I am hosting Christmas Day this year, at my house, for the first time in about ten years.
I haven’t had to do it for so many years because I am blessed with relatives who are Christmas CRAZY. They love it. They spank it. They feel it. I like Christmas, too, but I have also become aware over the last few years, especially after having kids, quite how much work it is.
My god it’s just work. It’s the tidying up and the peeling and the taking the bins out and the timers and the lists and the last-minute dashes to Sainsbury’s and the exhaustion. And the tidying up, did I mention that. I think you are supposed to take it all on the chin because it’s Christmas and you must be willing to work like crazy in order to give everyone this marvellous thing because it’s Christmas. But you have to be a better person than me not to end up feeling really quite angry and fault-findy by the end of the day.
So I was happy to leave it to other people. I’ve totally lost that hausfrau-ish urge to own Christmas. But I feel like Christmas has come back round to me at exactly the right time. My kids are a bit older – about twice a week I am even allowed to wake up naturally – and I am also more realistic about what I can achieve. My house won’t look like those houses do on Pinterest or Instagram or in a magazine. Because it’s a real house and we live in it. And I’m okay with that.
There are only six of us for Christmas lunch this year, which also suits me fine. I don’t need 12 people all crammed in, I have no delusions of Fezziwiggery. And I have managed to suggest, with no opprobrium or rows, a change to the traditional Christmas lunch. Because the thing is, I don’t really like turkey. Not only that, a roast with trimmings is probably the most stressful thing to have to prepare and maintain good humour, (while the roast itself maintains a ridiculous and undeserved air of being somehow homely and humble).
There’s more! While turkey or meat of any kind once upon a time at Christmas would have been a luxury, it doesn’t really say luxury to me. So I have constructed a menu that says LUXURY because it’s got things in it that are genuinely unaffordable that I never usually have.
We will have smoked salmon to start and I mean the really expensive kind, which we get from Panzer’s in St John’s Wood. It is wild and hand carved and speaks 8 different languages or something. We only ever have it at Christmas because it is so expensive, and so that’s what we’re having
Then we’re having Beef Wellington – I rarely eat red meat these days and never, ever fillet because it somehow just feels profligate and wrong. But not at Christmas! The best thing about a Beef Wellington is that you can pretty much do the entire thing the day before and it’s not nearly as much of a hassle as it sounds as long as you pay attention and follow the instructions.
My kids, again, will also like this. Possibly a bit too much. I’d better do some little sausages on the side for them, come to think of it. We’ll have it with red cabbage and that’s it. No naffing about with glazed carrots or parsnips or roast potatoes. Save them for another time when there isn’t so much else to do besides.
And then a Christmas pudding, which I will buy from somewhere as, if you hadn’t worked it out already, I’m just not the sort to be arsed with making one. I saw in the paper the other day that Tesco make the best one this year.
Here is a recipe by Gordon Ramsay for Beef Wellington, which I have used before with total success, should you be a turkey refusenik, too.
With all the acres of time I will save not doing any complicated cooking I am going to read my book and drink coffee. Because it’s my Christmas, too.
How about you? Are you hosting this year? What’s your dream Christmas Day lunch? Elizabeth David’s was always an omelette and a glass of champagne. Or have I made that up.
Friday night dinner round mine IS basically akin to Xmas dinner in terms of prep. So it doesn’t massively phase me. Fortunate enough to be away this xmas.. which actually makes me a bit sad as I love the coming together of a trad xmas day lunch for epic proportions of ‘fressing’. (I actually love turkey and just do a turkey roll. Fuck the enormous bird. Too much hassle.). Three words: disposable foil trays. I know I know. Not very ‘green’. But it’s that or I walk out halfway through the starters. Merry crimb x
Ceci Magee says
A caterer friend who could easily cook beef wellington for herself, swears by the ones from Donald Russell #justsaying #easylife !!
Kate Helmer says
We have confit de canard – so simple; open the tin and place contents on a rack above roasting tin full of potatoes. Delicious duck & potatoes roasted in the fat – served with all the Christmas sides which have been made the day before. All I have to remember to do is buy the confit before Christmas!
