A terribly British Christmas

I just ordered my Christmas turkey from the local butcher, so I guess I’ll be joining the queue of neighbours and friends on Christmas eve to pick it up ready for the big day. If last year was anything to go by, it’ll be a slightly disorganised affair with everyone being frightfully smiley and trying to be full of Christmas spirit, even though being kept waiting for 20 minutes is wearing a bit thin.

Laying the table for Christmas lunch

Laying the table for Christmas lunch

Here’s how Christmas will go in our house in Bristol this year. On Christmas eve the family will arrive – we always alternate between inviting each set of parents, one for Christmas itself, the other set we usually see just after Christmas. Every year in September, once the children are back at school, we rack our brains on whose turn it is this year and issue the necessary invitations. It’s all very civilised.

Christmas decoration from Buckingham Palace

Christmas decoration from Buckingham Palace

We’ll trim up a week or two before, once the tree arrives – usually a refugee from the school where my husband works once term has ended. We have Christmas decorations from around the world that we’ve collected on our travels from the fat German fairy to the gilded soapstone hippo from Kenya, and each year add a few more. There’s  an evergreen wreath on the front door, some fairy lights around the fireplace and a few elegant baubles dangling from the light fittings but we try to resist the full on Christmas tinsel and flashing multicolour lights on the front of the house.

This year we’ll be having my parents over for Christmas day and Boxing day and Christmas will start with midnight mass. Even though it’s becoming a bit of a challenge to entice the teenagers near a church, for high days and holidays it’s a three line whip – we like to remember what we’re celebrating after all. Once we get back, they’ll remind us of the other family tradition of opening one pressie from under the tree on Christmas eve, and we do our best to steer them towards the smallest parcels. We might even leave a glass of sherry and a mince pie in front of the fire for Santa and a carrot for Rudolf. In the morning there will be talcum powder footprints to show that he paid us a visit in the dead of night.

Christmas tree in Bristol

Our Christmas tree in Bristol

With the church-going over, Christmas morning is a leisurely affair until I suddenly remember at 8am that the turkey should be in the oven and have to break out of my Christmas lie in. The children will delve into stockings that the Christmas elves have silently placed outside their doors and some time after 1 o’clock (depending how early I put it in) we’ll sit down to the turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

This is no time for simplicity or the pleasure of one delicious thing at a time as the continentals prefer. For a British Christmas lunch, the plates are groaning under legs of turkey, stuffing, roasties and mini sausages on the side with the brussel sprouts and a few other veg and then lashings of gravy, bread sauce and cranberry sauce too. We pull the crackers, wear the silly paper crowns and tell the corny jokes. For desert there’s always a boozy Christmas pudding with some lucky sixpences inside, that we attempt to flame with brandy if we remember to buy some, although everyone secretly prefers Nigella’s pomegranate pavlova.

After lunch it’s time to relax and open the presents and indulge in the Christmas tradition of telling each other how completely spoiled our children are and how we definitely won’t buy them as much next year. Then there’s time to doze with a sloe gin and a mince pie before the Queen’s speech – hopefully it’ll have been a good year what with the news of Will and Kate getting engaged. We might venture out for some fresh air on The Downs  near our house but that can probably wait until Boxing Day.

Christmas dog

The dog gets wrapped for Christmas

‘Are you all ready for Christmas?’ seems to be the question everyone asks. No, not really, but then I let the Tesco delivery man take the strain and delegate potato peeling and veg preparation ruthlessly to all the family. I try not to aim for perfection,  just a peaceful time when I can enjoy the family and do very little.

How will you be spending Christmas this year?

For more thoughts on how to celebrate Christmas around the world head over to Inside the Travel Lab for a Christmas carnival of Christmas traditions around the World

More seasonal fare

Celebrate La Bonne Annee in Paris for New Year
Christmas decorations from around the world
Visiting the Munich Christmas Markets – podcast

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  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 12:57 am

    My family is not Christian, so we leave Melbourne before the holidays start. I don’t want to see conspicuous consumption in food and drink, nor do I approve of rank commercialism in the shops and on tv.

    But I soooo envy the trees, holly, fire, smart table linen, candles, church services and puppy dogs. It looks as if your family will have a wonderful time together 🙂

    By the way, Boxing Day here is in the heat of summer. So it is totally turned over to Test Cricket against England, two huge yacht races and beach picnics.
    Hels´s last blog post ..Modern art destroys British morals- 1910! Read all about it!

