Tag Archives: Christmas

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals

 

Hey, we made it. And I for one am grateful to know that in any year, even one as unsettling and sad as this one has been, there are some Christmas constants: a Christmas-eve-eve viewing of Home Alone (this year, for the first time, they got the jokes and roared), pancakes, hot-radiator-and-pine-needle smells, this reason-for-the-season video, a frantic search for a Christmas tree video song that’s much cooler than we are, lazily blinking fairy lights in the semi-darkness, and at least one slightly awkward smile in our Christmas photo. This year I count three…and a half?

I have explained seventy-two times that today is only Christmas Eve, and so Father Christmas will come tonight, and today is not present-opening day.

Oh man, I love it all.

Happy Christmas to you, dear friends. I wish you quiet, and peace, and time with those you love.

What does Father Christmas eat for breakfast? Weeto-ho-hos. (Sorry.)

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Forget personality types – this is all I want to know right now: are you a short-and-sweet Christmas person, or a tree-up-in-November person?

Mostly I like to keep my Christmas in December. I think it’s more magical when it’s extra-concentrated. Like condensed milk straight from the tin (YES). That is, until we got an invitation to have breakfast with Father Christmas at Wyevale Garden Centre last Saturday. At the end of November. But it was breakfast with Father Christmas! How could we refuse?

Of course, breakfast meant quite an early start. When we arrived at our local Sherfield-on-Loddon branch, minutes after it opened and with no other cars in the car park, we wondered at first whether we’d arrived in the right place. Awkwardly we shuffled through deserted aisles of greenery and scented candles, watching nodding Father Christmasses and tiny battery-powered trains moving eerily for an audience of no one.

‘This is, um, weird’, Tim whispered to me, while the boys tried to warm their hands on a pretend fire. It sort of was.

Then, huzzah, it turned out that we were in the right place after all. Elf-ladies ushered us and a few other families into the restaurant area, where we found a gorgeous Christmassy table laid up for us. H and T had name badges and colouring mats waiting for them, and there were crackers to pull and photo props to pose with (which they loved).

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Barely were our comedy moustaches in place when the cooked breakfasts arrived. The boys recently decided that bacon is their favourite food item in the whole world (same, guys, same), so they were hilariously excited. The staff were lovely, coming to check on us frequently and refilling our giant hot chocolates whenever we looked around.

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After breakfast came snowman cookies to decorate, with sprinkles, marshmallows and little tubes of icing. H and T were already beside themselves by this point, so got stuck in and really enjoyed it. Bacon, chocolate, marshmallows, royal icing, Elton John’s majestic ‘Step Into Christmas’ bouncing along in the background: check. ENTER SANTA.

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I am sorry to tell you, if you’re new to this parenting lark, that Christmas is where you become a wobbly sap of a human being. This is the first year both boys have been old enough to properly ‘get’ the Father Christmas thing, and it’s already melting the ice around my curmudgeonly heart. They gathered the children all together on the carpet and made them shout for Santa and, oh, oh. Look at their faces.

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Spoiler alert: he arrived.

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The lovely thing was that after he greeted all of them together, everyone went back to their tables and each family got some time to themselves: a little chat with Father Christmas, lots of photo time, and then their present (which was included in the ticket, huzzah). When it came to our turn, T whispered frantically ‘I want to show Santa my cookie!’ – then, alas, ran so hard with the plate in his hands that he dropped the cookie and broke it…twice. But Father Christmas soon cheered him up. It was ADORABLE. Is it always like this, parents?! Am I going to cry every December from now on?

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Once we’d waved goodbye to Santa, we had loads of time and space to finish eating and drinking, (re)decorating broken cookies and gathering up our things. We saved the presents to open in the car and they both loved them. Then we got to go home, still well before lunchtime, and huddle up together on the sofa all day. It felt like such a treat.

