An English family Christmas

Christmas - for family!

Christmas Day for me is a family time, it isn't for meeting friends, shopping, or watching telly. All those things can and do happen on other days, but Christmas is special.We do a large traditional family Christmas in rural Kent, in the south-east of England.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Deck the halls with boughs of holly

People

I will spend Christmas this year, as for the last few years, with a crowd of family.

The dramatis personae are my parents, my sisters, my brother, my maternal uncle and his wife, my paternal uncle, my other half, our son (who is 4) and my brother in law. So 12 of us, all found.


My sister and my son
My sister and my son

Place


We all pile down to my parents' house in Kent, and arrived between the 22nd and 24th December, apart from my sisters, who live there anyway. My parents' house was built in the early 1320s, and is a hall house - originally most of the house was just one big room, open to the roof.

During the 1550s, walls and floors were added, as privacy became popular, and in the 1700s, the house was covered in brick on the outside to look nice and modern. The original wooden structure of the house is the original 1320s frame.

Christmas is, I think, perceived generally in the UK as a more rural than urban celebration. Central London, where we live, is deserted between Christmas and New Year, for example.



Family only

Few people go anywhere in the UK at Christmas time. I've never been in a car on Christmas Day, for example, and never (apart from church services) spent time with a non-family member.

The parish my parents' house is in shares a vicar with a neighbouring parish, so one year we have Midnight Mass, and the next year, 10pm Mass. I like this service, and attend it instead of on Christmas Day itself.

Thinking about my own family and my friends' extended families, I think it's rare to travel on Christmas Day.

Most people will wake up and go to bed in the same place, so people away from home will be away at least two nights.

There are no trains, buses, or tube trains on Christmas Day, so travelling's pretty tricky anyway. And most other places, such as shops, are firmly shut.

Larger shops are forbidden by law to open anyway.

Christmas Eve


Christmas Eve is the start of celebrations. During the morning, various people cut holly and ivy from the land around the house, to decorate pictures and walls in the house. My mother tends to string Christmas cards together on red ribbon, and hang them in the living room, which adds to the Christmas decorations.

We all help decorate the Christmas tree, which has mostly already been done, but final touches are essential.

My parents' house has a very large kitchen, and we tend to gather around the table before the start of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. This is an amazingly beautiful service broadcast each Christmas Eve from King's College Chapel, in Cambridge. It interposes Bible readings and carols to tell the Christmas Story.

The BBC has broadcast it by radio every year since the 1920s, and it really starts Christmas. THe first part is always the wonderful carol "Once in Royal David's City", sung by an unaccompanied boy tenor, and is magical.

The first four lessons are from the Old Testament, predicting the coming of the Messiah, and the last five from the New Testament, telling the Christmas Story. As we listen, vast mounds of potatoes, and other veg, are peeled and chopped.

Christmas Day breakfast
Christmas Day breakfast
The aftermath of dinner
The aftermath of dinner

As Christmas Eve is the end of Advent, we always avoid meat and have fish pie for dinner. It's supposed to represent fasting, but as my mother is a wonderful cook, the meal fails to represent any sacrifice at all.

After dinner, there is an air of excitement, and much huddling in corners with paper and tape to wrap the last few presents.

Most people push off to Midnight (or 10pm) Mass, if they didn't go in the morning.

There's something wonderful about coming home in the dark and seeing the Christmas lights twinkling in the windows.

Christmas Day

 

Christmas Day starts with shoving the turkey in the oven, and having a light breakfast. About 11am, we gather round the Christmas tree in the living room, and exchange presents, and quaff champagne. We have Christmas stockings still, even as adults, and it's still wonderful getting to the orange and nuts at the bottom. 

After this, it's all hands to preparing dinner. We tend to start eating at about 3pm, and feast.

This year we had organic turkey, with sausage stuffing one end and apricot and nut the other, roast spuds (choice of goose fat or veggie), roast parsnips, leek sauce, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon, carrots, sweetcorn, spouts, peas, turnips in butter with herbs, sludge (a puree of swede and carrot), and roasted pumpkin. All the vet apart from the sweetcorn was grown by my parents.

For pudding, we have a traditional dried fruit Christmas pudding, made with vegetarian suet and brandy. This is accompanied by brandy and rum butter.

