TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON – a time to plant, a time to pick, a time to weep, a time to laugh – a time to every purpose on Earth, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes.
I’m not usually one to quote Bible verses, but right now, ’tis the season to wonder where the year went and why we only eat mince pies at Christmas. We eat hot cross buns all year, why not mince pies?
That dizzy feeling that every day is happening in fast-forward becomes almost unbearable around the festive season as we all try to cram two months of work into four weeks while also making lists, buying gifts, planning menus, shopping, cooking and generally doing everything except what you’d really like to be doing – spending time with your favourite people.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Christmas rituals. I have vivid childhood memories of walking through a Narnia-style tunnel into a winter wonderland starring Father Christmas and a lot of fake snow. It was probably a very short, unimpressive tunnel, but to my fouryear-old imagination it was completely magical.
I loved all our family Christmas traditions growing up: straw-fight parties, advent calendars, watching my mother unpack her Nativity figures, going to buy the tree with my dad who then had to spend hours unravelling the Christmas lights. We would put out biscuits and milk on Christmas Eve and then desperately will ourselves to fall asleep with a stomach full of butterflies. When I see the fruit-studded cakes and sparkly baubles start appearing on the shelves I always feel a little stirring of those butterflies and remember the longago thrill of waking at an ungodly hour to retrieve our Santa sack-pillowcases from under the tree. David and Romy and I would rip open our gifts, totally oblivious to the joy my parents must have felt watching us.
For more than a decade, I have hosted Christmas, desperately trying to recreate the magic of my childhood Christmases. I’d use my mother’s gammon recipe so my kitchen would have that same smoky, sweet smell of it roasting. I’d buy a tree, put out crackers, plan the menu, delegate the vegetables and make far too much food. (Because, leftovers.) But not this year. This year, I happily pass the Christmas torch to the newlyweds, Romy and her Prodigious Baker, John. (They can cook. It will be okay.)
And this is in spite of the fact that this is the biggest and undoubtedly the best festive issue ever, starring Abigail’s most heartfelt Christmas menu (p 16), a record number of desserts on top of Hannah’s crazy-good cookies (p 72) and Siba’s favourite crowd-pleasers (p 84). There is even a bonus 16-page shopping section designed to ensure that you spend the least amount of time trying to rescue the gravy and the maximum amount of time with your people (p 129).
Of course I will still cook, I might even bake, but for the first time I don’t feel the need to recreate the magic of my own Christmases past. This year, my Christmas joy will come from watching my daughter, Holly, experience all of it for the first time. And with any luck, it will be her memories that will shape all the Christmases yet to come.
“THIS IS THE BIGGEST AND UNDOUBTEDLY THE BEST FESTIVE ISSUE EVER, STARRING ABIGAIL’S MOST HEARTFELT CHRISTMAS MENU”