Once Upon A Christmastime

Memoirs of Christmases past

Memoirs of Christmases Past

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me recently. I always feel like November drags her heels and then December hurtles past me in a rush of festive panic! Between moving house, starting a new job and a couple of other very exciting things that I will be able to share very soon, I’ve taken some time out this week to ponder Christmases past. And it wouldn’t be a de-la-Haye Girls post without a list!

We buy a new ornament every yea. This one was from my dear friend Ross, as a moving in present
  • Christmas 2013 – The One With The Festive Washout: That year we were blighted with terrible floods and on Crimbo eve, a power line came down next to our family home, leaving us with very little to no power. Certainly not enough for Christmas dinner. E, ever the romantic, decided it was like being plunged into a Jane Austen novel and set about lighting candles and digging out the board games. I whinged so much about being cold that we decided to check ourselves into the local country club to warm up over the next few days!
Oh, this was also the year that E managed to get her story on to the front page! Shame they got her age wrong…
  • Christmas 2014 – The One In Japan: My dreams of a traditional “at-home” Christmas had to be postponed when I booked a job working abroad. Luckily, I had Vince with me to celebrate and we made the most out of our Japanese Christmas, complete with fried chicken. Yes, that actually is some sort of tradition over there – KFC on the big day! It was so unbelievably cold that year and even though I had to work on the 25th, it’s still one of my favourites. Never one to be outdone, E and the rest of the gang visited me earlier in the month and then headed to Dubai, ready to spend Christmas Day on the beach.
I know you can’t feel it, but honestly it was so nippy. The family and Osaka Joe
  • Christmas 2016 – The One In The Middle Of The Sea: I did manage to have Christmas 2015 at home, but by the following year I was off again, working on one of the world’s largest cruise ships, the Oasis of the Seas. I have to admit, I didn’t “get the feeling” very much that year. Perhaps it was the warm weather? Christmas in a bikini just doesn’t cut it for me. I remember I didn’t even decorate my cabin. I also had far too much fun in the crew bar the night before and spent the rest of the day paying for it!
Vince and I onboard in 2016

So what would my title for Christmas 2020 be? The one with Coronavirus? The one to be jolly careful? The one we all remember? Perhaps I’ll set for; the one with the blog. ~L.

Season’s greetings, gang

Deck the Halls

E explores the traditions and stories behind our favourite Christmas decorations.

We bought our “real” Christmas tree yesterday, and I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours decorating it. This got me to thinking about the traditions, habits and even, perhaps, rituals we have at this time of year. The whole of the Advent, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year period is replete with heritage and lore, whether you practise an organised religion or not. I’m going to leave the commentary on the BIG events and symbolism of this time of year to much more accomplished writers and finer minds than mine; I want to share with you the finer points of tradition of my Christmas decorations. That’s right, you can always rely on me to get us down to the level of prosaic by then end of the first paragraph!

Red and gold details

Growing up we always had an artificial tree as I had dreadful hayfever as a child, which included reacting snottily to spruce. Our Christmas tree was beautiful, full of twinkling fairy lights, pretty baubles and swathes of tinsel. Tinsel was also draped across the top of all picture frames in the lounge and dining room, and the reams of Christmas cards we received straddled a string tethered to either end of the curtain pole above the lounge’s large window, with the overflow being taped to the back of room doors. A shelf in a small alcove, which for 11 months of the year was filled with knick-knacks, small ornaments and, as I recall, some pieces of Welsh slate, was transformed each Advent into a pretty Nativity tableau. In my evening FaceTime calls with Mum this week, I’ve been thrilled to see a couple of pictures on the wall above her right shoulder sporting their golden tinsel flounces.

The boys are back in town: decades old nesting Santa Claus on the window sill in the office

Mum and Dad always seemed to treasure the (frankly slapdash) Christmas decorations my brother, Ed, and I made at primary school: poorly painted stars, skew-whiff mangers and wonky pipe-cleaner angels. All these works of art were given pride of place in our home. Perhaps this accounts for the moment of sadness I felt a couple of years ago when Joseph came unstuck from the Müller Corner Nativity Lily had created at nursery, 25 years earlier, and which had been proudly included in our Christmas display every year since. We still have lots of decorations that hark back to days gone by: a set of flashing fairy lights where, for the past 15 years, only half of the fairies have flashed but, with great reverence, they are fastened to my dressing room window to demi-twinkle until Epiphany. Why? Because they came via my (late, beloved) Dad. There’s a portly Father Christmas on an elasticated string, who was once gaudily resplendent in his natty velour suit although he is now a little dusty. When you pulled down on his string, he bellowed: “BOING! Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas” and this used to frighten the bejesus out of toddler Lily. It is many years since this Santa has boinged, but get rid of him? How could I even think of it? There’s an Advent Christmas tree purchased for Lily by my Mum and Dad. It has 24 little drawers in its base, each drawer containing a tiny ornament to be hung on the tree. It’s also clockwork and rotates to a trebly rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I adore this little tree and gently dust it each Advent as it comes out of its storage box. I don’t mind that it now has a Pisa-esque lean or that some of its branches are balding; I figure these things happen to us all with time and we don’t deserve any less love because of them. This year, my Advent tree (its ownership transferred to me when Lily went to uni – them’s the rules) has pride of place on one of the bookcases.

