This year I am hosting Christmas for the very first time for my family at my home in London.
Since my parents divorced in 2011, Christmas has been a bit of a movable feast. There have been a few Christmases at my mother’s pretty cottage in Northamptonshire but my sister, mother and I do tend to squabble in an unappealing fashion if we are in close quarters for more than 24 hours.
Neither my sister or I have married (so far), and I do think once you hit your thirties, and there are no children in one’s immediate family to consider, that Christmas becomes a very different kettle of fish.
So over the past few years I have explored lots of different festive options: in 2014 Rach and I took an epic three week trip through the western Thai islands. The next year I booked three nights at Walton Hall in Warwickshire, a dog-friendly country house hotel down the road from my mother, to minimise potential stress points. (The story is here.)
This was a genius idea – I drove over very early on Christmas Day to make everyone breakfast, and left early evening before we become sugar-bloated and fractious. The only drawback was that, although my room in the old part of the house was lovely, the room service was so revoltingly inedible when it arrived that I found myself foraging in the local 7/11 for snacks late at night.
For 2016 I left London a week before Christmas and headed back to Thailand on my own, having snagged an incredible deal on Air France flights because I was willing to fly home on New Year’s Eve. I had some two weeks on Koh Samui, with the bliss of not having to talk to anyone, whilst basking seal-like by the pool, having daily massages, and eating vast quantities of delicious Thai food. (The story is here.)
Last year I spent Christmas in London for the very first time which was wonderful. (I wrote it up here.) Rachel and I went Westminster Abbey for morning service and to listen to the most extraordinary choral music. Afterwards, our heads ringing with Oh Come All You Faithfuls, we walked up to Chinatown eat huge plates of braised tofu and pak choi in the only restaurant we could find that hadn’t quadrupled its prices. I took a long walk in Regent’s Park with Lettice watched terrible television, and read the most enormous pile of books.
My mother was so inspired by my tales of the perfect London Christmas that she suggested that this year I host Christmas. We are, however, avoiding potential family strife from sleeping in close quarters in my or my sister’s London-sized apartments by boarding my mother out for the duration – she’s booked in at the chic York & Albany restaurant with rooms at the end of my road as much for her sanity, as for mine because, although I have two bedrooms I use one as my office and I don’t think my mother and I want to share a bed for three nights. Neither do I want to sleep on the sofa for the whole of Christmas and spend each morning at putting away my bedlinen.
As my sister will stay over with my mother to avoid having to take taxis on Christmas Eve and Day, that makes me the designated dog squad sitter – four at last count. Although I am wondering just how good a night’s sleep I will get with a huge Whippet, a Jack Russell, and two wriggly miniature Dachshunds all with severe FOMO expecting to kip on or under my duvet.
We haven’t quite finalised all our plans beyond knowing that my mother will arrive on Christmas Eve. I’ve just booked her a festively luxe blow dry at my flat with Blow at noon (top tip – do it now as they are getting very booked up) and we’ll go off to get our nails done afterwards at my local salon on Parkway.
We tried and failed to get tickets in the lottery for Westminster Abbey ‘s Carol Service at 4pm – they went quicker than Glastonbury tickets to a tout. We’re thinking about St Paul’s Cathedral instead as it isn’t ticketed – if anyone has any tips on when to arrive or for accessibility access then I am all ears. If that fails to engage, then I’m agitating for some kind of afternoon festive activity, maybe a matinee, and then retiring home for G&Ts, a huge cheeseboard and charcuterie and the telly.
On Christmas Day morning I think we’re planning on having an early breakfast (scrambled eggs, toasted sourdough, Champagne) followed by a long dog walk in the Park. Lunch will be around 2pm.
I’m still not sure who exactly will be joining us. Happily I have a garden (for the dogs not the people!), a big living room and my dining table seats 10 people, so I think we will all squeeze in somehow. At present count we are around six, including my cousin Sadie, about which I am thrilled. (She’ll drive down after her children have done presents and then been delivered to her ex-husband). Of course there is also an open invitation to any of my friends who may not have anywhere else to go because: families.
A few people have asked if I’m nervous about cooking but I’m not feeling particularly phased by the idea of serving my first Christmas lunch. Really, how complicated can it be?
I’m most excited about laying the table, and planning the food. My mother is ordering an organic Kelly Bronze turkey as her contribution, and I’ve been considering all the sides. Of course there will be proper gravy, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, petit pois, and carrots of some type. I’m mulling over some kind of mushroom dish, and think that cabbage or brassicas might find a home on the table too.
We’ll start, as ever, with smoked salmon for the others, and avocado on toast for me, and finish with, I think, something creamy and fruity. Or maybe a chocolate roulade as they are bombproof and can be made the night before. I also have last year’s Christmas pudding from Claridge’s which should be nicely pickled by now, as I have been feeding it judicious shots of brandy.
I’ve been sent some wonderful crackers by The Ivy and, of course, we will be drinking oceans of Nyetimber all through the holiday in addition to the very good red wine sitting in my cellar, so I think we will be very well lubricated.
Then we will lie around like elephant seals trying to work it off. I might take the dogs for a second trot to work off the turkey my mother will have been feeding them under the table against my express wishes, and then napping will definitely happen.
For Boxing Day I’m not sure yet what the plan might be. We are contemplating lunch at the York & Albany, and I’m keen to borrow my mother’s SUV, fill it with Hannah and Mark, and head on up to Hampstead Heath for a proper walk, and that’s kind of it.
I’m really looking forward to everything: I love hosting people, I love cooking I love being around my family so I think it’s going to be a perfect plan