Christmas Elma Family Kitty {the ordinary moments}

Christmas at Upton


There’s a sort of lull to this weekend.  The shopping is done, well almost, the wrapping is, if not done, at least making good progress, and we aren’t quite into the final culinary onslaught in which an obscene amount of butter and chocolate is turned into delicious nibbly things for us to feast on.

And so we’ve had space for a little family time; for quiet moments, for paper chains and snowflake making, and for a little expedition to see one of our most favourite places dressed for Christmas.

Space for the Butterflies - an ecelectic handmade life blog

Upton House at Christmas is truly beautiful; every door has a wreath, and each of the seven real Christmas trees in the house has been dipped from head to toe in a dusting of baubles and twinkle.

As you walked through the front door, the hall tree scraped the ceiling, festooned with frosted baubles and miles of glittery gold thread.  In the picture room, a 20 foot tree soared to the sky, all big fat red plush baubles and golden icicle swirls sparkling in the lights.  There were trees in the library decorated with tiny glass toadstools, and in the snug, more red and white and stars.  It was wonderful. I’m a little envious of all the volunteers who got to decorate in such a stunning setting, although perhaps not so much the lucky person who had to scale the scaffolding to put the star at the top of the 20-footer.

Space for the Butterflies - an ecelectic handmade life blog

It could not but make your heart sing.

But whereas beautiful trees and streamers will do it for H and me, and twinkle lights are everything to Elma, there was something else, some little secret that Upton was keeping; a secret we told Kitty when we arrived, a secret that made a certain someone rather excited. Space for the Butterflies - an ecelectic handmade life blog

In fact, I would go so far as to say very excited:

Space for the Butterflies - an ecelectic handmade life blog

Shh! Listen close! If you call really loudly from the Picture Room, Father Christmas will hear you, and what’s more, he’ll come to see you!

A slightly nervous Kitty and a trio of much braver primary school aged little boys sat by the roaring fire and called in their very best and biggest voices.  It wasn’t quite loud enough so the Mummies and Daddies had to join in too: “Father Christmas!!”

It might have been a bauble blowing in the breeze or perhaps? was that? did you catch that shiver of jingle bells in the distance?

And around the corner came the man himself, with a long white beard flowing over a crimson suit and his sack over one shoulder, to settle himself into a cozy armchair in front of the children.

Kitty, overcome with shyness buried her head into H’s shoulder, but as the boys chatted away she warmed up and wriggled forward, perching on H’s knees, straining towards her “Santa Christmas”.

He was a lovely Father Christmas; he asked the children what they wanted for Christmas, asked their opinion on a name for his new reindeer (“Lucy” according to the smallest little boy), and suggested that we could all scrap Christmas dinner for Brussels sprouts and custard.  When the children asked he told them how reindeer fly (by magic), where he lives (north, even further north than Yorkshire), and when Kitty plucked up the courage to ask him how old he was he explained that he had been counting on the abacus but he ran out of beads rather a long time ago, and now he’s not sure.

She was so excited to be called forward first for a little present, that when Father Christmas asked if anyone wanted a photo, she was more than happy to sit on his knee and tell him that what she’d really like for Christmas is a Minnie Mouse Calendar.

Space for the Butterflies - an ecelectic handmade life blog

I never visited Father Christmas as a child, and like all things that aren’t in your Christmas lexicon, they tend to be overlooked when you come to recreate that Christmas yourself.  We’ve thought about it occasionally, but frankly I’m put off a bit by some of the grottos I’ve seen that seem to be all queues, cheesy piped music and fake snow, and we felt that a one on one situation would be more than Kit could cope with.  But this was different; it was the Father Christmas of the poems and the old stories, curled up by the fireside in a beautiful house that has such a homely feel, with what felt like all the time in the world for my tiny daughter and her companions.

It felt like how visiting Father Christmas should be.

And if that wasn’t enough, the staff had laid on a whole host of Christmassy crafts in the kitchen; doily angels, pictures to colour, and H and Kitty’s favourite; paper angels and trees.

Space for the Butterflies - an ecelectic handmade life blog

Space for the Butterflies - an ecelectic handmade life blog

All afternoon we’d heard strains of a jazz saxophonist floating through the house, and that’s where we finished our afternoon; in the Long Gallery where golden and cream crepe paper streamers fanned out across the ceiling from the rose of each chandelier, and a veritable plantation of green and gold reached up to meet them.  The sun had long gone, and the grey afternoon was drawing to dusk when we arrived so that everything glimmered in the gentle glow of a gazillion fairy lights.  We must have been some of the last people in the house, and we were certainly the only people in the gallery apart from Charlie the saxophonist, and the room guide.

