And so the ‘Festive Season’ ends once more…

..and down come the Christmas decorations. The house looks so empty and sad. Why, when January is statistically a horribly depressing month, do we so quickly remove all the sparkle and glitz and cheer we’ve so carefully decorated our homes with? I know, Twelfth Night and all that, but I for one think that a little bit of glitter and glamour should be in our lives all year round, and not only that, we should aim to keep up the Christmas cheer, enjoy the holiday feeling, and snuggle up in front of cosy log fires with piles of rugs and dogs all year round (perhaps not the latter in August though). The New Year is a time for resolutions, so mine (along with a couple of others – more in another post about that) will be just that – keep the cheer, spread the love, and make the most of family and friends for all twelve months, instead of just in the festive season.

Having said that, of course, it is impossible to make every day of the year feel like Christmas, because Christmas is special. I look forward to it so much every year. Not only do I usually get a couple of weeks off work without needing to take them as holiday (thanks Boss!) but I get to spend that valuable time visiting all the friends and family who I rarely get to see during the year because I now live a few hours from where I grew up and my friends have also dispersed across the country.

This year was a first for me – the first time I’ve invited a boyfriend along to the family celebrations. I wasn’t nervous about whether he would enjoy himself or what my family would think of him, I was confident on both those counts. I was nervous about how his little black pug Toto would be received! My family are the type who are keen on working breeds, cocker spaniels, labs, border collies, and I thought a slightly neurotic toy dog might be a bit much for them, especially my Dad who can’t stand yapping (yet ironically loves Billy, my rescue dog, who arguably barks more in a day than most dogs in a month) but she was a huge hit! In fact, my parents were fighting over who got to have her on their laps in the evening, and she behaved herself like a perfect angel the entire time. Here she is perched on Dad’s lap. I am not sure who looks more pleased with themselves.

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Arriving home for Christmas is always special. Mum usually has the house fully decorated, so you walk into a festive wonderland, complete with the homely smell of a log fire and clementines, which we all consume like they’re going out of fashion.

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This year was a bit different as I went home so early, so Ste and I had the chance to decorate the tree ourselves, along with my little brother Jack, who gets very excited at the whole thing.

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I also love coming home to a full house of dogs, this time with Toto as extra, but she made herself at home very fast. Jack was a particular fan of hers.

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In the hectic few days at home, I visited various Godchildren and friends, carrying presents and greetings, and generally baked and prepped for the big day (Mum and I were in charge of Christmas Day nibbles, so I did mini bacon and leek quiches, mini cranberry and brie tarts, salmon straws (not quite the success I was hoping for) and salmon, cream cheese and chive bread swirls, which all went down pretty well as it turned out, even if they did not look as lovely as I hoped).

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Christmas Eve we usually have a family supper, but this year supper was a bit delayed by my poor little sister getting stuck by the flooding on the A303 at Podimore. Having driven all the way from London, she was stuck just a few miles away from home, but whichever back route she tried to get home was also flooded. Hundreds of people were stuck, and the police were helpfully telling people to head for Langport, on the Somerset levels, i.e. the area which floods the most, the quickest! Little sis had the sense not to do that, but she couldn’t find her way back to us, so Dad and a friend went out to rescue her. We eventually sat down to eat at about 10.30pm, all very relieved to have the poor thing home with us!

Christmas Day itself is particularly special, as my entire family gather at my Grandma’s house for a day of presents, cherry brandy (a glass or three of De Kuyper at Christmas is a family tradition to which any invitees to our celebrations are initiated. Boyfriends arrive having never heard of the stuff, and leave asking where they can buy it! My little sister and her boyfriend have now got all their university friends hooked too (not in the literal sense of course), so the tradition is spreading!), catching up on each other’s years, cooking, eating the most amazing food prepared by my Grandma, Mum and her two sisters who are all fantastic cooks, a bit more drinking, an afternoon walk with the dogs around the farm (the family pooches combined numbered 8 this year), a bit more eating, then heading home for er, more eating and drinking and some festive telly curled up on the sofa in our PJs with the dogs. A perfect day.

We start the day getting up early and feeding the animals on the farm, all fighting for the shower and getting glammed up for the day, then piling presents, food, wellies, dogs, crackers and ourselves into the car, and heading to the family near Dorchester in Dorset, about a 40 minute drive away. When we arrive there’s a few minutes of greetings and mistletoe kisses in the hallway before we head into the drawing room in front of the fire, for a glass of the aforementioned cherry brandy, and some nibbles, all admiring the enormous and beautifully decorated tree with presents piled high underneath. Little sis looks particularly happy in this photo:

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The house is a 17th century manor house, and lends itself perfectly to big family occasions, and is a lovely backdrop for the very stylish decorations my Grandma and Aunt put up every year. I especially love the mistletoe and ivy-strewn light in the hallway.

