For the hol­i­days, Emma or­ders not one Christmas tree, but six from her lo­cal York­shire sup­plier.

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DEC­O­RAT­ING EN MASSE

For the hol­i­days, Emma or­ders not one Christmas tree, but six from her lo­cal York­shire sup­plier. “One for the vil­lage church, four for the east wing, and a 10-foot tree for us,” she says. Thank­fully, the pro­fes­sional team in charge of hospitality and ca­ter­ing in the east wing dec­o­rates those trees, for each one can take sev­eral hours on top of a lad­der to com­plete. For Emma, the fes­tive sea­son be­gins in earnest with the an­nual can­dlelit carol con­cert given in aid of Ac­tion Re­search by the choir of Selby Abbey, which she and Ger­ald host for 200 guests at Carl­ton Tow­ers.

“It al­ways gives me a thrill see­ing the house come to life as the guests ar­rive and min­gle, be­fore set­tling down for an hour or so of sub­lime singing,” she says. After­ward, they in­dulge in canapés made by mem­bers of the com­mit­tee; Emma’s con­tri­bu­tions are mini sausages cooked with plenty of honey and mus­tard. “[They’re] hardly cut­ting edge,” she says. “But they go down well on a chilly De­cem­ber evening, along with mulled wine and mince pies.”

Emma takes an or­ga­nized ap­proach to Christmas prepa­ra­tions in the fam­ily’s south wing. She likes to get most of the hol­i­day dé­cor done over a cou­ple of days at the be­gin­ning of Ad­vent. Then she can re­lax and en­joy the rest of the hol­i­day sea­son.

A na­tiv­ity set takes cen­ter stage on a large ta­ble in the en­trance hall, with the bib­li­cal fig­ures of Mary, Joseph and baby Je­sus shar­ing fairy lights with snow­men and elves made from col­ored felt. “Those were bought by Ger­ald’s mother in Ger­many when she and the chil­dren lived there dur­ing her hus­band’s army post­ing,” she says. “The elves have been part of the fam­ily’s Christmas ever since.”

When the Christmas trees ar­rive, Emma places hers in the morn­ing room and spends the bet­ter part of a day perched on a lad­der, hang­ing or­na­ments and lights on the boughs. A col­lec­tion of col­or­ful presents wrapped in vin­tage Christmas pa­per piles around the base of the tree.

FAM­ILY FES­TIV­I­TIES

The Fitza­lan Howards and their three chil­dren gen­er­ally spend Christmas at home, shar­ing a tra­di­tional fam­ily get to­gether with friends and fam­ily. Ger­ald and Emma both cook, and ev­ery­one else helps. On Christmas Eve, they go to church in Selby and then come home to an easy-to-pre­pare fon­due in the kitchen. The fol­low­ing morn­ing starts with open­ing stock­ing presents in front of the fire in the li­brary. Then after break­fast, they take the dogs for a long walk be­fore be­gin­ning an­other round of present-giv­ing in front of the tree. Christmas lunch with all the trim­mings is served rather late in the din­ing room, a meal that features mince pies in­stead of Christmas pud­ding. In the evening, they re­lax by the fire play­ing games and later curl up to watch a movie.

Emma likes to get most of the hol­i­day dé­cor done over a cou­ple of days at the be­gin­ning of Ad­vent.

The arm­chairs are up­hol­stered in Port­land Stripe, while the sofa is cov­ered in Adam’s Eden linen. The vel­vet cush­ion in the fore­ground is from Lewis and Wood Fab­rics.

It takes Emma hours to hang or­na­ments on the 10-foot-tall Christmas tree that stands in the morn­ing room.

In the din­ing room, a trio of 19th cen­tury fam­ily portraits hangs against a back­drop of bold cherry red wall­pa­per Emma chose. Blend­ing with the color scheme is a Christmas gar­land of leaves with red and gold ap­ples and pears that drapes across the fire­place.

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