It already feels several hundred moons ago since our rambles together back in September and now, here we are, decorating Christmas trees, re-watching Nigella’s Christmas Specials to feel extra Christmassy (or is that just me?) and singing Mariah Carey’s All I want For Christmas at the top of our voices in the shower (again, just me?). The year is flying by and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the fact Christmas is less than a week away. Surely it should only be June?
This year I haven’t been feeling typically festive. Once Halloween has passed and my carved pumpkins shriveled up, I tend to get a transient tingle up my spine signalling the Christmas countdown has begun. But this year there was no tingle, there wasn't even a ting. There seems to be a dull hue dampening my usual sparkly self leaving me slightly discombobulated; whether it’s the global pandemic which has left me battered and bruised, or it’s just one of those years where the Christmas sheen isn’t as bright. Either way I crave the way I used to feel at this time of year and know it's imperative to pull myself out of this festive funk, to claw back a little semblance of normality, during a year where it's been anything but normal.
I love making lists and will produce them for anything and everything. I'm a sucker for stationery, particularly a pretty notepad, and have planners and journals coming out my earholes. I decided to put my obscure list making talents to use and grabbed the closest notepad and pen I could find - conveniently located beside my bed for when I wake up with 2am ideas or random dreams I want to recall in the morning - and set to compiling a list of sure fire ways to bring the Christmas cheer back. Below are just a handful of ways in which I've been spending the last couple of weeks and I have to say, regardless of my Bah! Humbag disposition of late, the last few days I've been feeling a lot merrier than usual...
1. Get Baking
To put it simply, I have absolutely zero talent in the kitchen. I have never been someone who is overly interested in cooking or baking, but have always enjoyed watching others do it. My Gran was a fierce baker. Her sweet Congress Tarts were always first on my plate from the platters of homemade wonders she'd conjure up; ladened silver platters which magically appeared in front of you, regardless of whether she knew you were arriving or not. I used to love sitting in the kitchen as she got stuck in, her soft yet workable hands making everything from scratch, without the need of a recipe in front of her because it was always *taps temple with index finger* in her head. She must have made thousands of Congress Tarts in her lifetime and I no doubt consumed half of them!
I haven't picked up a spatula or whisk in quite a long time, the thought of baking a cake is not something I naturally gravitate towards; mainly through fear. But after watching Nigella Lawson's most recent programme 'Cook Eat Repeat', and it being 8-years since my beloved Gran passed away, I decided to get past my fear of following a recipe and get to baking.
The house filling with delicious smells always reminds me of Christmas so, throughout January I have challenged myself to embark on a new Nigella recipe every week to have something to look forward to during a month which is usually quite bleak. When I watched in awe the episode where Nigella lovingly crafted her chocolate and peanut butter cake, I knew that was the recipe for me. I also knew I couldn't hold off until January to make it so, last week I popped to Tesco and stocked up on all the ingredients and set to work. Three hours later, my masterpiece was finished and thanks to Nigella's wonderfully descriptive yet easy to follow recipe, the cake was edible and the verdict from anyone brave enough to have a slice; 'divine'.
2. Wear A Christmas Jumper
If I look Christmassy on the outside, surely it'll seep in and get the festive vibes popping on the inside? It's certainly what I hoped for each morning as I pulled the colourful threads over my head and sat down in front the laptop, preparing myself for yet another Zoom meeting. Admittedly, glimpsing myself on screen in my Wonder Woman festive getup did ignite a small spark of Christmas cheer, however the best part for me was seeing the onscreen smiles radiate back from by fellow Zoom participants.
3. Open The Quality Street
If you haven't already, I recommend cracking open those boxes of Quality Street and giving them a good long sniff each morning (and as needed). Nothing screams Christmas to me than seeing piles of colourful foils and wrappers on the arm of the chair, as you obliviously pop one after the other into your mouth until you can no longer balance the wrappers without them cascading to the floor in a rainbow flurry.
As soon as I heard the rustle of wrappers and smelt the familiar scent of plasticky chocolate, I immediately thought of Christmas as a child. Christmases spent surrounded by my family where we'd confluence towards one house; usually wherever the oracle (also known as Gran) would be. The tins of Quality Street would emerge and we'd all fight for the best ones - my family is fairly big so you'd always need to be quick. Once consumed the wrapper war would begin; colourful pellets suddenly launched across the room at you, a cheer let out if you were struck on the forehead. Gran surveying the mess from her chair, a twinkle in her eye as she watched her family laughing in glee whilst surrounded by empty tins of Quality Street and chocolate smattered faces.
4. Watch The Vicar of Dibley Christmas Special
I'm pretty sure you all know the episode I mean...
...need I say more on this?
If you don't feel Christmassy watching Geraldine force a Brussel Sprout in her gob then I fear there may not be hope for you after all.
5. Write Out Your Christmas Cards
To put it Emily Bluntly, this year has been pants. So, I decided not only did I deserve to find something to smile about, but so did my family and friends. When writing Christmas cards I usually put an extra line or two at the end with something twee as to why I love them, but this year I decided to write an extra EXTRA line as to why I am so grateful to have them in my life and how they bring me joy. Because if you can't say it at Christmas, when can you, eh?
6. Get The Bubes On!
That's right folks, the only way to get the Christmas spirit truly going is to crack out the Michael Bublé Christmas albums; specifically the ones with Holly Jolly Christmas and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. These two songs are, in my mind, the epitome of Christmas cheese and yes, as much as I love Fairytale of New York (tis my favourite) and Last Christmas (who doesn't love it?) it's on hearing the Bubes that my festiveness comes alive. However, listen to these songs more than four times and I can go from festive feels to festive f**k off...there's only so much Bublé I can take before I'm lobbing the radio through the window and hibernating until Spring.
