Mother and daughter Capricorns, born within seven days – and 23 years – of each other. We can promise much laughter, lots of cooking and the occasional insight. Welcome to the little world of The de-la-Haye Girls.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
One recipe to rule them all. One recipe to find them. One recipe to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Ok, so a Lord of the Rings marathon may not be part of your festive rituals but I bet that making mulled wine is. This recipe is totally foolproof and is worth making for the aroma alone. I often leave the batch simmering for longer than I should to let the Christmassy smell fully permeate every room.
To make 4+ mugs you’ll need:
A bottle of wine (or a selection of apple and pomegranate juice if you prefer no booze)
500ml orange juice – no bits, the cheap and cheerful kind
A tea bag
Mulling spice bag (or two)
Cinnamon sticks (optional)
Fire up that hob to a gentle heat, chuck the entire bottle of wine into your favourite pot and get your playlist on the go. I thoroughly recommend The Beach Boys or The Carpenters Christmas Album – warning – may cause dodgy kitchen dancing.
In the other pot, add about a litre of water and encourage her to a rolling boil. Add your mulling spice bags; I think two bags is the Goldilocks amount, but alter as you see fit. You can pick these up in most supermarkets but I reckon a jar of handcrafted ones would make a thoughtful and cost effective present for someone special. Turn the heat down and leave those spices to steep and simmer.
Eat a mince pie. Yes, this is part of the recipe. I’ll allow a hearty slice of Stollen or gingerbread instead. In the time it’s taken you to have a tasty treat, we should have a nice mulling liquor ready. To this, add your orange juice, 5 tbsp of brown sugar and a splash of gin. You can use any tipple you fancy: brandy, port and whisky work well too. Keep an eye on the vino in the other pan – don’t let her reach a boil.
Grab a lemon and rock and roll it over a hard surface before squeezing a little into the mulling liquor. Finally, add a regular English Breakfast teabag – this is the magic ingredient. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes – the future you will be so glad that you did.
Once 10 minutes is up, discard the teabag from the pot and pour your delicious, boozy, fruity potion into the warmed red wine. Slice up the remaining lemon and segment some orange, (or – hack alert – go with a couple of easy peelers). Gently stir these into the winey elixir. Finish with a couple of cinnamons sticks if you feel inclined.
Serve in mugs or heatproof glasses (the kind used for lattes – don’t serve in a regular wine glass. I made the mistake of doing that one year; it was painful). You can leave the mulled wine on the hob with lid on, ready to be heated for guests and feed her more wine throughout the evening if she looks a little low. The same is also true for me during the holidays.
If Covid means you’re unable to visit or receive family and friends this Christmas and are feeling a bit glum about it, why not try this delicious concoction as an outdoor drink? Wrap-up warm, enjoy the crisp wintery air carrying your Thermos mug of mulled wine from which you regularly sip as you sit on your front stoop, or take a wander around your neighbour, decoration-spotting and wishing those you pass a Merry Christmas. You’ll be spreading good cheer and the unmistakable aroma of mulled wine. Go on, you know you want to. ~L.