What better way to start the Christmas holidays with a wonderful blast of festive spirit than to go to have tea and games with Father Christmas. Two years ago we accidentally took Kitty and baby Elma to meet Father Christmas when we went down to Upton House to see their beautiful decorations and the house trimmed top to toe and it was such a wonderful experience that it cemented itself in our traditions on the spot. Last year was just a chance to sit by the fire in the snug and ask questions about reindeer and again be recommended sprouts for lunch but this year Upton changed it up to a proper festive tea party.
We kept it a secret for ages, only telling Elma when we were on our way up the hill to pick Kitty up;
“Oh WOW! The REAL one!!” came back the reply. And as we drove through the darkness with three very excited little people in the back of the car it certainly felt as though there was enough magic in the air.
Upton always goes to town on Christmas decorations; it’s how you’d want to decorate your own house but then you’d never have enough room to walk around the house, right from the beautiful wreaths on the front door and the door to the restaurant, transformed for the occasion into Christmas and crafting heaven. The girls were ticked off at the door, labelled with names and ages because Father Christmas’ memory only works perfectly on Christmas Eve and as they set off with a National Trust volunteer in suitably festive jumper to go and make jam jar tea light holders (glueing and sticking galore), H and I, with a sleeping Pip cuddled up in the sling, settled in to do justice to a cream tea, a mug of mulled juice and an incredible clementine gingerbread cake.
There were six or so other families there, with children from two to about eight, and there was a merry hum to the room as the children happily covered themselves in glue.
When they’d all finished sticking themselves to the table there was a story (The Night Before Christmas, with audience participation) and a big shout of “Merry Christmas” before the door opened and Father Christmas appeared from the darkness. Dressed head to toe in red velvet, with a fabulously fluffy beard, and, to fit Upton’s “a Country House at War” theme, the addition of an ARP tin hat, he was the Father Christmas of a thousand picture books.
So while Father Christmas settled in to the comfy chair beside the tree the little ones tucked into Christmas lunch boxes. The lunch boxes alone would have made the day for my girls, for some reason they have an obsession with packed lunches, particularly Kitty, and she loved unpacking her box, eating a bite of sandwich with one hand and a snowflake shortbread with the other while at the same time trying to do some colouring in and play the word search. And when our turn came to go and have a chat with Father Christmas the girls had been so caught up in what they were doing they’d practically forgotten about him.
I think that’s what made it so lovely, because all the children were happily occupied you never felt that you were queuing or that you were holding up people in the queue, so it was relaxed and gentle and there was time for the girls to get over their initial shyness and actually enjoy meeting Father Christmas. Just like last year he told them not to bother with turkey and trimmings but have a nice big bowl of sprouts for Christmas lunch, and they told him that they hoped they were getting crowns for Christmas (entirely possible), dressing up shoes (Elma – maybe) and a microphone so she could sing Frozen songs really loudly (Kitty – and not a chance I’m afraid).
And as for my Pip Squeak, when he was asked what he wanted for Christmas, he knew instantly – “Mama!”
Well I’ve got two weeks on holiday little boy, that might have to do.
I don’t know whether Father Christmas remembered that he’d met my little trio before, but I love looking back on last year’s photo and the one from our very first Upton Christmas and seeing the changes over the years and the constant that is a very lovely Father Christmas.
And when everyone had had their turn and we’d all sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas, with a final “Merry Christmas” off he went, back to the North Pole to keep an eye on the elves.
So we gathered up tea light jam jars and colouring pictures and their presents from Father Christmas (a fox and an owl finger puppet) and carried off our little ones home to bed, their eyes shining, but not over tired or over excited, just properly brimming over with happiness. Starting the Christmas holidays as we mean to go on.