for them last year.
Christmas lunch should be a long and lively affair, ideally after a bit of exercise to build up an appetite. We are Catholic and generally opt for midnight mass the night before which is a cosy sleepy event at St Mary’s Clapham Common. This mean Christmas morning can be a lie in for the children (or playing with their stocking presents when they were little) while I get the rest of lunch ready and listen to radio 4. Its then time to nag everyone to get dressed and out to walk the dog on The Common before we open a bottle of champagne and our first presents; youngest child passing them round one at a time. I love having lots of people over for the day and with a big family there is generally a gang of us.
Decorating the house …
We have the JoJo party at my house the week before Christmas, so I have help from our lovely team with getting the decorations up and I only have to think about the food. Decorations are pretty minimal ; a big tree bought from Ted on Northcote Road market the week before, the same familiar dressing we have had for years – often home made by the children and seeped with memories. We hang Moroccan glass tea light lanterns from the ceiling all over the kitchen. It’s not a glam look, but its homely and uniquely ours.
Trips and treats …
Our Christmas is very much about tradition and the boys tend to want to do the same things each year. In the run up to Christmas day I try to book a festive show or a carol service. This year I’ve booked Mozart by Candle Light at the Royal Festival Hall. I fear there may be a bit of protest (or even mutiny) from the teenagers about this one! We also love a trip to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Whist it is super tacky and a serious rip off, there is something cosy about a glass of overpriced gluwein on a dark, cold night watching the boys enjoy the hideous fairground rides. Every year I vow I will never go back, but somehow we do!
I never go to Harrods during the year but on Christmas Eve it is totally fabulous, generally empty of customers and with the staff preparing for the sale but with the toy demonstrators still at their posts. The boys used to love trying out all the gadgets and choosing one early present, finishing off the afternoon with a binge at the Crispy Crème café.
After Christmas lunch we play silly games around the table; pass the orange (neck to neck), “this is a folk – A what? – A folk …” and The Hat Game. I’m a hat lover so even with 20 for lunch we have plenty to go round.
All that cooking …
I’m the cook and really don’t mind. I find cooking relaxing and make proper meals each night to relax after work. I recently invested in a double oven which makes this meal a whole lot easier.
I like to get a Turkey from Hennessey Butchers, ordered well in advance. They are delicious and worth the mortgage needed to buy one. I prep all the veg the night before and tend to roast or steam as much as possible. I think lots of different veg makes it special and I like to add something unusual – last year I made spicy rice with red Carmargue rice and chestnuts and pine nuts. It made a good side dish and ticked off something for the veggies. I always make twice as much gravy, pigs in blankets and roast potatoes as I think we will need, or at least that’s the intention, but I still manage to cause and argument since there are never enough.
We don’t have a starter. Instead we eat smoked salmon on soda bread with our glass of champagne as we open the presents before lunch. There is then a break before we eat the main meal, generally sitting down between 2 and 3pm. We then break again for crackers and games before attempting to eat the Christmas pudding (always bought I’m afraid – life’s too short). We make sure we douse the pudding in lots hot brandy and bring it to the table with rounds of applause as it burns off dramatically. Nobody likes Christmas pudding, so we have a chocolate melt, ice cream, cheese and chocolates to ensure nobody feels they are not having a proper feast.
Do we really need any presents …
In the past my boys loved Lego and Playmobil but I tried NOT to give it to them for Xmas because of the need for parental help to make it ready to play with. My advice for those with little ones is to get a ‘ready to use’ present like a stunning wooden toy or mini kitchen, a scooter (very quick assembly) or a ride on. But for my boys this year it’s a new puppy and she arrived a couple of days ago. She is SO SWEET, but a total nightmare and quite a lot of work for ME of course. If you give your kids a puppy (and this is my second time around) – just accept that you will do the lion’s share of the work. However, I really don’t mind – I absolutely love her she is the sweetest thing and is called Ruby Tuesday.
My best ever presents from my kids and nieces and nephews are either the practical ones they have noticed I need – last year it was some waterproof cycling gloves (after watching me come home from work dripping wet with freezing cold hands) or the home made ones, like the useless wine racks that only hold one bottle – but I treasure more than anything money can buy.
The inevitable juggle …
Balancing work and home life over the busy Christmas period is always tricky. My best piece of advice is not to try too hard. It’s really not the end of the world if they have an X-box or TV fest while you get the cooking done and have a chat with your partner in peace. Kids don’t really mind whether the food is super posh or the decorations are designer standards; what they really want from a working parent is our time, attention and patience and that’s what I’m aiming to give – easier said than done!