Yes! All this! It *is* my Christmas too, and I have worked out some what, that playing at professional chef level service is ridiculous. A few years ago, at the end of a very tiring stressful day, I ended up shouting at my blameless then 5 yr old that I hated Christmas. I mean… No. Something’s gotta change.
So in our house the coping/ maintaining enjoyment strategies now include:
Proper breakfast for kids post stocking and pre tree presents so they don’t go mental from hunger/ sugar high
Help Help Help from guests
I do table settings and general oversight. Bro does cooking
No turkey cos I don’t like it.
Loads of greens/ veggies cos I like those bits best
I get wigged out by the consumeristic mess after the presents have been unwrapped so I get my husband to take the kids to the park while I have a shower a coffee and a quiet tidy up.
This is a wider point, but I’ve figured out that the bits about the festive season I do like are going to a carols service and Christmas cards. If I get to do those bits I feel better about the effort for the day itself.
Totally and utterly agree with you, Esther. I’m 44 and it’s taken me YEARS to figure out why, although I like to feel ‘Christmassy’ (whatever that means), and that I’m very much a ‘glass half full’ kinda person the other 364 days of the year, come Christmas Day I’m often completely miserable and angry and pissed off and resentful and Sylvia Plath-like. And that’s just not me. And then last weekend, I had a sort of epiphany after reading Melanie Reid in the Times magazine. She talked about the effort that goes into making Christmas what we think it should be – the ‘feminine’ touches that add the extra sparkle but that go unnoticed. I realised I’ve been doing things which either go unnoticed (no-one actually coming to stay but better deep clean the spare room and change the bedding anyway; no-one is going to check the ironing pile but better clear it anyway, preferably late on Christmas Eve etc etc). No other bugger notices the efforts I go to to make the house ‘perfect’ and I end up knackered and cross and it’s really no-one’s fault but my own. So, this year, I’m identifying what annoys me: bloody great turkey carcass sitting in the fridge for days afterwards? Solution – we’re having delicious rib of beef. Am simplifying everything so that the whole point of Christmas is not lost on me. Wish me luck.
I read Melanie Reid’s column and thought exactly the same thing.
Christmas is clearly a patriarchal plot to keep us women too distracted from November to December and exhausted Jan through to February to foment a revolution 😉
Can I give you my Christmas pudding lady? Wendy at Fruition preserves makes an absolute bomb of a Christmas pud. She’s south of the river but probably posts. I agree, life’s too short for steeping fruit!
One year I had been ill in the run up and burst into tears at the thought of doing a roast so I made macaroni cheese and we had it with all the nice stuff we had in the fridge, and having done that and realised it was still Christmas, it’s made me more relaxed about the whole thing. We’re having Christmas Day on our own this year so we’re roasting a chicken. I usually give him a hard time on here, but my husband really comes into his own at Christmas. I cook all year but there is something about a roast dinner that captures his imagination and he is a whizz with timings and knowing when this or that should be coming out or going in, something I find extremely stressful, and listens to the radio quite happily while making the best roast potatoes ever, so we do it together and I just have to leave my book to come in and do something to the parsnips or make the puddings and the extras, and he tells me what and when. He is also extremely tidy and makes wrapping paper and boxes disappear as they arrive, and is that magical creature who cleans up as he goes, whilst I just have to build and assemble and play with all the toys. One year he got me a screwdriver in my stocking to help with this. We are having people on Boxing Day and I was going to do a Nigella ham as the kids have requested it, but I’m going to look at that Wellington now. Boxing Day evening I am always making a birthday cake so I don’t want to do anything too complicated though.
I like beef at Christmas but my young adult sons still want turkey so I get a crown because it’s easy. I had one homespun Christmas when the boys were small and made everything from scratch, even the mincemeat! I was exhausted…. I buy most ready made Christmas food, but still make roast potatoes and all vegetables which I love. Happy Christmas Spikers!