I don’t know if Father Christmas is a really central part of the festivities for you, but for me he’s never really been the lynchpin of the whole thing. My favourite parts of December tend to be Christmas trees, carols, food, nativities – though I don’t know whether that’s the adult in me talking now. This year, suddenly, I am in love with it; every little bit of it. They were so utterly thrilled by the experience that it set our December off beautifully. Even if it was still in late November. Bah (un)humbug.

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Disclosure: we were invited to try Breakfast with Father Christmas, which was jolly lovely of Wyevale Garden Centres, but (as the photos show, I hope) all the festive glee was ours. They also do a Tea with Father Christmas, if early mornings and bacon aren’t your thing. You can look up the whole schedule for December here. We’re definitely going again next year!

Christmas Impossible

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I hate airports. Stuff Hugh Grant with his ‘my favourite place in the world is an airport’ thing. The Arrivals part is brilliant – marred only slightly if you are the owner of the child dragging his brother along the floor by the foot – but sooner or later you’re making that inevitable return visit to Departures. Heartbreak, raw for everyone to see, in the middle of all the horrid jolly souls going on holiday for New Year.

All the McDonald’s Festive Pies in the world can’t make up for it, I can tell you that.

This is why I am to be found eating bananas and custard for dinner at 8pm, watching Tom Cruise do tiny ridiculous things in Mission Impossible, and compiling the BIGGEST PHOTO POST EVER of our last week. Indulge me loves; it’s nice to put it all in one place.

So! My sister got married this Christmas. I am one of four, and half of us live overseas. Which meant my mum and step-dad, two younger brothers and their other halves all came here for Christmas week. Since some of our party had never been to the UK before, we crammed e v e r y t h i n g in. It was wonderful.

Wedding first. Absolutely lovely. How classy do they look, eh?

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The boys were already rabid about having so many extra adults to play with.

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Then some play time. On Sunday afternoon we ran quickly over to Silchester, the ruins of an ancient Roman town nearby. I bet the Romans had sunsets like these too.

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Of course, you can’t do England without London.

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We tripped around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and some other pretty fancy stuff. You know London. Full of it. Embarrassing, really.

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The next day, minus siblings, we went to see Nelson’s flagship at Portsmouth, the Victory. It was fantastic.

H got a bit into it.

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Please zoom in on that photo by the way: his face is hysterical. Full-on Power Ranger.

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Listening to the tour really brought home to me how splendid and patriotic and yet how irredeemably crap it must have been to serve in the Navy in the 1700s. Body parts. Everywhere. All the blimming time.

Then we did Oxford. City of my heart. Seller of excellent noodles.

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After all that, there was Christmas. I made my first giant Christmas dinner and it was intensely stressful and, like a miracle, came out beautifully even so.

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Even better, my littlest brother proposed to his girlfriend on Christmas Eve, and we all cried, especially when she said yes.

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After Christmas everyone started to go home. Time for some leftover turkey, and one last walk.

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I am wearing (fake)fur-lined leggings in this photo below, by the way. Thanks, Primark. I felt like Lyra Silvertongue ALL DAY.

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Phew, still alive? That brings us up to today, with me sat in pyjamas, eating banana custard and watching hobbity Tom Cruise do implausible things, in a doleful sort of way.

It was a great Christmas. Once-in-a-lifetime, really. I’m glad I get to remember it here.

The Christmas life

Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,
Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold,
Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold:
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Bring red and green and gold, bring things that shine,
Bring candlesticks and music, food and wine.
Bring in your memories of Christmas past,
Bring in your tears for all that you have lost.

Bring in the shepherd boy, the ox and ass,
Bring in the stillness of an icy night,
Bring in a birth, of hope and love and light;
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Wendy Cope
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Almost there. H finished school this afternoon. We’ve done three airport runs out of four, and from tomorrow will be a massive group of twelve.

The tree is up. All the beds are filled. It’s going to be a good one.

Happy Christmas to you, lovely people. Wishing you peace, and slow mornings, and really giant pastries for breakfast, and so much love.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!

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Hello dear ones.

