Enjoying Christmas

I was going to call this Surviving Christmas but that felt too miserable and Scrooge-like. I’ve just read Jay Rayner’s account in Observer Food Monthly of his family Christmases, past and present (the story of his mother un-stuffing the turkey is priceless). He says people expect something magnificent of him, being a food writer, but in fact he has simplified the festive meal. My family goes one further.

Mr Rayner serves a starter and a dessert. We don’t. Our lot has no interest in a starter, preferring to get stuck straight into the main event. We don’t do a pudding either. I dislike Christmas puddings (sue me) and after the year I made one of my frankly magnificent sherry trifles and then tipsily ate it all myself owing to a total lack of interest from the rest of the family, I gave up on puds. They prefer bowls of sweets and chocolates, to be nibbled while reading bad cracker jokes and playing charades at the dining table.

The best thing about our family Christmas dinner, though, is that we have it in the evening. That’s so our London-based relatives can visit the in-laws before trekking up to Suffolk, but it means my husband, my other sister-in-law and I have all day to cook the meal. Believe me, it really takes the pressure off. Who wants to get up at dawn on Christmas Day?

We make a time plan for what goes into the oven at what time and when it should come out. We have lists of turkey cooking times going back years but sometimes we still get it wrong and the bird is over-done. Does it matter? Not really. As long as it’s not dry (it may be seriously uncool but we swear by turkey roasting bags), by the time it’s covered in gravy and all the other trimmings, no-one cares. Let me say that again. No-one cares because the meal is so damned delicious anyway and the whole point is that we’re round the table together, sharing food.

Like Jay Rayner, I’ve cycled through most of the available Christmas birds, including the three bird roast. Now we have turkey, a beautiful free-range bronze raised by PA Mobbs in Suffolk. We also have a goose, from Carr Farm Geese, mostly because I think their meat is so tasty. The others agree, not that they have a lot of choice when I’m in charge of procuring the feast. I’d be perfectly happy if they hated it because then I’d get more goose, but sadly they love it too. Christmas is a time for sharing, after all. Bah humbug.

We have chipolata sausages (almost always from John Hutton in Earl Soham), sometimes wrapped in bacon, sometimes with the bacon curls cooked separately. Never let it be said we’re stick-in-the-muds. We have bread sauce. We have cranberry sauce.

We have stuffings, one herby, one chestnutty (not sure that’s a word), made ahead, frozen, and cooked on the day and lashings of hot gravy, the stock made in advance from the necks and giblets then mixed with the de-glazed pan juices.

Any leftovers are eaten cold, with home-made chutneys and relishes and baked potatoes and a big winter coleslaw. Oh, and a ham. The bird carcasses get made into a huge broth-y soup, which we traditionally eat on Boxing Day Night after visiting family in Thorpeness, slurping up bowlful after bowlful round the kitchen table.

Most of all we have fun. I used to get stressed about creating the perfect Christmas, slaving over marzipan and icing, creating elaborate puddings and flapping about the turkey. Then I realised nobody was worried except me. Having a sweaty cook snapping at all and sundry because she forgot to put the sprouts on negates the meaning of Christmas. The turkey won’t get cold while you finish the veg. Perfection is not required. Smiling faces and happy tummies are infinitely preferable.

As Jay Rayner said, a turkey is just a giant chicken. Think of Christmas dinner as a big Sunday lunch rather than a test of your culinary prowess. Don’t beat yourself up this Christmas. Relax and enjoy it.

PS This isn’t a sponsored post. Producers are listed because I rate them, not because they give me freebies.

24 thoughts on “Enjoying Christmas

  1. This makes so much sense. We have the same problem here with Thanksgiving, as you can well imagine. So much pressure, so many demands. And I’m always alone in the kitchen, slaving away, trying not to get too sloshed too early, keeping the music down so I can hear the timers… Fortunately none of us loves sweets, but for the second time in a row, my British maybe soon to be son in law if my daughter would start believing in marriage will be coming, so I feel the need to expose him to some Thanksgiving delights. He fell in love with Thanksgiving last year! So this year it’s a pumpkin cream pie. That’s it.

    • Gosh, yes, I’ve read so many Thanksgiving posts recently. And often the food magazines are the worst offenders when it comes to making us feel inadequate, stuffed full of elaborate and unnecessary things to make. I’m a great believer in making things ahead wherever possible. Grumpy cooks don’t make for a festive atmosphere. Hope you get to put your feet up (and your daughter takes her vows). 😀

      • I had a tantrum one Thanksgiving, and after that I got a little more help in the kitchen. I also bought a loveseat after that experience, because my husband had passed out on the whole sofa after too many mimosas, and I had nowhere to sit!