Sounds like a really lovely menu and a sensible way to enjoy Christmas. We hosted one year when my daughter was one and my son was 4. I still haven’t recovered from the mental and emotional trauma.
We always do Christmas at home and no one else is invited. We see family in the days before and after which is hugely full on but with small children all they want is to open presents and be helped to make whatever craft, play the game, assemble the lego someone has bought them. I tried the full on roast the first year and most of us ended up in tears so now it’s a relaxed day of wall-to-wall tv (which we NEVER do so it’s a treat), toys and picky food that can either be bunged in the oven, or eaten out of the packet. And it’s bliss.
Nicole you have got it sorted
We have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve with family. Then on Christmas day we have the left overs with cheese and biscuits. The kids love it as previously they picked at their dinner cause what child wants a full on roast when they are already full of chocolate and over excited. I love it because I’m not cross that they aren’t eating the food I’ve spent all day making. Win win
Sounds like a plan! Although to miss out on any type of pots … easily par boiled the night before and chucked in the oven next day. Wishing you a wonderful day and I’m sure it will be a great success. I’m missing it all out this year (after hosting many) and going out for an early dinner with family and friends. I’ve cooked too many roasts during the year not feel bad missing out for one day.
Christmas Day is my day off as I’m really crap at any cooking that requires loads of things being ready and hot at the same time (I’d have what my kids call a ‘picky lunch’ if I could with the table covered in ham and cheese and chutney and bread but Mr W is a traditionalist) so Mr W does the lot and is really brilliant at it. I expect it’s the ex-bomb-disposal officer in him which makes him so calm when faced with 5 pans of veg, 2 baking trays and endless sauces. The children, being the age they are now, will eat the lot in less than ten minutes and then insist on getting down so I always wonder about the ROI of a full Christmas meal that takes 5 hours to prepare. Being sturdy channel-islands people these day we will also be going for a swim in the sea in the morning (not me, you understand – I’m there to hold the coats and the dog) which should muck up the timings no end…
My mother gets in a right flap about any kind of formal cooking and rang me in September to ask what we wanted for supper when we arrive to stay on the 27th Dec. She is one of those people that is a very proficient cook but the thought of doing it on actual Christmas day sends her into a spin and so we have it on the 28th instead, complete with presents, kids, walks etc and for some reason the fact that it is a different day changes her whole demeanour and she’s calm as you like as she wheels the hostess trolley into the dining room.
The PRESSURE just gets to everyone I think. At the end of the day its a nice roast meal and the shops are open on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Pour yourselves a nice drink and get a new book – I think you have the right idea, Esther. x
Ex-bomb-disposal officer! I think my husband is likewise well set up to handle the multiple-pan pressure by all the, er, insurance, he does.
They might be good at juggling pans but they are emotional cripples and don’t do anything in the way of chat or small talk!
I knew an ex-bomb-disposal officer too and a bloody wonderful guy he was. Any singletons reading, definitely chaps to pursue!
Any recommendations for a good ‘bought’ beef Wellington- m and s, Waitrose?
I can highly recommend the Ginger Pig’s if you live in London. Prepare yourself though, it’s not cheap.
Belle Stennett says
I concur heartily. Stuff Turkey. It’s the most ridiculous bird and unless you put a full heart attack of butter in its breast tastes like old carpet.
I am Morocco bound with my fake turquoise tree and silly baubles to baste myself in the sun with friends of course and the best bottle of champagne I can get my hands on, which will cosy up to the tree in my case.
Also a deliciousness of choccy cake moist and frankly obscene swaddled in bubble wrap and squished into a quality street tin.
Joyeux Noel tour le monde.
I am hosting this year which I absolutely love and I am a proper smug Christmas twat. I always do turkey (this began as bloody-mindedness because my mother-in-law is very snooty about turkey and thinks you should have goose but is now what we all like, well, not my mother-in-law). I tend to make all the extra bits in the months running up to Christmas and freeze them, so from early November onwards the freezer is full of Tupperware labelled with instructions “Stuffing- do not eat before Christmas, add an egg before cooking”, “Cranberry sauce- add orange zest” or whatever, in case I die between making the stuff and Christmas coming around (which, assuming I carry on like this, there’s a one in six chance will happen) and someone else has to do the last minute bit.