Just popping in to wish you a jolly lovely Christmas, with as much sleep and food and love as you might wish. Our presents are wrapped and our festive lunch ready in the fridge (we were due to have lunch with family, but 2014 has been redubbed The Year of the Unexpected Viral Rash, Thanks Teddy). I’m not sure we’ve hit all our Christmas traditions, we’ve got through a tub and a half of chocolates already, so honestly, we’re already winning.

I leave the Christmas Tree 2014 video below, to speed you into the best bits of Christmas Eve. We’ll be back in the New Year with a new look, so come back! I miss your faces.

Rachel x

A note for Christmas Eve

Christmas is coming! We have TWO turkeys marinating in something top- secret, and today is the day the Big Traditions come out: joke stocking presents, the Feliz Navidad dance, the ritual watching of Home Alone, and that point at dinner time when we go for a Chinese buffet in Christmas pyjamas (when did this become a thing? I love it).

I’m now taking a little break from blogging till the New Year, so I wanted to just pop in to wish you the very happiest of Christmas seasons. Thank you for being here, and thank you for everything you’re kind enough to share with me in the comments. I can’t count the number of times the discussion on this blog has saved me from feeling like a madwoman. It means a lot to me, truly.

Take good care of yourself and your families. Be happy. Be kind to yourself. And see you in 2014!

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Extracts from a travel diary

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17th December, Heathrow Airport

We’ve just come through security and collapsed in front of a Costa. The gentleman next to me smiles, but nevertheless departs so quickly for his plane he leaves a flurry of five pound notes, which we find fifteen minutes later. I have this brilliant idea to give the money to the people at Costa, to pay for the drink of the next person in the queue. What a glorious Christmas good deed, etc, etc. I am already wiping away tears.

I join the queue, and end up in front of a trainee barista whom, it soon transpires, does not speak good English. I ask her whether she can use the note to pay for the next person’s drink, and she asks me whether I want a single or a double. No, I clarify, I want to pay for someone else’s drink. Single or double, she responds, menacingly. I end up impatient and loud, she ends up waving the fiver in my face. The chap behind me gets his free drink but we’re all terribly embarrassed about it. I don’t think Jesus ever had social awkwardness problems.

17th December, somewhere above Chicago

On the descent, and Henry is sobbing on Tim’s lap. Ohhh, I think, clutching Teds and my own head, he got my ear problems. Poor baby. What have I bequeathed upon you?

On and on it goes. It’s a long descent. I am cursing my genetics and the seatbelt sign that prevents me going to help him.

‘His ears!’ I say to Tim once we’re off the plane, my tone a wilderness of self-reproach and sympathy.

‘No’, Tim replies. ‘He was cross I turned the iPad off’.

18th December, the front drive

Having an argument with the cat about where butts should not go, viz. in my face; on my trousers, between the covers of my Agatha Christie. He gives me a five-clawed scratch in response. Violence does not win debates, Ugly (his name really is Ugly).

19th December, the mall

There’s a whole shop selling merchandise for the Alabama football team. Its motto appears to be ‘Crimson Tide’.

I cannot be alone in thinking uncomfortably of periods.

19th December, Airport Boulevard

Really, though. Would you use a garage called Budget Brakes?

20th December, the back bedroom

I’ve forgotten about the voltage difference in America, because I am an idiot. My straighteners use variable voltage, and are fine. But using my hairdryer is like being caressed by the warm breath of a horse standing at some distance.

This may be the last time I wash my hair.

21st December, cinema, screen three

On a double date with my bros. Jennifer Lawrence is crawling away from poison gas, bellowing like a stuck pig. Tim leans over.

‘That’s what you sound like when you give birth’.

Next time I’m in labour, I will meditate on the image of Jennifer Lawrence in poison gas, and I’ll feel pretty good about myself.

22nd December, LDS chapel

Someone just said ‘lackadaisical’ in a Southern US accent, and it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. Andrew Lloyd-Webber should set it to music, when he’s finished lurking creepily in corners and getting his eye-bags monitored from space.