The infamous “boing”-less Father Christmas

Although I love my children dearly, there is a rite of passage as a parent in respect of Christmas decorations. It can be summarised as the moment that you judge your kids are sufficiently well-grown that their school-days’ art works can be relegated to support act, and you can splash out on some decent decs for yourself. The moment this occurs in any household will vary hugely. I’ve heard from some friends who reached this milestone when the child moved from primary to secondary school, and for one, when the kid moved up from infants to juniors. In our family, I reflect that there must have been quite a bit of attachment parenting going on regarding the Christmas decorations and schism was only achieved when the younger sibling left Sixth Form.

Various baubles that L has collected from her performances over the years

Today, thanks to advances in medicine – cheers Clarityn – me and Steve enjoy a real tree in the lounge, bedecked with elegant baubles and dainty lights. On the first floor landing there’s an artificial trees, toting flashing multi-coloured lights and groaning under the weight of all manner of gaudy, mismatched, but well-loved and utterly treasured festive paraphernalia. It’s taken the best part of three decades to get reach this balance, but I think we’re just about there. ~ E

The support act Christmas Tree, on the upstairs landing, in all its gaudy gorgeousness

Hungry For Home Design

L shares her interior inspirations.

I have a confession to make…

Despite priding myself on having a strong aesthetic and being self-assured in my “Marmite-ism” – I either ADORE something or completely loath it – I find interior design really rather stressful. Perhaps I’ve earmarked too many glossy magazines, fantasising about my dream bathroom where money is never a consideration. Perhaps I’ve devoured too many television programmes where professionals with years of experience make impossible tasks seem simple; yes, Dick and Angel, I’m talking to you. Or perhaps it’s because deep down I am more of a consumer than a designer. I’m very good at buying pieces to style a room but the larger concerns of balancing the space do not come easily to me.

The beautiful chaos of moving day. Quite “Emin”-esque.

I’m sure E will agree with me that looking back I was never one of those children who got excited about decorating my bedroom. I was quite happy to rock the purple walls well into my teenage years. I loved to draw and yet I don’t ever remember wanting to pick up a paintbrush and help with any home improvements. Now that I’m in my own home, where I have free artistic rein, I suddenly feel… terrified. Yes, I’m confident that I have been grappling with a case of intermittent design block.

The one room where I have achieved the furnishing and ornamentation equivalent of a rolling boil is – appropriately enough – the kitchen. This week we have taken the plunge and ordered tradition plantation, louvre shutters for our picture window. Our existing furniture from the flat works well in the space thanks to the similar Scandinavian-inspired colour scheme. Oh, and we treated ourselves to a matching Smeg kettle and toaster set. See? I told you: quintessentially, I’m a consumer!

Finally nailed our coffee station. Well, when working from home this is essential!

I think I want our hallway to end up as a black and white monochrome affair, like a boutique hotel. This is what I’m thinking…

We had a lovely colourful lounge at the flat which I’d like to replicate in our new place. Currently, we are saving up for the sofa of our dreams, a cobalt blue, velvet Chesterfield that we spotted months ago in Guildford. In the meantime, we are working with a mid-century inspired grey sofa-bed. It is perfectly fine for just the two of us and we will recycle her into the office eventually. I’m planning on adding to our gallery wall over the holidays too. A wise friend once told me that I should always invest in art because it gains value over time but it makes your house more beautiful too.

I also promise to use a spirit level this time!

The bathrooms’ main points of concern are a lack of space; they’re both quite cwtchy. Well, their size, and the lack of frosting in the downstairs bathroom window which was a causing me some uneasiness as the evenings were drawing in. I am proud to say I resolved this lack of privacy issue myself and invite you to check out my instagram for more details. Once we get some shelves and a couple of houseplants in there we should be golden.

The bedrooms, especially the master, is where I’m struggling the most. Vince and I both have mountains of clothes. I know all these garments need a home but, let’s be honest, buying wardrobes just isn’t that fun. I will tackle this eventually, but as my work will see me travelling next year, I’m happy to keep living out of a suitcase for the time being.

Bed… my natural habitat.

The final room we are in the midst of tackling is the office. With Vince using it Monday – Friday and me in there all weekend teaching, it’s important that we feel comfortable and professional in this space. Initially, I was hoping for something contemporary and dark. Vince, on the other hand, was determined this room would feature (heavily) “music, cricket and West Ham FC”. I’m hopeful we’ve ended up somewhere in between!

I’m going to try and be a little kinder to myself after this. There is no rush to get the house “holiday ready” for our socially-distanced Christmas. Speaking of which… where did I put those decorations? ~L.