I am working near Piccadilly at the moment so have been having to resist going to Fortnums every lunchtime and spunking all my hard-earned cash on sugared almonds and marzipan fruits.
We’re moving house (or “flitting” as we say here in Scotland just before Christmas so we are not “doing” Christmas at all this year. Ive ordered a couple of books for my husband and thats it. We go to my sons on 27th for a meal with the grandchildren and of course we have bought them presents. Just hate the whole shopping bonanza and the rubbish that is in the shops and all the TAT! Having said that Have a lovely Christmas everyone!
It isn’t my turn to host this year, so I am looking forward to slightly less work. But I also have the kind of family where everyone is in the kitchen ‘helping’, and so the burden isn’t all on one person. This works for us as we all like it, I know for plenty of people they would rather everyone gets out of the way! But I can remember my mother-in-law being such a martyr at Christmas, refusing all offers of help and then complaining about what hard work it was. Can’t win.
What we have done to simplify Christmas is church on Christmas Eve, and eating Christmas dinner at about 4pm. It means nothing has to go in the oven super early in the morning, and it feels like there is time.
That smoked salmon sounds delicious I used to love smoked salmon but hate all the supermarket ones but I am a fuss pot. Is it something to do with farmed salmon that it all tastes weird now? I wonder if they do delivery as Im in South London and cant be bothered to travel. Your lunch sounds delicious Esther and so does everyone else’s its making me hungry and Im meant to be on a diet. Im doing boxing day this year and cannot think of anything to make I don’t really fancy meat again after the big roast so cant face the usual ham etc
Panzer’s definitely deliver xxx
Secret Smokehouse is superb salmon – and Max who runs it is good value too:-) Based in East London and available from some stores
Sarah, supermarket sm salmon most definitely has gone weird, all slimy and chemical-flavoured. Certainly worth seeking small independent producers; felcefoods.co.uk and severnandwye.co.uk also excellent, both will do mail order but you will have to call them and talk to real people to order.
thanks Sophie I am checking these out now X
Every year I float the idea of not having turkey, to be met with howls of outrage. I say: if we liked turkey that much we’d eat it every week. I would far rather have sirloin, scorching hot gravy and horseradish to blow my socks off. We’re all drunk by the time we eat dinner/lunch/whatevs that it doesn’t matter! I particularly hate the local hysteria of ordering and then queuing for a turkey that costs £££ and then dismantling the fridge to fit the carcass in afterwards. Anyway, one child has declared herself a vegetarian this year so that adds to my argument.
We are hosting this year and I am sick to death of turkey and am resolutely making a ham because my mother in law hates it. Meanwhile the rest of the family couldn’t be more excited. We live in Minnesota which is the largest turkey producer in the US and my in laws are farmers who are SO PROUD of that….but we all just want a damned ham.
Why on EARTH did other nations let us export the idea of holiday turkey to them. It’s not even any good, it’s a sad dry luncheon meat for dieters most of the year and then midwinter you’re supposed to get excited to cook a whole one. It really is only good if you deepfry it, and that’s only good if you want to talk to emergency services after you’ve blown up the side of your house while trying to deepfry it.
Most of my family is vegetarian on the one side so we usually have quiche and salad. By the time everyone’s opened their stockings and gotten into the chocolate and the shortbread they don’t want much dinner anyway. But my poor mother did try to serve quiche to the other side of the family once and there was a general revolt.
My mother, sensible woman, always refused point blank to have Christmas dinner at any time before dinner: “Why on earth would I want to wrestle with a naked turkey before bloody lunchtime???” So we had croissants and brioche – a real treat then – for breakfast, whatever my father and I could rustle up for ourselves for lunch while my mother, having dealt with the turkey at about noon, went TO BED FOR A TWO HOUR NAP and resurfaced later to eat mince pies and peel spuds and sprouts. Dinner at 8.30. Sm salmon as a starter, just a ‘normal’ roast but with bread sauce as well as gravy, and bought Xmas pud always. I now do much the same but it is just me and my husband so considerably more restful anyway. No nap tho.
