Well, I’m a bit late as usual with a post, this one about Christmas. Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!
I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008. We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim. Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever. I personally will probably not do it again, I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions. The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again. I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up. Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.
At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse. I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance. Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there. I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over. I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day. This is not me. To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away. Two, I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip. (New Year resolution: organize my office!)
Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time. Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us. The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there. The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.
Our friends had arranged a special present for us, a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey! Can you imagine? We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits. I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place. There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries. But the music, the voices were inspiring. I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey. I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed. I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us. It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year. I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey. Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church. I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.
Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marion berry jam from the northwest. We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers. We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store. The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter. I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane. Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter! At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s. Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that. We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.
One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court. I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites. Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives. So brutal and romantic at the same time. It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds. The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener. You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there. The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.
Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:
Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right? It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook. It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person! So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.
I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list. They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy. I’m not talking about socks and underwear either. But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time. Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that. Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt. Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.
Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way. First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses. There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats! I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun! Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.
For the main course, Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”. I huge understatement! This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine. For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous. Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen). Here it is in all it’s glory:
We ended up staying for three weeks on this particular visit. I will locate my journal and do a proper blog with the details and the wonderful places we visited with cousins and friends.
For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast. But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.
Then we went back to our home away from where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:
Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful. This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres. Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!
I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here. I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have. Happy traveling!