      • That’s hilarious (probably more so in retrospect from your pov!) I’m lucky in that I have masses of help cooking Christmas dinner … my family is seriously invested in the outcome. 😀

      • Hahahaha! That’s wonderful. I was a caterer for years and never had one problem, and was never stressed. For some reason, cooking big dinners at home, for my little family, is extremely stressful. The tantrum was overdue. But I love when my family tells me I’m doing too much, after they give me the list of what they want for lunch, appetizers, diner, and etc. I can’t wait till my daughters have to do it themselves, and see what it’s like 😬

      • I have a vision of you in years to come, wearing a cock-eyed paper party hat (do you have those in crackers in the US?), knocking back martinis and demanding fancy canapes while your daughters swear in the kitchen. 😀

  2. Wise words as always.
    Your Christmas food sounds very similar to ours (no starter or dessert) and is actually my favourite meal of all time.
    We always have chestnuts wrapped in bacon and roasted around the turkey – it’s a family tradition that goes back years and is so much easier these days with vacuum packed chestnuts.
    My husband likes the Boxing Day cold cuts even more than Christmas Day.
    Must seek out the Jay Rayner article (I do love him).

  3. This sounds horrendously hard work. We’re part of the ‘All the Trimmings’ team that prefers the extras to the main event – the bread sauce, pigs in blankets and so forth. To the extent that, my daughter having gone almost-vegan, we’re altogether forgoing a bird, in favour of a really rather good nut roast that’s festive. Anyway, we have to leave room for Christmas pud and sherry sauce. That’s what Christmas is for. Mind you, I’m rather hoping that when we see my son and family the week before, that we have goose. So much better than turkey, as far as we’re concerned.

  4. We have exactly the same meal, goose, the two sauces and two stuffings. We eat later too but my sons are starving at lunch time so I now do a big fish starter for lunch to spread the meal out over the day. They never want Christmas pudding and I too have finished an entire trifle, they don’t like it and it seemed such a waste to leave it. Dessert has been a chocolate roulade for years as it’s their absolute favourite.
    I keep thinking of going away one year, will I miss charades or love it?

    • Hi Joy, we obviously live in parallel universes. I think the London contingent graze pretty much all day but still manage to put away Christmas dinner! I think they would eat a chocolate roulade, although knowing them it would be for breakfast next day. I sometimes think about going away for Christmas but I think we’d be really bored in a hotel amongst strangers. And our house is so perfectly geared for a big family Christmas, it would be a shame not to use it, even if I do curse when the pine needles get everywhere and the fairy lights conk out after the shops have closed. 🙂 Lx

  5. This year I’m cooking a turkey for the first time in 10+ years. Just for me and my Sweet Babboo. Don’t know what I was thinking. I got so stressed, it’s such a labor intensive meal and I really don’t like turkey or bread stuffing! I threw up my hands and said “no more.” I will say, however, that my Brussels sprouts roasted with onions, garlic cloves and fuyu persimmons, garnished with walnuts, are worth their weight in gold. PS I’m going to try that bag business.

    • Your Brussels sprout recipe sounds pretty awesome. I really like turkey roasting bags, you just need to be careful wrangling the whole thing out of the oven, unless you enjoy third degree burns. Hope your Christmas/Thanksgiving is less stressful this time around. 🙂

  6. Well said…just too much pressure in the UK. My mum just brought me a British magazine and it’s wall to wall Christmas encouraging people to aim for impossible perfection and to overspend. Nothing like 2000km to give a sense of perspective.
    Here Christmas Eve is the big event and we join in a family party, but everyone takes something. I’m in pudding chef.
    Christmas day is low key with a few friends. A few years ago we had a power cut all Christmas and we couldn’t cook…so we ate all the cold stuff, pates, cheeses, salads etc….since then that’s what I do every year on 25th…much more enjoyable.

    • We once cooked Christmas dinner for around a dozen with a Baby Belling and a barbecue! Completely agree about the magazines, so much pressure towards spendy perfection. As a journo I understand it’s their job to write about Christmas and they probably get sick of doing it every year. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has written about a low-budget Christmas but with the print media struggling I think the advertising department carries a lot of clout at this time of year. Enjoy your Christmas Eve party and your cold cuts! Lx

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