It was never a question of how early our little trio woke up on Christmas morning, as much as what time they finally went to sleep. We could hear the chatter ebb and flow in their room but it never quite seemed to have got to the point where they’d actually fallen asleep. John went to check on them several hours later to talk to a very wide awake Kitty and asked Elma whether she was still up:
“I’m really very fast asleep Daddy, because if I’m not fast asleep then he won’t come!”
Of course you were sweetie.
I know Kitty fell asleep for a little bit around midnight but John also found her sitting at the top of the stairs waiting for morning at about 3am so clearly that didn’t last. It’s the first year that their excitement has hit fever pitch to the point that they can’t sleep and it was so sweet to see, it’s an infectious sort of excitement even when you know how the magic works.
Finally, finally it was 8 o’clock, John had had a cup of tea and we were ready for Christmas to begin.
Our Christmas is noisy and colourful and slightly chaotic; we opened stockings, ate the satsumas from the toes and then opened the posh jam and curd from the heels to spread on brioche for breakfast. At church the children all went up to the front to show the congregation something they’d received for Christmas – in our case it was stickers and a colouring book from Kitty, stickers for Elma (“I got stickers because I love stickers because I got stickers because I asked for them, I love stickers”) and Pip a tractor, though he came back for another round (“I got sticker!”) with one wrestled from his little big sister. The church was full of people with lots of families and it felt properly joyful to be among our little community there, especially as it might well be our last Christmas here.
Back home to polish off the Bucks Fizz, open presents and cook. I love cooking Christmas lunch, I know that might sound a strange thing, it’s a big meal and there are lots of components to get right and all the rest but for me it’s a love language to nourish my family; to see the table groaning with food and watch everyone come back for seconds is all the reward for the time spent pottering away in the kitchen. I suspect it’s hereditary because I’m certain my mother felt the same way; she always seemed to have Christmas lunch easily under control and she was famous for insisting on people staying for meals or going home with cake. Perhaps part of it is that I’ve done more than a few turkeys now so I’m not too phased by the whole thing, it’s just a big Sunday lunch with cranberry sauce, yorkshire puddings, pigs in blankets and my great-grandmother’s stuffing recipes.
The new addition to the menu this year was homemade Christmas pudding. I combined Felicity Cloake’s recommendations from the Guardian with a little bit of Nigella’s recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess and duly boiled the whole thing up on Stir-up Sunday. It would have been huge even had I not know that Pip and I were the only people likely to eat it, the others opting for the now time-honoured tradition of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream, and I think it’s probably bigger even than the one my Mum made. Next year I’ll find two smaller pudding basins and split the mixture but I’m not going back to the shop bought ones because oh was it delicious. Well it still is, we’ve been making some serious inroads and we’ve still got more than half the pudding left.
Apart from a few forays into the garden so that Pip could run off his exuberance, we spent the rest of the day curled up together in our lounge, gently eroding the pile of presents under the tree. Last year Kitty in particular got into a bit of a opening frenzy which I hated, I want to teach them to open each present and treasure it before moving on to the next so this year we really tried to slow down. If someone was given a picture book we stopped to read it, or a craft kit we tried to really look at it without emptying all the contents over the floor never to be seen again, and their big presents were hidden in the studio until mid afternoon when I coaxed all the kids upstairs on the pretext of finding some socks and John did his magic. Pip has a fire engine balance bike which he adores even while still trying to work out how to ride it, and Kitty and Elma are the new owners of a dolls house which at the time of writing is being lived in by a little purple gnome and their wooden Mummy and Daddy (both of whom are lying down on the floor). There hasn’t been a day since Christmas that it hasn’t formed a major part of their day. Elma is the storyteller and I’ll admit I’ll happily sit and knit and watch without watching to see what they’re all up to.
Our in-between days have followed the same pattern; good food and a lot of creativity; Kitty has made books, we’ve all painted, John has played around with encaustic painting, the girls have done craft kits that were their Christmas presents and I’ve made some sizeable progress towards the next quilt or two. It has been, and is, utterly perfect in a messy crumbs-and-paint-on-the-floor sort of a way. And perhaps it will never be Instagram or Pinterest perfect, but this is the time that we need, a little family hibernation at the end of the year to get ready for all that 2017 has to bring for us.