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