  • Reply
    Eurotrip Tips
    December 16, 2010 at 3:25 am

    I can’t remember a single word of your post after seeing the cute pic of your dog! More seriously, I hope you have a great time. It’s great to see some families who still have a nice time all while keeping the traditions alive.

  • Reply
    turkey's for life
    December 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Sounds like you have a (dare I say?) relatively stress-free Christmas. Ours has become ridiculously stress free since being in Turkey – no last minute shopping queues etc. Just an open house. Whoever wants to visit us can do and we even manage to force my homemade mince pies onto our Turkish friends who absolutely detest them. But hey, it’s Christmas! 🙂

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    December 16, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    @ Hels I do agree with you on the commercialism front and I do envy you your sunshine, although I can’t quite imagine Christmas on the beach – just wouldn’t be the same.

    @Eurotip The cute dog actually belongs to my parents in law and as we don’t have one our children love to make a big fuss of him

    @ Turkey’s for life In a Muslim country I guess it’s not quite the same without everyone getting in the Christmas spirit but at least you have an excuse to enjoy the Christmas food

  • Reply
    Mark H
    December 17, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Have a great Christmas. The dog is very cute…
    Mark H´s last blog post ..Exploring the Christmas Markets England

  • Reply
    December 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Nice description of a British Christmas and the puppy is adorable.

  • Reply
    Barbara Weibel
    December 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Sounds like a lovely family affair, Heather. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, with many blessings throughout the coming year.
    Barbara Weibel´s last blog post ..Harvesting the Rice By Hand in Nepal

  • Reply
    Cuban Paul
    December 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I live in Cuba at the moment but I am British and I really miss Britain at Xmas time. I would do anything for a real xmas roast dinner and Boxing day in the pub and a copy of the daily newspapers. The iPad at least brings the papers to me now!

  • Reply
    December 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    While I am reading your post.. the picture of the dog caught my attention.. Very cute dog.. anyway, Happy holidays!

  • Reply
    December 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Great post on a traditional British Christmas! Especially the traditional “we won’t buy this much next year” comment. I’ve spent a few Christmases away from home now and am always pleased when I can make it back to see my family and enjoy all the trimmings you mention, from the silly paper hats to the cranberry sauce.

    Merry Old Christmas!
    Abi´s last blog post ..Christmas Traditions Around the World

  • Reply
    Sherry Ott
    December 18, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I love hearing about other culture’s Christmas traditions! Thanks for sharing. I was lucky to experience the joy of Christmas crackers when I was in Vietnam one year celebrating with a British family! How fun!
    Sherry Ott´s last blog post ..signs

  • Reply
    December 19, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Sounds like you’ll have a wonderful Christmas! Even though ours down here will be warm and sunny and we’ll have a braai instead of a roast dinner, the basic concept will be the same. Enjoy!
    Sunee´s last blog post ..A Rainy Day in Mijas

  • Reply
    Donna Hull
    December 20, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas traditions, Heather. It sounds very special. It’s not our turn to host any of the children this year, so it will be the two of us. I’m not sure what I’ll be cooking but the house is decorated with my Christmas treasures, bringing memories of travels and years gone by. The yard is lit with tiny white lights (no flashing ones for me). We’ll probably sit outside by the firepit on Christmas Eve with a glass of wine. Maybe we’ll see Santa?
    Donna Hull´s last blog post ..Saturday’s scene- Sunrise on Park Avenue

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    December 20, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone, wishing you all a happy Christmas wherever you are and however you’ll spend it

  • Reply
    Dave G @ Europe & Beyond
    December 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I am pleased to see you hold precious the traditions such as leaving out a mince pie, glass of sherry and not forgetting the carrots!

    Can you believe I’ve even seen cookie plates with carrot looking biscuits on sale this year!

    Seasons greeting one and all


  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    December 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    @ Dave G – I cannot believe the commercialism of carrot looking biscuits – I’m sure that Rudolf prefers the real crunchy kind!

  • Reply
    Dave G @ Europe & Beyond
    December 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    @admin – of course he does – all reindeers need to keep up their five a day.
    Dave G @ Europe & Beyond´s last blog post ..Church of The Transfiguration Kizhi Island – Volga River Cruise

  • Reply
    December 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Have a wonderful Christmas, a fabulous time between the years and I wish you buckets full of health, happiness and success in 2011!
    Fida´s last blog post ..Dec 21- merry-go-round

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