Everything, including the cranberry sauce and pudding, is home-made.

After dinner, we all tend to collapse for a bit, and read our new books, try on new jumpers, or play with new toys, before the washing up starts. Everyone joins in, apart from my mother who was the chef and gets a well-earned break!

We don't really eat again, but tend to play games in the evening - bridge, chess, rummy, or scrabble.

Boxing Day


The day after Christmas is generally spent mostly outdoors.

My sisters usually go to a Boxing Day Meet (fox hunting) for some of the day, and the rest of us don thick coats and go for a long walk over the fields with the dogs.

Boxing Day is a bank holiday, public transport is very limited, and a lot of things are shut.

Some shops start their post-Christmas sales on Boxing Day, but I've never been, and never will.


Between Christmas and New Year


A lot of people take off the time between the two holidays, and loads of businesses, offices, and other workplaces are shut for the duration.

My uncles and in-laws push off home on the 27th December, to be replaced by my father's best friend from school and his wife, who stay until New Year.

The days tend to be spent walking, riding, playing games, chatting, and just spending time with family.

More by this Author


Comments 43 comments

Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 7 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

What a very nice hub. Thanks for sharing your Christmas with us.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Thank you! I hope you also had a good Christmas.


NDBEES profile image

NDBEES 7 years ago from DEVON

Great hub. Where's the snow? I thought Kent was two feet deep in it this time of year.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

there is some snow now, but it's mostly just been really cold, thick frosts and ice, and very little snow. Mind you, been a bit cold and frosty everywhere in the UK recently!


SparklingJewel profile image

SparklingJewel 7 years ago from upper midwest

What a lovely traditional Christmas

I listened to the Cambridge broadcast for the first time this year...a lovely service.

Great Hub


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Glad you enjoyed the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - it's very special.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

I was so happy that you included pictures! What a beautiful Christmas!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

thank you! Glad you enjoyed the hub


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 7 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Many thanks for this lovely hub...And pics..I like your parent)s house!

Thumbs up!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

I'm glad you enjoyed it!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 7 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for sharing your traditions. Always interesting!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Glad you enjoyed it.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

I found this totally fascinating, to see how a British family spends Christmas. And the food sounds delicious, made with lots of care!

It was a pleasure to read this. Thank you!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

We are lucky, my mother's a wonderful cook!


Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

Thanks for sharing Christmas with us. Nice Hub


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

I hope you also had a good Christmas.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I have and will always enjoy Christmas and the celebrations that come along with it. It was nice reading your hub and looking at the photos. It made everything so real and alive. :-)


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

How lucky you and your family are to have Christmas in a (almost) 700-yr-old house! Tradition must be oozing out of every wall and beam! Alas, the U.S. has nothing comparable to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - what a wonderful way to mark the "beginning" of the holiday. And the food sounds yummy. A great hub, and great pics too!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Thanks for your comments, both. I adore Christmas, it's such a special time of year.

The festival of lessons and carols is very special - but you could always listen to the BBC version if there's nothing the same, I suppose?


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Yes it is quite different "in the flesh" so to speak... :-)


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

sorry, what is different?


PeacefulWmn9 profile image

PeacefulWmn9 7 years ago from Michigan

This is a delightful hub. What history lies in your parent's home, and your family celebration, so rich in tradition. The pictures are a treat, and your son is adorable!

Karen


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

He's OK, in small doses....


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

My hubby is actually from Kent even though he grew up around Bristol.  It still amazes me when I hear the year different houses were built there.  My husband used to talk about how his flat in Bristol was older than my TOWN here in Texas.  Certainly, 1320 has all of that beat!  

I noticed the Christmas crackers on your holiday table.  That's one of those things that my husband talked about for a long time that I assumed was something different.  He always told me how important it was to his mother to have ones that matched her decorating theme for the year.  I always thought it was odd that someone cared that much that their crackers matched.  I was thinking in terms of our American crackers....round or square pieces of crunchy snacks we eat with peanut butter or to accompany soup. Imagine my face when I learned that they were traditional table decorations that when pulled reveal a party hat, a joke/riddle/trivia and a small gift or novelty item.  LOL    Needless to say, we always have crackers at our gatherings in Texas now too.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

I had never thought of Christmas Crackers as a UK thing! Do you not normally have them in America?

