We love love love getting ready for Christmas. Stephen and I spent ages picking out ornaments, a wreath for our door, and other decorations. Since the incidents of Christmas ’12 and ’13 (when Jasper ate a large portion of our artificial Christmas tree while we slept, got violently ill, and cost us hundreds of dollars in veterinary care), we had come to terms with the fact that we couldn’t have a Christmas tree with real or fake pine needles. We had assumed we would just have to do without completely, but then I noticed these minimalist versions at John Lewis made to look like a bare-leafed, snow-covered tree. Best of all, they were covered in paper instead of plastic, so potential catastrophe averted! We bought some homemade and crafty-looking ornaments to go with our scaled-back theme. We did splurge and buy an ornament made to look like a London street sign of Sloane Square, the site of our temporary living accommodations, the very first place we ever went in London, and perhaps not coincidently, still one of our favorite areas.
Even the fruit in our fruit bowl was decked out for the season. One morning, I went into the kitchen to make a second cup of tea, and I noticed that all of the clementines had stickers of jolly little Santas on them. It threw me for a bit of a loop. Did Stephen not only go out and buy Santa stickers but then go to the trouble of decorating the house with them? And if he did, why did he choose to put them on the clementines? Was it because he knew they were my favorite, and it would make me laugh? Still confused but starting to feel a little touched by the gesture, I sent him an awkward text message. It turns out they were already like that when he picked them up from the grocery store, which left me equal parts relieved and disappointed. But really, how cute is it that someone on the planet even bothered to do such a thing? I meant it when I said they take Christmas seriously here.
Stephen worked half a day on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t mind because I was doing all kinds of prep for our Christmas Day feast. The traditional British Christmas meal is a lot like American Thanksgiving: turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, stuffing, and gravy. They also often do parsnips, brussels sprouts, and carrots so I made those as well. I had caught a few episodes of several of Jamie Oliver’s Christmas specials, and he repeated over and over that a successful Christmas roast was all about preparation. If you start the process a day or two in advance, there really isn’t much you actually have to do on the actual holiday, and you can spend the day with your family instead of with your oven. I really wanted to spend the day with my TV. Since we were unfortunately not going to be surrounded by friends and family during our holiday, we didn’t have any definite plans for the day. Until I saw the TV schedule. In the UK, the most popular shows have Christmas-themed specials that air the days preceding and following Christmas, with Christmas being reserved for the big hitters. We had Sherlock, Downton Abbey, and Call the Midwife to look forward to in addition to the Queen’s speech, so the less time spent in the kitchen, the better.
Another British holiday tradition is the aforementioned Queen’s Christmas Message. Every Christmas Day, households across the nation come to a standstill for the 10 minutes that the Queen’s pre-recorded message to the nation is broadcast. We were expecting the speech to be a trite, canned bit of fuzzy-feeling nonsense, but we were shocked to see her deliver a thoughtful, relevant, and moving speech about the past year’s events and the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness, both in the context of Christmas and the recent Scottish referendum. It was the first moment that we as Americans kind of got what the monarchy was about. I think it is hard to watch it without feeling, at the very least, begrudging respect, no matter your feelings about the institution as a whole.
We opened our presents first thing in the morning (which was already sliding into afternoon, to be honest.) I gave Stephen a new wallet big enough to fit British pound notes, a book, and lots of candy. He got me a new Kindle, which I couldn’t have been happier about. We did all of this while wearing our Awful Christmas Jumpers because, really, why not? The Brits embrace the terrible Christmas sweater trend (jumpers, to them). In the weeks before Christmas, people wore them out to the pub and the park, and Stephen’s work even had a designated day to wear your tacky sweaters. People, us included, wore them without shame and (almost) without irony. A store I like to shop at even had a two-for-one deal going on, so I had an Awful Christmas Jumper for both Christmas Day and the day after, called Boxing Day, which is also a national holiday here.
We spent the afternoon playing board games, doing last-minute things in the kitchen, and going through an entire family-sized box of Christmas crackers. With our new paper hats on our heads (from the crackers), we spent the evening watching our Christmas specials and eating the huge feast I had prepared. Seriously, we had food for days after, and we still ended up throwing some away. I thought I had scaled the recipes way back, but I must seriously cut back even more next time.
And that’s it for 2014! I hope everyone had as pleasant of a Christmas as we did!