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Song of the South

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Four o’ clock in the morning, and I’m sat in my mum’s living room with a very awake Teddy. Apparently the one infallible way to get out of jet lag is to fast for sixteen hours before the start of your new day. But you can’t starve out a baby, even one as squishy as this one, so. Four am isn’t always that bad, though. Look at his Buzz Lightyear pyjamas. Look at his chubby hands, waving under my nose with dimples for knuckles.

I thought that Christmas had to be cold and dark to feel Christmassy, but here we are in blazing sunshine and I feel terribly festive about it. The flights were an absolute horror (I was going to write a post about flying tips with young children, but at the moment all I can think of is Number One, Don’t Ever) but we finally, finally got here, staggering through Mobile’s little airport with three suitcases, four carry-ons, two zombified boys and a partridge in a pear tree. We were welcomed with Foosackley chicken and chips, which is what KFC aims to be after it’s died and gone to heaven; a hire car much bigger than it looked on the photo; and two brothers I hardly recognized.

They turned into adults, while I was gone, which shouldn’t be surprising but still catches me off guard. That first evening I sat with them in my mum’s big, squishy armchair, listening to them talk about university and jobs and girlfriends, and watching their hands. Man hands, big shoulders, hairy faces. I remember them with Buzz Lightyear pyjamas and dimples for knuckles, and it feels odd to watch them gesturing with man hands and wondering whether we’re really related. They are themselves, but with more of the rough edges rubbed off. Henry adores them. It’s lovely.

The first morning – high off 4am and twelve kinds of root beer – we ventured out to explore my mum’s back garden. It’s a giant, glorious wilderness with piles of leaves, sticks just ripe for the sword-fighting, and a tree with (we hear) raccoons inside. Paradise for a two-year-old, in other words. We ran around, climbed ladders, jumped off steps and sunned ourselves on the driveway. Henry is trying valiantly to make soulmates of my mum’s cats, but they’re taking a while to warm up to him. I don’t blame them.

Later we ventured out through the neighbourhood, to a little playground. It had about eleven green plastic slides that threw you into the air and gave you a whacking static shock at the end for your troubles. Henry insisted on pushing the pushchair back home afterwards. Every house here has giant pine trees in the front yard, pine straw and crunchy leaves underfoot. An old man walking his dog stopped to tell Henry a joke. Hen ran off to woo the cat for the fourteenth time, hands flying. His knuckles are still dimply, for now.

I have revised my Christmas necessities as follows: Christmas trees, old man jokes, stick sword-fights, a ready supply of uncles that jump off stuff with my boys. Sunshine as a bonus. It seems festive enough to me.

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What Love Actually says about you

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Last night I was snivelling over the end of Love Actually, because every Christmas season needs to involve snivelling over Love Actually, when Tim came in from work. He looked over my shoulder to see Colin Firth proposing to his Portuguese housekeeper in a crowded restaurant.

‘That’s my favourite storyline in this film’, he said.

I was surprised. I don’t know why. I suppose that I assume everyone’s favourite storyline involves Hugh Grant shaking his backside in 10 Downing Street. But, you know what, it is totally right that Tim goes for the Colin Firth. That strand is about a quiet, unassuming chap following his heart through a series of embarrassing encounters. It is low-key (at least until the big finish), but sweetly romantic. So it fits him.

Then suddenly, I had a GRAND THEORY. What if everyone’s favourite Love Actually storyline told you exactly what kind of person they were? And immediately I knew without a shadow of a doubt and with every fibre of my being that this theory was true, and would probably end up bringing about world peace, at least. Where do you fit in? Read on…

the Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon thread

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if the chirpy-Cockney-sparrer-meets-Prime-Minister thread is your favourite, you are probably so English they could cut you open and find bourbon biscuits. You like stammery, understated British humour, and cheer during the Harry Potter speech where he sticks it to the US President. You are a sucker for a mismatched love story with a happy ending. You would pay to watch Hugh Grant doing that bottom-shaking victory dance on a loop. You are astonished by how good Martine McCutcheon looks in red.

the Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln thread

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if the best-friend-loves-hopelessly-from-afar thread is your favourite, then picture postcard romance and grand gestures set your heart aflutter. You have paused, screen-capped and retweeted the scene where Andrew Lincoln holds up the placard saying ‘To me, you are perfect’. Its loveliness is such that you don’t even mind that a skateboard is better at delivering lines than Andrew Lincoln. You desperately want someone to arrange a secret orchestra to attend your wedding. In other news, you have genuine designs on Keira’s glorious pink London house.

the Colin Firth and Portuguese girl thread

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if the awkward-broken-hearted-writer-falls-for-awkward-Portuguese-girl thread is your favourite, you like to see the quiet guy getting the girl for a change. You are probably an understated sort of person yourself, so you understand the agonies that accompany social embarrassment, and never being able to communicate the right thing. You like the thought of looking for love in unexpected places. You think you could cut quite a dash in a roll-neck jumper, actually.

the Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson thread

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if the middle-aged-husband-tempted-away-from-middle-aged-wife thread is your favourite, you recognise that Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are the best things on any screen, and watching them together is worth getting your heart broken. You know that not all stories end happily. That Joni Mitchell song makes you cry. The moment where Emma Thompson hugs Hugh Grant makes you cry. Her speech about making a fool out of the life she leads makes you cry too. On reflection, you might be a sadist. But damn, you’d watch Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson selling vacuum bags, and call it a good afternoon.

the Liam Neeson and cute little boy thread

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if the bereaved-man-helps-stepson-find-love thread is your favourite, you might have a soft spot usually indulged by weeping at films where the dog dies at the end. You are eternally optimistic that grand tragedies can turn into happy endings, possibly involving Claudia Schiffer. You can’t refuse anything to a tiny moppet with big eyes. You have always, always wanted an airport declaration scene to happen to you. You find it slightly odd that Liam Neeson’s Irish accent sounds weird, especially since he’s IRISH.

the Laura Linney thread

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if the selfless-woman-sabotages-own-love-life-for-ill-brother thread is your favourite, you might have a keen sense of family ties. You are probably used to putting yourself aside for the responsibilities you owe to others. You love to watch a good awkward first date. You’ve been known to knock out a secret happy dance or two. That ring tone now makes you tear up a bit.

the Bill Nighy thread

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if the washed-up-bad-grandad-gets-number-one-hit thread is your favourite, you like an old person who isn’t afraid of an f-word. You like your comedy broad and a bit saucy. You don’t think you’ll ever unburn the image of a naked Bill Nighy from your retinas, but you still think he can do no wrong (he can’t. The end).

the Martin Freeman is naked thread

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if the naked-body-doubles thread is your favourite, you don’t blush easily (I do – Tim made me a version of the film without this thread in it. Shh, don’t tell Working Title).

the Kris Marshall and the American girls thread

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if the bumbling-fool-proves-irresistible-to-American-babes thread is your favourite, you might be an idiot. Or you might really like those BT ads. That’s all.

Remember kids, love actually IS all around. Now go and watch it again. 

What do you think? Did I get it right? Are we going to cure cancer with this thing, or what? 

UPDATED BECAUSE: I forgot to say – I’m an Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson person. Did you guess? 

Five things I learned from our Christmas Tree 2013 video

one,

it takes me approximately twenty-seven years to unwind a string of lights.

two,

the lot of a baby is to spend ten minutes trying to get hold of a plastic bag, then having it taken away a second after you manage it.

three,

if Henry’s that keen to wear sparkly baubles as earrings, he might be spending a little too much time with me.

four,

we really should go in for family ballroom dancing. A glorious career awaits.

five,

Hen saves his very best dance moves for when the lights are off.

For all those who wish to watch 2012’s Christmas Tree video and cry about how much bigger Henry got in a year (*coughs, raises hand*), you can find it here.

Happy December! Now the season’s really started.

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