And as the music rippled over us, my biggest little girl started to sway and dance from foot to foot.  So we put down the bag, took Elma out of the sling and danced.  Kitty and I did lengths of the gallery of “side together side together” and “twirly twirly”, H waltzed Elma around the room and then we swapped as I led Elma in an abominable approximation of a rumba, and Kitty and H invented an entirely new dance altogether.  And while they spun and twirled to “All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth”, I sat in the middle of the floor while Elma stood, keeping a firm grasp on my fingers with each little hand, bouncing up and down to the music, and giggling in a bubbling over of joy.

I don’t have any pictures of that wonderful half hour, save for those in my memory, and that’s OK.  The National Trust understandably has rules about photography, but more than that, I didn’t want to miss a second of the magic that pervaded the whole afternoon, of the feeling of closeness, of family togetherness after weeks of long hours and working days, and of utter unselfconsciousness of my atrocious dancing in the joy of our little girls.

And so as always I write, to remember a moment that is more than worthy of treasuring, and a very merry afternoon.

mummy daddy me


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  • Jess @ Along Came Cherry 22/12/2013 at 8:38 am

    Ah it looks perfect. I’ve been put off all the usual grottos by the queueing, we are off to see one at our local caves today though. Interested to see how C reacts! x

    • Carie 22/12/2013 at 1:55 pm

      Father Christmas in caves sounds amazing! I hope C likes it, it sounds like it could be very magical

  • Anna-Marie 22/12/2013 at 10:00 am

    Lovely, If I remember, I didn’t see father christmas either when I was a child. Looks like you all had a wonderful day making wonderful memories x

    • Carie 22/12/2013 at 1:57 pm

      I think as an annual tradition it’s a bit of a growing trend; it was a bit of an impromptu decision yesterday for us, but I can see us going again next year.

  • heidi 22/12/2013 at 11:00 am

    She looks so sweet sitting on his lap. Hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

    • Carie 22/12/2013 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you – and Merry Christmas to you too!

  • Chloe 22/12/2013 at 12:57 pm

    Oh, what a perfectly Christmassy day. I hadn’t thought of visiting a national trust property at Christmas time, but I will now!

    And I’m with you on the cheesy grottos, it’s overload really. Without me even trying, this year Arlo has met FC at a farm, at a Christmas party, and at preschool. It doesn’t feel special when it happens at every single Christmas event that he attends.

    • Carie 22/12/2013 at 2:07 pm

      Oh I’m so with you on the Father Christmas overload. This is the only ‘real’ Father Christmas that we’ve met this year – apart from the blatantly fake ones at the Supermarket – and I think that made it extra special.

      It was just so lovely, I was surprised more people weren’t there (and a little bit glad they weren’t)!

  • Becky 22/12/2013 at 5:06 pm

    What a beautiful Christmassy Day! I love how parenthood lets us do beautiful magical Christmassy things like dance on a whim!

    • Carie 22/12/2013 at 5:20 pm

      It’s so true isn’t it – it’s one of the best bits of having little ones!

  • Katie 22/12/2013 at 7:14 pm

    Oh wow it all sounds very magical, so much to do and he does look like a lovely santa. Glad you all had a great day – wishing you all a wonderful Christmas xxx

    • Carie 22/12/2013 at 10:59 pm

      Thank you 🙂 and a very merry Christmas to you too xx

  • Claire 22/12/2013 at 10:52 pm

    This looks amazing, such a special day to remember x

    • Carie 22/12/2013 at 11:01 pm

      Thank you, it really was wonderful!

  • Sara (@mumturnedmom) 23/12/2013 at 12:17 am

    What a magical day, it sounds absolutely wonderful. Having children is the best excuse to enjoy Christmas with the eyes and heart of a child. Have a wonderful Christmas xx

    • Carie 23/12/2013 at 12:00 pm

      I’ve always loved Christmas but having children does bring back a little of the magic (and the mess!!)

  • Katie @mummydaddyme 23/12/2013 at 4:22 pm

    Why oh why do your posts always make me cry Carie? It was the last paragraph of this one that got to me. It sounds beautiful, a wonderful day, and those trees are just stunning. Have a wonderful Christmas the four of you. x

    • Carie 24/12/2013 at 12:35 pm

      Thank you – at this rate I’m going to need to start supplying tissues with my blog! It was a very wonderful day and the start of a very lovely Christmas holiday – I hope you and your girls have a lovely Christmas too xx

  • claire @ Great British Family blog 23/12/2013 at 4:33 pm

    What a magical day making wonderful Christmas memories. I’m really enjoying Christmas more than in a long time this year since it is my first as a parent. I know what you mean about grottos and father Christmas overload. I haven’t taken my daughter this year as she’s only 7 months but already she has met him twice at a party & the libraries rhyme time! A national trust one sounds much nicer than a busy shopping centre grotto so will try and remember that idea for when i feel by daughter is ready.

    • Carie 24/12/2013 at 12:36 pm

      If you want a non-grotto Father Christmas I can’t recommend the National Trust experience highly enough – it was wonderful!