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Every year as a child our Christmas’s were pretty identical, it was a busiest time of the year for my parents who worked seven days a week in the run up to Christmas Eve. Very little thought or time went into our Christmas’s although it always included a visit to Santa’s Grotto at Keddies. We always had a real tree and put it up just a few days before Christmas. Us kids went to bed beyond excited with pillowcases hanging from our beds and woke in the early hours to find them filled to the brim with gifts, all unwrapped. There was always a selection box, a Satsuma and a few walnuts at the bottom.
The day was spent lazily in our pajamas’ playing with our gifts and watching the Christmas TV shows. There would always be a mad rush to get ready in our new Christmas outfits then a drive to see our grandparents for an exchange of gifts. This visit was always quick and rushed as I remember it, as we had a dinner date at my great aunt Cissie’s home in Brentwood. Aunt Cissie had no children of her own but she quickly became the matriarch of the family. She was a fantastic cook and baker and catered for our whole family of 19 and even more when the kids grew and started taking their partners, it wasn’t just Christmas dinner either. At about 8pm she would lay out a scrumptious feast of home baked cakes and sausage rolls, trifles, cold meats, shellfish and salads.
It was often the only time of the year we would all get together, catch up with our cousins and gorge. No TV was allowed. Uncle Geoff would produce the same old bag of ‘dress-up’ clothes for the same old games to be played year after year. As the years went on and we became teenagers we started to dread going to Aunt Cissies and the same old routines, we were so ungrateful and really didn’t appreciate all the effort that her and my Uncle Frank put into creating such a lovely family day. I cannot recall our family ever arriving in time for lunch, and although it was delicious, we always ate ours at an empty table at about 5pm. I’m not sure whether that just evolved or whether it was planned as there would not have been enough table to seat everyone together. After lunch and before tea there would be a mammoth present fest where we would exchange gifts amid mountains of gift-wrap followed by the cheesy games. The drinks cabinet was under the guidance of Uncle Frank but I can never remember alcohol flowing freely, maybe a glass of Sherry and a Snowball (remember that disgusting Advocat mixed with lemonade), and if we were lucky a couple of Babychams in the evening. All the men would fall asleep between lunch and teatime and we would all leave to go home just before midnight. It was always a long, long day.
I look back now on those years with fond memories and appreciate the tradition that was our family Christmas which sadly ended when Aunt Cissie was in her 80’s and too frail to host such an occasion.
None of the next generation, my parents or Aunts and Uncle’s were prepared to pick up Aunt Cissie’s mantle and take over or even share the hosting of Christmas. I think we had the next Christmas in a restaurant and after that the family started fragmenting until we eventually lost touch with our cousins and extended families. Its true “you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone”. Once our own children were born one of my cousins and I took turns to host Christmas on the large Aunt Cissie scale and realized the huge expense and effort required to make it successful. We also were only too aware that the responsibility had skipped a generation.
I suppose the question I would like to pose is, what do we prefer? a family Christmas based on tradition where we see the same faces at the same venue, eat the same food, play the same games and follow the same routines year in, year out, or, as I craved at the time a new adventure and venue every year.
As the oldest child in my family and with the best house to host a party it seems if I want to recreate a good old family shindig, the onus is on me to do it and I have on many occasions, and we have had some great times. But, I don’t want to do it every year, until, in the end like with Aunt Cissies, not only is it unappreciated but the guests are groaning at the prospect at having to go, but feeling begrudgingly that they cannot get out of it.
In recent years we have been away a Christmas a few times both in small family groups to The Dominican Republic and India, and as a larger group to Barcelona. We have booked Christmas Dinner at restaurants and even went skiing one year. If it is at home we change the way we decorate the house, invite a few friends to mix it up a bit, play different games and do different things.
Although my children, grown up now, and would always opt for a new adventure I can see that somewhere within they are craving the familiarity that tradition brings. My oldest daughter insists on the hot tub being set up and filled ready for her arrival whilst my youngest daughter insists on Eggs Benedict for breakfast on Christmas Day. My thirteen-year-old son just wants a family Christmas with all his cousins.
New adventures and experiences are very exciting; the downside to losing family traditions is a fragmenting of the extended family. I personally miss not being in touch with my aunts, uncles and cousins but once tradition is broken its difficult to reinstate…..even though the only requirement to be a family is to turn up!
Are you one of those people who write a list, set a budget and do your Christmas gift shopping on-line in one sitting or one mammoth shopping trip to London, Lakeside or Leigh Broadway? Or do you have those in mind you are buying for throughout the year and look out for interesting or unusual things you know they will love.
The difficulty these days is knowing what to give someone that they cannot get for themselves. Most of us are operating within a budget that should the recipient of our gift so desire they could purchase the item themselves. The best gifts I think are ones where time has been invested either sourcing the item or producing it; a lovely album of special photos for example or a special treat that you will share with them during the year, a trip to a music event, theatre, restaurant or spa.
Another lovely idea is to prepare a bespoke hamper filled with luxury edible treats, beauty products, gardening products or a collection of items that the particular person will love, a lot of thought goes into this type of gift. If you bring your products into our shop, Scape Interiors, we will be happy to create the perfect hamper for you in one of our bespoke wooden Leigh-on-sea Boxes, available in four sizes £15.00-£25.00. We will gift wrap it in cellophane once filled.
Luxury Home Scents and Body Products are always a joy to receive, as they are a real treat that we often cannot afford to spend on ourselves. Check out our lovely NEOM Organics range for some ideas on treating someone to an uplifting experience from £15.00.
We have some inexpensive little gift ideas which are small so perfect if they need to be posted, the Fetch My Keys-Key Finder, at £6.50 a key-ring for someone who always loses their keys, the Rechargeable USB Bottle Light which enables you to turn your favourite bottle into a lamp.
If you are looking for an affordable small gift for a child, check out our range of Gifts in a Tin from Apples to Pears. Priced at £10.50, these gifts , Winners of Best Gift Award two years in succession presented in small tins will not fail to delight. They are lightweight, easy to wrap, easy to post and totally complete, with everything you need within the tin. There are 100’s to choose from, including our Best Selling ‘Train Set in a Tin’, complete with train, carriages, track and even the battery, the wooden ‘Farm in a Tin’, the make yourself Meccano ‘Eiffle Tower in a Tin, the ‘Pirate Ship in a Tin’, ‘Tea Set in a Tin, and the list goes on there really is something for everyone.
Nothing can beat a fresh table decoration with seasonal blooms and a couple of candles. Sometimes, however this is just not a practicality. With the Christmas table and its multiples of dishes, side dishes, accompaniments and bottles, the cutlery and obligatory Christmas crackers there is usually very little room left on the table. I solved this problem last year by making a stunning decoration using a Plant Support Ring that I picked up from Home base for £4.29. Using wire I wrapped an artificial Holly garland around the ring then used fishing line to hang it from the ceiling above the table using a small tack. I then hung an assorted of different sized Glass Balloons from the ring making an effective over hanging table decoration. You could make your own hanging table decoration using Christmas Tree Baubles, Balloons or anything that you can attach a piece of fishing line to.