Also, I say this every year, but Bloody Marys (Maries?) at breakfast/present time calm any tiresome adults down no end. Yes, Great Aunt Dora, I AM still looking at you.
Tip for Christmas pudding: go for the bog standard one, not the fancypants ‘kumquat and patchouli with Moroccan spices and tequila’ one. They must, for me, have nuts in for a bit of texture, and they are much, much better if you age them for a year in the bottom of your cupboard. You don’t need to pay Waitrose a premium for storing them for you!
Julia Probyn says
A two-hour nap! The woman was a genius!
Yup, just presented as a fait accompli! She bloody earnt it though.
A two hour daytime nap is my idea of a christmas present!!
I think Beef Wellington (and luxury food in general) is a great idea 🙂
We will be on holiday over Christmas, and on Christmas morning we are going to a gorgeous coastal spot where we can set up the picnic stuff on the grass and the kids can play in the calm estuary. I’m trying to assemble a diy boho picnic thing. It’s just 5 of us, so easy to do. Am really excited about it (while trying not to get too obsessed and Pinterest-y about it all…) Food will be prawns, a fancy looking vego thing, salads, nice bread and cheese, and a pavlova for dessert.
The best Christmas lunch I hosted was a Malaysian Lamb curry, rice, quick fried vegetable sides, poppodums (for the kids mainly)…Curry was made, slowly the day before and I had the best day ever….so relaxed. My mother is of the belief that the best christmas memories are of her mother in the kitchen peeling the veg and making the gravy! However, I want my children to remember playing games WITH me, snuggling up in front of the tv all together…BTW, she also believes that roast lunch is very easy to pull together…but then i think her brain may be addled from raising 4 boisterous kids!!!
Catherine Byers says
We have M&S party food on Christmas Eve which is a big winner as it’s delicious, the kids love it as it’s a big treat, and super easy. Then I find that a few Christmas-morning Black Velvets help the cooking run smoothly. If you are doing the full-on roast, Jamie Oliver’s get-ahead gravy cuts out lots of last minute stress. Enjoy xxx
As an American I have my turkey at Thanksgiving so it is usually Salmon (we’re having that this year) on Christmas Day or Ham, or Beef. I do a Wellington every Christmas Eve, it really is easy and once you do it you’ll figure out how to do all the steps ahead so it’s really just an assembly job on the day.
Sarah jayne says
Ah I am loving these comments! I feel a Christmas revolution coming on.
Personally, I have always been fortunate in that my mother ‘loves’ to host I.e. martyrs herself on the Xmas altar, refuses help and glowers resentfully all day until I lock her out the garden with a cocktail and a cigarette so i can tidy up for her.
This year however, my OH has turned vegan and my brothers OHis Muslim so we have pared back the meat feast and are each bring starters, mains and sides seperately for a hot buffet. Hopefully this will let my Lovely mum relax and enjoy (apart from the nut roast!)
I am pregnant and have a toddler but even before these additions was firmly of the belief that Christmas is for everyone, not just the kids, so why should I martyr myself (as I do the rest of the bloody year) when I deserve a nice time too? My mum always did a roast on Christmas Day and another on Boxing Day, with just enough for everyone, with nice things but not a ginormous turkey and a million sides. She is a total boss at the timings so it was never about her in the kitchen all day. I aspire to her level. Agree with the commenter above about it feeling different when it’s not 25th Dec, somehow. This year we’re doing Family Christmas on 28th and not sure what we will do ourselves on 25th. My Dutchman likes to have a fondue on Christmas Eve, and we usually raid M&S or Waitrose for delicious picky party food for whichever days we are not having the family do.
