For our #FeelGoodHoliday, we want to know what people cherish about the holidays, the moments and memories that make it such a magical time. To kick it off, our team member James (from across the pond) tells us what inspires him about the traditional English Christmas he loves so much.
The holidays are very special to me. It’s a time to think about my friends and family and an opportunity to spoil those around me. The first few notes of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ and holiday decorations in streets and stores never fails to bring a smile to my face.
My fondest memories, though, are much more traditional – back in the English countryside.
For me, the holiday season starts on the first or second weekend of December. My brother, my dad, and I head outside into the crisp, country air to deck a small tree in our yard with sparkling lights. Because our village has no streetlights, our tiny tree gets centre stage and the lights are visible for miles down the Chalke Valley.
While we tackle adding little twist-ties to each branch, ensuring full coverage of the tree, Mum is inside mixing up a traditional Christmas cake. She calls us in one-by-one to stir the Christmas cake mixture and make a wish. The bowl, always the biggest one we have, is almost full to the brim with raisins, currants, fruit peel, butter, treacle, cinnamon, cloves, nuts, and other seasonal treats. As a small boy, this was fantastically exciting, though stirring it was a task in itself.
Once we make our wish, we wrap ourselves back up and head outside to finish the tree. The lights are always timed to come on just as the sun set. To my delight, this would often be just as my school bus dropped me off at the top of the road.
My father is a Christmas baby born on December 19th, and every year just before his birthday we head out to the local garden centre to pick out the perfect tree. After some comparison and careful decision-making, we select a special spruce to brighten up our living room. We bring it home, cut the bottom few inches from the trunk and let it soak for a week. When it comes time – finally! – to decorate the house and put up the tree, we bring down the many boxes from the attic, each labeled with their contents: ‘Lights’, ‘Tinsel’, ‘Dad’s Regency Balls,’ and ‘Her Majesty the Fairy’.
Does this sound a little eccentric? Maybe, but that’s part of the fun of holidays – even grownups get to suspend reason and indulge in what might otherwise seem awfully silly.
In a gold Thornton’s chocolate box, wrapped in tissue is Her Majesty the Fairy, with her velvet dress, blond hair, wand (long since replaced with a cocktail stick). She is ceremoniously passed around the family for “waking up” before landing gently on the very top of the tree. On the closest branch we always place the Viscount Robin. It’s his job to guard the fairy.
On Christmas Eve, once visiting family has gone home, we relax in front of a few special holiday episodes of whatever happens to be on television, and – hopefully – The National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, for just the 50th time. We all retire at a reasonable hour after excitedly wishing each other good night – then I sneak in a few more holiday shows in my room.
Because I’m never asleep before 2 am on Christmas Eve, I always take a long look outside my bedroom and imagine what other people are doing. Are they with family or friends? How do they celebrate the season? The night sky lights up the countryside and I can see across the snowy field in front of our house to the moonlit barns of Mr. Draper’s farm across the road. The stars on a clear night out in the countryside are astonishing.
When morning arrives, it’s thrilling to feel the door a little heavier than usual, thanks to a stocking tied to the door handle outside. Through the years, the contents had changed from teddy bears to razors, but it’s never stopped being the best part of waking up.
Our morning isn’t the manic rush we’re used to seeing on TV. After getting washed and dressed, we head downstairs for breakfast, followed by the clearing of dishes and the fetching of logs for the fireplace.
Once we’re all ready, we gather around the tree and hand out presents one-by-one. As we’re a small family it doesn’t take long to go through them, even with gifts from relatives, so we take our time about it, announcing who each gift is from, for whom. Part of the joy of gifts is the chance to show real appreciation for the incredible kindness that led the giver to think of us. As we glow with the thoughts of our family and friends from around the world, we make our telephone calls of thanks as Mum checks on lunch.
We usually only have to wait a couple of hours before lunchtime, the highlight of the holidays. Mum always creates an incredible feast. We sit down, pull the crackers, put on our paper festive hats, tell the awful jokes, and compare the plastic novelties within. After lunch, families around the country – mine included – slump in a daze of over-consumption and relief that the hectic season is over for another year.
The holidays are not just a time for gifts and good food, but for sharing love with family, friends, and everyone you encounter. I love finding little ways to be kind, like bringing treats in to work and enjoying the happy looks on everyone’s face – no matter how bad my icing skills! Spare some change, call an old friend, and wear a silly sweater to make someone else smile.
What are your holiday traditions? We’d love to hear what fills you with love and gratitude this time of year, whether it’s trimming a tree, lighting candles, celebrating solstice, or connecting with those you love.