|My Christmas mantle.|
This time last year I was horribly ill, with full-blown 'flu. I missed out on so much in 2012 that I was determined to make the most of the festive wonderfulness of 2013. And I did. Just a few highlights (I love a list....)
- A North Pole Breakfast. Delivered while we slept, by one of Father Christmas' elves. We came down to festive tableware, Christmas tree-shaped crumpets, gingerbread cookies and gold-star topped chocolate cupcakes. Plus hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows. Beautiful Girls' eyes nearly popped out of her head.
- Lovely days out. To see "The Nutcracker", to visit Father Christmas and his reindeer, to Christmas markets, to National Trust properties which had been beautifully decorated for Christmas.
- Friends. Long, lazy, boozy lunches, while the children play around us. Quick catch-ups over a cup of tea. A special night out with my Best Friend, to a Christmas storytelling cafe. Baileys hot chocolate at the Christmas Market with Jen. Long, handwritten letters enclosed in Christmas cards. It must be one of the best things about this time of year, having the chance to catch up with those we don't see nearly enough of.
- Carols. Despite the fact that I have a truly terrible voice (and I'm not being modest here; it's a running joke in our family how tone-deaf I am) I still love singing and Christmas carols send a shiver down by spine. We went to Beautiful Girl's school's candlelit service at the nearby church and the sight and sound of the children singing "Silent Night" in English, French and British Sign Language....gulp... am sure I wasn't the only embarrassing Mummy with the tissues out. And listening to my Beautiful Girl (who sings in a strong, sweet, clear voice definitely not inherited from me) singing "Away in a Manger" during Christmas Eve Mass did it again.
- Home. Our home has felt like such a cosy, warm, twinkly place to be this holiday. I spent an entire 8 hours cleaning on the day before Advent began and then, when all was clean and sparkling we slowly dressed our home for Christmas. Halls were decked with boughs of holly, and also with mistletoe and ivy. Our tree is beautiful. Every year we say, "This is the best tree yet," but this year it really is. I can't take a photograph which does it justice, so just imagine... A tree which is over 6 foot tall, bushy, verdant and green, large enough to fill the bay window. Now decorate it with simple white lights and lovingly collected traditional decorations, none of which match, but which somehow work together... There. I told you. Gorgeous, isn't it?
- Food. My God, we've eaten well this holiday. Two hams, one of which was cooked in ginger beer and glazed with ginger preserve and shared with friends, the other of which was cooked in cranberry and apple juice, studded with cloves and glazed with cranberry sauce and eaten in sandwiches, with pickles, with cheese and the last of which ended up in a turkey, ham and leek pie last night. Two cakes, one of which was Sue's recipe for an almondy sponge covered in homemade mincemeat, then topped with a spiced crumble and eaten with orange spiced cream and the other of which, a traditional Christmas fruit cake, hasn't even been touched yet. As well as lots of roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, Prosecco, caviar, cheese and crackers, mince pies, satsumas, trifle, industrial amounts of chocolate, homemade gingerbread cookies and homemade cranberry, white chocolate and macadamia cookies. Plus, of course, Christmas lunch, cooked by by Mum this year and declared a triumph by all. Phew.
- Books. On the first day of Advent the Christmas books came down from the attic and were kept in a basket next to the fire. Although my Beautiful Girl seems to have grown out of many of them, neither of us could contemplate Christmas Eve without "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". And, although, like everyone, I knew the story of "A Christmas Carol" I actually read it for the first time this year and utterly loved it. I've resolved to make it a personal tradition to read it every December from now on. Finally, these lazy days between Christmas and New Year have been filled with a jaunt to a favourite bookshop and the (enormous, brilliant, but somewhat-in-need-of-editing) new Donna Tartt novel.
- Gifts. I know it seems shallow to say it but the modest number of gifts I received this year (we had a "no-gifts" deal with almost all of the adults in our lives) were thoughtfully chosen and it did make me happy to receive the new Nigel Slater book, a Cary Grant film ("The Bishop's Wife") and some gorgeous Orla Kiely notecards. My Beautiful Girl bought me a wooden necklace that she had seen at a craft fair in the weeks before Christmas and had saved her pocket money to buy. Bless her sweet heart, she was so excited to give it to me and gleefully presented it before opening her stocking or any of her other presents on Christmas Day.
- Family. I have, of course, saved the best until last. How I love having two whole weeks to spend with my favourite people in the whole world. How nice it is to play daft games with my aunty and uncle, to kiss the soft, downy head of my brand-new nephew, to eat a slice of cake lovingly baked by my Mum. This, of course, is what is really best about this, and every, Christmas.