I will pass on something which a friend said to me of her MIL, to amuse the Spikers. “A martyr is for life, not just for Christmas”; generally those people who spend the day subjugating themselves for their family – I mean the ones who secretly relish that ‘no, no, it’s fine I’ll do it myself’ wistful look – tend to behave similarly the rest of the year, but don’t get quite the same opportunity to perform. Let them be that way if they want. We’ll be over here with a good book and something nice and cold in a glass.
Love this… and so true!
About every other year we have a big extended family Christmas, mostly adults but five under 8’s. We have masses of food, and everyone contributes in some way either by providing or cooking, that way we all get what we like to eat (which for me is turkey etc but it’s the one day of the year I eat it. Ditto mince pies, ditto Christmas pudding). I have a huge bake-fest for couple of weeks to embrace my inner domestic goddess. Last year my sister and brother-in-law flew down from Scotland on impulse to join us, the first time in 40 years all three siblings have spent Christmas together, and it was just a very special time. Also I try and persuade one of the men to put on the Father Christmas outfit to dish out out Secret Santa presents. Never thought I’d say this, not having had children of my own, but they do bring a different perspective to Christmas and I can cope with it on a biennial basis.
Someone used biannually the other day to mean once every two years and it was a stressful time so I appreciate your comment on many levels Katie.
Thank you Cindy. I hope this Christmas is everything you want it to be.
Excellent idea! My sister and her family stay home, no guests, and get a takeaway. The kids get to stay in their pjs and play all day with their new toys, there’s no stress and everyone has a good time 🙂
I am so jealous you’re not having turkey. That meal sounds delicious. I was just saying to a friend this week that my ideal day would involve a really nice brunch and then cocktails and a meal…OUT! My kids would enjoy it, that would be no drama at all. However, it would all be frowned upon by my mother whose axis quite literally swings on Xmas. It’s already too much we have it here now and not the US. They’ll have had exactly the same meal for Thanksgiving as well, for over 70 years now. Think about that! Reading your post, however, makes me wonder whether I can press it….
IT’S YOUR CHRISTMAS TOO
God all of this has suddenly triggered a very painful memory. I was married with a 5 year old and breast feedng a 3month old baby and recovering from proper influenza. Hosting my parents and mother in law for xmas dinner. Xmas morning husband declares not feelimg well and goes back to bed leaving me to do everything! Then the oven door fell off half way through cooking! (funnily enough he managed to surface when dinner was served). My sister in law rang me the next day to say my mother in law had told her I’d burnt the roast potatoes! No mention of anythinh else or how nice I had decorated the house.
Reader I divorced him and his awful family several years later and my second husband I have to say is an angel…
this is a fab story x
Inspired by your blog I cooked this Wellington last night for a dinner. I am no chef, but this was AMAZING. Best thing I have ever cooked, and it was for a bunch of very foodie friends who universally said it was the best Wellington ever. So thank you!
Lucy this is FANTASTIC news!! I was pretty confident that it was easy and delicious but I’m pleased to have it doubly confirmed by an objective third party x
Clare Nash says
I’m v late to this, but it all brings to mind that awfull Nigella trial a few years ago, which inolved those Italian sisters, erstwhile employees of hers and Charles’. (I love Nigella btw and have met her a tiny bit and know her to be lovely). But she has certainly contributed to the hellhole which can be Christmas with all her ‘make your own mincement’ style advice (aka nonsense).
Anyway, anyway, the two Italian sisters, as part of their whole hilarious testimony (for us onlookers I stress. it must have been beyond awful for NL), declared that far from cooking everything for Christmas (or indeed most other times of the year), Nigella, bought it all in. And they were UNDER OATH at the time, although they were also, quite evidently, riddled with bitterness. So who knows, but it was cheering.
(One of the sisters too came up with my favourite line ever uttered in a court room – “I would rather go to jail than go to Battersea”.)
Clare I can’t see any typos? This is a great comment x
Clare Nash says
‘awfull’ and ‘invovled’ and that’s just for starters…..
I thought it was charming. Correct spelling is for losers… it’s the SPIRIT that counts