It would be all too easy when asked to address the problems of Christmas to simply suggest that you stock up on a week’s supply of Yuletide Festive Chrissi-time ready meals and assorted booze, lock the damn door, stick a bucket of water above it for the carol singers and settle down in front of the telly for the duration.
So that is exactly what we’ll start with.
Stock up on a week’s supply of festive ready meals and assorted booze, lock all the doors – with or without booby traps and settle down in front of the TV for the duration.
It’s not an especially attractive prospect though really, is it? A bit too Ebeneezer when you come down to it.
There is no doubt that it can easily be how Christmas makes you feel but let’s try to take a positive outlook and see if we can’t come up with a few practical suggestions.
Start with the food
Let’s start with the grub. Of course, there will be the Christmas feast itself. Turkey with three sorts of stuffing, bread sauce, roasties and veg and the traditional pudding.
All well and good but let us turn briefly to the menus for the rest of the week. Let’s put game front and centre. The freezer is brimming with good things. Pheasant, partridge, pigeon, hare perhaps, a few duck. Sounds to me like you have got the makings of a classic game pie there.
And what could be a nicer addition to the festive board than a game pie?
In the hiatus between Christmas and New Year there is an urgent need to vary the offerings from just more cold turkey. I love the cold meats even more, I think, than I do the hot.
Jacket potato, turkey, a slice or two of good gammon and ox-tongue, pickled onion, crispy salad, Cumberland sauce and loads of pickles. Game cookery books are full of delicious peripherals. Spiced apricots, pickled pears, cinnamon apple jelly. And there is still time to prepare all of these before the holiday hits.
Get cracking. And don’t forget to boil up all the bones after making your game pie in order to make a sumptuous broth for the Boxing Day shoot elevenses.
Getting the right drinks
On the drink front, don’t forget that quality is always better than quantity. So wheel out the good stuff. If we are to believe the Jeremiahs the planet is spinning out of control towards an early end.
So what better time to crack open one bottle of the fine claret instead of three litres of the Cab.Sauv?
And here again, don’t forget the traditional seasonal delights. Look out the Madeira and the sloe gin, porters, stouts and snacks. These are all especially good with the equally traditional foods.
Clarifying the contract
The key to managing guests, be they in-laws, outlaws or just friends, is to formalise the invitation in order to clarify the contract. Christmas lunch is not the same as Christmas Day and Christmas Day is not the same as Christmas. So make absolutely sure the people you invite know when they should leave as well as when they should arrive.
And here’s a tip – always make a point of leavening the family mix with someone or other that not everyone knows. The addition of a stranger will ensure that good manners take over and everyone will behave. Even children.
Christmas is not just for kids
And while we are on the subject of children, the idea that Christmas is all about the kids is an implausible modern conceit. It isn’t.
It is a pleasure, of course, to see their little faces light up as they rend and tear at their presents, but it is also a pleasure to see the little horrors tucked up in bed hugging their newest special gift.
Sleep deprivation is no friend of good behaviour, so the keeping of reasonable hours for the tinies should be a central objective. Quite apart from which you will need plenty of time to yourself to plan and prepare the next phase.
Don’t rely on the telly
And while we are on the subject, let’s think about the television. It may be the case there’s something worth watching but, in my view, such fare is few and far between.
Obviously the Queen and Where Eagles Dare are givens, but for the rest of the week, I recommend abstinence. Actually parlour games are better and more fun.
Charades – in all its variations – is always worth a session. As is Consequences. The composition of a few rounds of limericks is fun. “Are you there, Moriarty?” relieves any number of tensions while Passing the Balloon is both fun and fraught with possibilities.
And if you haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about then you had better hurry back to your PlayStation or your I-pod.
But I’m sorry for you.
Don’t let’s forget sport
Surely the Boxing Day shoot should be a seasonal highlight?
Guns old and young and a motley crew of beaters and dogs. A few pheasants, plenty of exercise and fun and a handsome antidote to all the activities indoors.
There may be more serious shooting to be done both before and after Christmas but the Boxing Day shoot should be a fixture. Unless you want to put off the shooting until Thursday in order to attend the Boxing Day meet instead.
Our brethren in sport continue to thrive despite the hunting ban, but they still need our support and there is no better way to manifest our empathy than to turn out on Boxing Day to cheer them on their way.
Church won’t hurt
Nor should we forget the real central theme of Christmas. It is, when all is said and done, a religious festival.
I am no great theist but I am inclined to join in modestly at the festive tide. We have a candle-lit midnight service in the village, which I attend whenever I am at home for the holiday. The congregation assemble from all points of the compass bearing lanterns as the bells peal. It is a delight and also contributes to a resurgent sense of community which is all too rare these days and which is to be applauded and relished.
It’s the thought that counts
And presents. I don’t want to sound too austere but I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that less is more. For the nearest and dearest there should, of course, be something. But something small and considered – and perhaps exquisite – is better than large and thoughtless – and perhaps expensive.
Consideration is everything. Getting it right is better than just getting it. Most of us have everything we need and more. Some of us have everything we want. So the delight to be had from receiving something that we never realised that we either needed or wanted but really appreciate is truly boundless. For everyone else, trifles. A little bit of frivolity that means something but not too much.
And finally, friends
Surely the true key to a happy Christmas is to surround yourself with friends. So invite a few around.
For a meal; for a walk, for a shoot or just for a mardle and a snifter betimes. Sometimes the greatest pleasures are the simplest.
Whatever your own chosen method, have a very happy Christmas.