Nearly everyone has one – that moment that makes you sigh with contentment, and think ‘Christmas is here’. BV Editor, Laura Hitchcock, shares a personal Christmas, and asks some of the BV’s contributors over the last year to share one of their own.
We made a mistake when our boys were small. I admit it. We loved Christmas, and like most parents we wanted to build the magic for them, too. Not with big gifts – with moments. Memories. Special traditions which flow together to build an annual holiday of significance in the family, different from any other time of year.
Oh it definitely worked. Our big kids love Christmas. That’s the issue. We didn’t realise that here we would be, twenty years later, still doing all of them.
The Hitchcock Christmas
We still enjoy the after-dark visit to Sherborne’s Castle Gardens Christmas display to buy ‘just one bauble,’ (it never is). We dig out the same (ugly) pocket Advent calendars my sister lovingly made our three small boys (and the – pretty – one we had to buy when a daughter came along a few years later). We watch the full rotation of Christmas movies together through December – but never Arthur Christmas, that’s saved for the day the trees go up, watched with takeaway pizza. That ‘tradition’ started when, having spent the entire day decorating the house and two trees with the ‘help’ of three boys under five, there was no way we were cooking dinner. These days we’re done by mid-afternoon, and yet pizza is still on the menu. It’s always Polar Express on Christmas Eve, and Wonderful Life in the still calm space between Christmas and New Year.
We still all go together to choose the two trees from Cranborne Estate – though I no longer haul them on to the car roof. Now there are strapping man-sized boys to help their dad, I simply provide ‘helpful’ advice on the roping. Which isn’t listened to, obviously.
And on Christmas Eve, Courtenay is still expected to sit and read aloud ‘The Night Before Christmas’, often with a teenager in his lap. In fact, now I think about it, the trying to persuade teenagers that he doesn’t need to read it this year has become a new tradition in itself.
And yet, while I love all of these things and the hundred other silly small rituals December contains, they are not my favourite moment.
That is Christmas morning, when I creep out of bed to put the turkey in the oven, and fill the stockings. Sneaking into bedrooms for the empty ones because… well, with a youngest who is 14, there’s no good reason that I still sneak them in. But I do. Everyone is asleep, the house is beautiful but resting, decorations flickering gently as it breathes. The work is done, the day is still to come and it’s a perfect moment of accomplishment, relief and warm anticipation. And a small brief personal space with my own thoughts and memories.
I asked the teens for their best moments, not sure what to expect. They surprised me: ‘Waking up on Christmas morning and just remembering it’s Christmas.’ ‘Everyone at the dinner table before we eat. The food smelling amazing, the bustle of dishes coming in, everyone chattering and laughing, but still with the day stretching out ahead.’
And our daughter picked a tradition which isn’t even one we made – we created the rule (one desperate Christmas filled with little sleep and excited small children) that they couldn’t wake us before 7am on Christmas Day.
Naturally they could never stay in bed that long, so they would all collect their stockings and jump into their oldest brother’s bed, spending the first hour of Christmas with each other and no grown-ups, squidging and exploring the stockings, guessing what each parcel might be.
This is our daughter’s favourite tradition: ‘waking up and seeing a full stocking and proceeding to drop everything as you carry it to your brother’s room not-so- quietly.’
Intrigued, I extended the question – I asked some of the people from the last year who have contributed to the BV
to share their own favourite traditions…
Simon Hoare MP
“The thing that tells me not only that it’s Christmas but that as much planning and preparing has been done as can be done is to sit down with my three daughters and read to them Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. It’s such a lyrical, evocative piece. It never fails to stir and it says to us: Christmas is here!”
Timothy Medhurst, antiques expert. Random 19 Guest
“For me Christmas is made completely wholesome by watching Elf with a bottle of Bucks Fizz, lovely!”
Heather Brown Food columnist
“My favourite Christmas moment is when our two sons bring their unopened stockings into our bedroom and open
the gifts with us. Whatever the rest of the day looks like, whether at home or staying away, celebrating with few or celebrating with many, that moment is always the same. It’s a special moment, just between the four of us, and I cherish it before the delightful chaos of the rest of Christmas Day. “
Tracy Chevalier, novelist Random 19 guest
“We celebrate the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, which involves lighting candles every night for 8 nights, eating latkes (fried potato pancakes), a bit of singing and dancing, and small presents. But we love fairy lights so always
put them up in the cottage for December. And I do nip out to the Brace of Pheasants in Plush on Christmas Eve to join in carol singing and a drink. It is a great community tradition.”
Andy Palmer, Columnist
“Our tradition is on Christmas Eve for supper I’ll hot smoke pigeon breast on the barbecue and Kae will make a coleslaw with added clementine and chestnuts. I’ll make some spiced wine while listening to Close to the Edge by Yes.”
Ian Girling, Chief Exec Dorset Chamber. Business Columnist
“Christmas really arrives for me when it’s time to put the Christmas lights up. My wife enjoys decorating the outside of our home with beautiful (tasteful!) Christmas lights and the house really does look fabulous at Christmas. Coming home from work and pulling up outside the house with all the lights really does give me that Christmas feeling!”
Sarah J. Naughton, author Random 19 guest
“For me, Christmas really begins when the Salvation Army band starts playing carols outside my local department store. There’s something about their prim uniforms and the Christmas lights glinting off the brass that transports me straight back to Victorian London. I stand and watch, with a handful of equally sentimental strangers, as shoppers go bustling past loaded with presents, and am usually a blubbering wreck by the end of Once in Royal David’s City.”
Mat Follas, Chef Random 19 Guest
“Our tradition is actually for both the longest and shortest days. As a family, we tie a memento on our apple tree and read a poem at dusk to mark the turn of the seasons.”
Simon Gudgeon, sculptor Random 19 Guest
“I’ll take a stroll around the sculpture park, which is incredibly beautiful on a frosty winter morning, and continue my daily habit of a swim in the river – yes, even on Christmas Day. But definitely before the wine, rather than after it!”
Courtenay Hitchcock, BV co-owner
“For me it all begins on Christmas Eve. When the boys were small my parents always took them
out for the day at Moors Valley, and Laura and I grabbed the solo hours for our own private Christmas in the kitchen, prepping and cooking up a storm, carols playing, drinking fizz… 15 years later and our grown ups ‘Christmas Eve Cook Up’ is still sacrosanct. I love it.”
by Laura Hitchcock