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It has a write up in a book called ‘Manor Houses of Dorset’, which I think comes out at every party for people to read. This year I actually took a look myself, and learnt some interesting things about the house. I was quite amazed to learn that the three carved panels above the fireplace in the dining room date back to 16th century, and amused to hear that the staircase is the original, which the book described as having ‘withstood generations of family life’. I am not sure the writer knew how we used to use the polished wood staircases as children – as rather uncomfortable but incredibly fun slides! Hopefully they will still be going strong when my kids want to do the same one day.

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When all the family have arrived the unwrapping of the presents begins, which is usually fairly chaotic – the sounds of wrapping paper being ripped, choruses of “Thank you Grandma!” or “Who gave me this?!”, and general merriment and happiness, with the occasional “Do you really like it? If not I kept the receipt”, a phrase which no doubt makes an appearance in every household at this time of year, and I hardly ever hear of anyone asking for the receipt!

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Once our spoils have been enjoyed, new clothes tried on, toys tested out, and this year, the amusing video collages of family members as dancing elves to various happy tunes (my Grandma was a particularly funky breakdancer it turned out), the family gets their coats on, and leaving the experts to the cooking of the lunch, heads around the corner to the village pub for a pre-lunch drink.

Enjoying the dancing elves:

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My boyfriend was amazed by this. “The pub will be closed”, he said. “Nobody goes to the pub on Christmas Day!”, he said. As we got to the door, we could hear no noise from within, “It’ll be totally empty”, he said. Then he pushed the door open, or rather tried to, but the pub was so full of people the door wouldn’t open! We squeezed our way in to choruses of helloes, and made our way to the bar for the first round, always on the landlord for our family, I think because my Uncle is an excellent patron all year! A couple of swift G&Ts and a catch up on the village chat later, and we all head back to the house, entering to the amazing aroma of the turkey freshly out of the oven and all the trimmings being prepared in the huge kitchen, aga full of various dishes being kept warm.

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We make ourselves comfy around the huge dining table, and then my Uncle carves whilst we all pile our plates with food. Remembering how full I am every year I tried to be conservative with my first helping, but once I had taken a little bit of everything I had an almost overflowing plate!

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As always, the food was delicious, and we all needed a good 40 minutes before the various puds could be brought out. This year there was a giant mince pie which my Grandma always makes, and which is by far my favourite – the perfect filling to crust ratio – a chocolate mousse, a chocolate log, a raspberry pavlova, a bowl of lime jelly (a family tradition dating back to my Grandpa’s father, though nobody can really remember why), a banoffee pie, and a christmas pudding ice cream bombe that we had for the first time this year instead of the usual Christmas pud, which nobody in my family is terribly keen on, other than the display of the flaming brandy (and holly decorations!).

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I only had room for the tiniest helping of chocolate log sadly, as I was saving myself for the cheese board, provided by my other Aunt who has impeccable taste in these things, and she did not disappoint. The cheese board was a thing of beauty, and all the cheeses were local, even the Brie! My 12 year old cousin Ben decided to anoint the cheese with sparklers, hence the hedgehog appearance, and once they were burning amid the concern not to melt the cheese I forgot to take a photo of the sparkle.

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After a bit of a moment to sit around and chat and regret our levels of pigginess, we all wellied-up and headed out for a walk around the farm. This year we were a little too long at the eating and it was dusk when we set out, and almost dark when we returned, a bit damp and windswept, wellies and dogs plastered in mud, but cheeks aglow and spirits high. We made the mistake of sitting down again, and all started to feel sleepy, so a quick round of coffees and choccies were needed to wake everyone up ready to go home. My cousin John in particular.

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And the day wasn’t over – we had yet to open our family prezzies. My wish list this year contained mainly books and gardening tools for our nascent vegetable garden, so I was a bit concerned that my boyfriend’s present to me was the biggest under the tree and he told me not something that was on my present list, or that I had ever mentioned wanting! As a frankly horrible actress, even my best efforts at being pleased with presents that I’m not madly keen on are spotted instantly, much to my regret as I really hate to disappoint people when they think they have found me something I’ll love, so I was mentally rehearsing “It’s lovely darling, thank you so much!”, and holding my breath as I unwrapped the first of three parcels. It was a 3 stackable cake cooling racks. Delighted, as I only had one very tiny round one, that for some reason weebles from side to side, making me worried my freshly baked cakes are going to start spinning and fly off. Ste had obviously paid close attention to one particular rant about said useless rack. Clever boy. The main event was even better – a mixer!! My sister had one a couple of years ago and I’ve wanted one ever since but always thought they were too expensive for something I don’t really need, so never seriously considered getting one. Talk about over the moon! Not only had he charmed my entire family, along with his cute dog, but he gave me one of my fave presents in years. What a guy!

We all ended the day snuggled up on the sofa, Billy being careful to make sure he had the comfiest spot, as he always does.

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A perfect day, a perfect Christmas holiday. Back to work tomorrow, but with the Christmas spirit still in my heart!

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