7. Donate To Charity
Christmas is a time to spread joy and kindness and for me, although it may only be a few quid, by donating to charity I feel I am making a small difference. This year I donated to Shelter because I agree, no one should be homeless at any point throughout the year, but especially during winter.
If you have a bit of spare change, why not donate to a charity of your choice this year? It might just be the best Christmas present you send someone.
8. Look At Animals In Christmas Outfits.
I honestly don't think I need to say more.
9. Get The Candles Burning
My favourite Christmas scents are cinnamon, orange and gingerbread so if I need to turn the festive feels up a notch, these are my go to candle and oil flavours. As soon as the house starts filling with the aromas of these particular fragrances, and especially if I have a spiced rum in hand, my nostrils flare in joy and the Christmas within me is ignited.
10. Watch Festive Films
'The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear'. Buddy the Elf certainly knew what he was talking about when it came to Christmas, so what better way to up the festive spirit than settling down with my tin of Quality Street and sticking on a wodge of Christmas movies.
I started with my favourite, Miracle on 34th Street and worked my way through It's A Wonderful Life, Home Alone (1 and 2), The Holiday, The Polar Express, Krampus (I do love a horror!), Santa Claus: The Movie, Jack Frost, A Christmas Carol and finally, the pièce de résistance, Elf.
11. Christmas Lights and Markets
I popped to Truro with a friend to do some last minute Christmas shopping and as soon as dusk hit and the twinkling lights overhead began shining, I felt a wallop of Christmas slap me across the heart. The smell of the night air, the hubbub of shoppers milling around the markets on Lemon Quay, the wafts of donuts and other tempting morsels filled the air as we dipped in and out of each shop. It's not difficult to feel festive when you hop on the excited buzz of those around you, the twinkle of the Christmas lights reflecting in everyone's eyes.
I was disappointed when my annual trip to Mousehole with my friends had to be cancelled due to COVID, and I feel this might go someway towards an explanation as to why I've been lacking in the festive spirit of late. Watching the Christmas lights switch on across the harbour is one of our favourite pastimes and traditions. It's also a chance to catch up with my nearest and dearest, drinking homemade mulled wine as we meander around the tiny streets of this picturesque Cornish fishing village, revving one another up in Christmas chatter to the point my ears are buzzing with excitement. And when the lights come on, being surrounded by hoards of other groups of people, all in their own little bubbles, yet feeling part of it together as we let out a whoop and cheer as the harbour is filled with colourful light.
With this year being slightly different with the absence of our annual gathering, heading to Truro with my best friend definitely made up for it. We both said on the way home how, by just spending a day under the Christmas lights amongst the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers and the Christmas music filled shops, suddenly our spirits had been lifted. I also think it was the cinnamon sugar ladened Churro that helped!
12. Make Homemade Mulled Wine
I adore mulled wine but I think I prefer the smell to the taste. The thick woody spices and pungent zest is Christmas in a cup. Homemade mulled wine always makes me think of my dear friend Jodie and the many evenings I've spent around her house, a brimming saucepan bubbling away in the background, filling the house with that heavenly scent which hits you square in the senses as you walk through the door. It's a Christmas scent, but also one that reminds me of laughter and friendship.
13. Go For A Walk
You don't have to tell me twice to get my hiking boots on and go for a walk. 'Go for a walk' makes its way on most lists I compile, although it's a daily occurrence for me these days and is something I do without prompting. However, this time of year I find I want to bunker down with my tins of Quality Street and homemade mulled wine, and only emerge when the evenings are lighter again.
I know full well that hiking is the best thing I can do for my mental and physical health. It also means I spend time with my favourite little lady, Purdy. And although it doesn't necessarily make me feel Christmassy, I do know it makes me very happy and fulfilled. So, even when I don't feel like it and it's absolutely howling with wind and rain, I pull on my waterproofs, get Purdy in the van and go in search of an adventure on foot. By the time I get home, I'm usually a bedraggled mess in desperate need of a shower. But I'm a bedraggled mess who feels a thousand times better who can then spend the rest of the day and night hibernating under the covers with her tins of Quality Street and homemade mulled wine!
So, That's That
So, there you have it. My 13 ways in which to bring a little Christmas joy into 2020. It's been a peculiar year, a year which has tested us in unimaginable ways. That continues to test us in unimaginable ways. Yet through it all, I feel we have grown in unimaginable ways. I have seen such kindness and compassion in strangers, communities pulling together and looking out for their neighbours. Although human connection altered, the digital world opened it's arms and allowed us to continue connecting with one another online. New skills were learnt, crafts were honed and friendships formed. Local businesses came together to support one another, museums shut their doors but opened up their collections virtually and musicians took to social media, giving us concerts from home. We spent more time with our families, found magical places on foot right outside our front doors, grew accustomed to our own company and had the opportunity to press pause for a little while. Drive-in-cinemas have also made a very welcome comeback!
And to top it all off our beloved Nigella gave us meekrowavay, which not only broke the internet, but in my opinion single handedly saved 2020. It confirms Nigella is in fact a Queen who has been a huge inspiration behind me finally getting in the kitchen, and also an influence behind my writing style for many years because I too, in the words of Nigella Lawson, tend to ramble on.
If 2020 has taught me anything, it's that magic is most definitely still out there. However sometimes, we just have to work a little harder to find it!
Merry Christmas my darlings.
"What is Christmas?
It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.
It is a wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”
Agnes M. Pahro
In memory of my beloved Granny Alice, whose cuddles and Congress Tarts I miss dearly everyday.