The photo of one of my sisters shows her wearing the paper crown from a cracker (-:


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

No, I had never heard of Christmas crackers before that. Funny enough we found some at a department store here but they put them with the New Year's stuff and sell them basically as a fireworks type item that you'd 'pop' indoors! We're so silly. I do enjoy them.

Yes, I did see the hat on your sister. From the looks of them in your picture they are the same brand that my in-laws sent us from the UK. We found a British store about 100 miles north of us here in Texas that sells them but they aren't as nice as the ones we got from my in-laws.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

I've no idea where my mother buys them. Perhaps John Lewis?


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

That's where she bought ours.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

John Lewis does lots of great Christmas stuff - in fact, it's a great shop altogether.


skinbleaching1 profile image

skinbleaching1 7 years ago from Downunder

Hi, I live in Australia and haven't even seen snow! We always have a hot Christmas day here usually we have seafood and cold meats... Unlike our colder friends who have hot lunches and dinners!

Thanks for the nice pics..


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Hot Christmasses just sound weird to me!


BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 7 years ago from Bristol

Great hub. Seems very similar to my Christmas's as well.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Then you are very lucky, as am I!


mandybeau 7 years ago

The house is absolutely gorgeous, great for Christmas, The oldest home I have lived in was over 100 years old built in 1903. Here we sit around, we are basically English, so we eat the same Christmas Dinner as English people, in the furious heat of Summer, like you with our families, the difference being we are scarcely able to move, for the rest of the day. As our summers, have got hotter, we are seeing a raft of people having Barbeques, or going to the beach instead of the normal family Roast. It seems sad. A tradition I would hate to see go.

Thnx for sharing Felt as though i was there.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

I can't imagine Christmas in the heat, it just sounds all wrong to me (-:

Glad you enjoyed the hub.

I think the newest house I've ever lived in was built in 1910...


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

I remember watching a renovation show where an English couple were restoring a house built around the same date as your parents' house.  The American commentator was joking about what a stink Americans make when they renovate a hundred year old Victorian house of a two hundred year old colonial house, but restoring/maintaining a house from the fourteenth century really puts things in perspective.  I love your parents' house and it is just so cute to me.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

100 or 200 year old buildings aren't a big deal here, really. It's pretty standard to grow up in a Victorian semi-detached, as I did, my other half did, and my best friend did (and both my parents, come to that).

The building I work in dates back to 1740-ish, and my last Chambers was built in about 1700.

It is a gorgeous house - and 14th century buildings aren't that common.


viv 6 years ago

Thanks so much for sharing this. It helped me a lot on tradition. I'm just going to England to spend my first real Christmas at my Fiance's home. Yet I'm a bit panic too. Apart from the different cultural tradition, I'm wondering how to make myself and my daughter more compatible with the family. I understand Christmas is also usually with emotional pressure between family members. I wonder whether you can kindly give me some suggestions on this. What things could I do to make the presence of my daughter and me not to be a pressure to the family, especially the old parents of my Fiance's? I know nothing about english food, yet I can certainly help on cleaning. And his grownup son, it's kinda delicate between him and his father. I do hope I can make it a good time for my fiance.


rosescottw profile image

rosescottw 6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

I liked this hub very much. It gave warm feelings of Christmas. Thanks. Photos were grand.


Marcomé 6 years ago

This is very nice! Tks for sharing all of this with us! what surprises me is a xmas without snow..that's funny. Your Canadian Sis!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

What a great celebration of Christmas. The only thing I can think of to improve it would be some wonderful Bing Crosby music -- like, maybe, "White Christmas."


GojiJuiceGoodness profile image

GojiJuiceGoodness 6 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

Great hub! In some ways, Christmas sounds a lot like how my family does it. However, I found it interesting that all these shops were closed, especially about it being illegal for larger ones to open. Wow!

I know this is a bit off topic, but in England do shops close on Sundays? If you hadn't guessed, I'm from the US (Virginia); and no, shops don't close on Sundays. Although my dad said when he was a boy in the 1960's they did, but that was a small town atmosphere.


marwan asmar profile image

marwan asmar 5 years ago from Amman, Jordan

I remember exactly how Christmas was when I was back in England; it is a family affair, especially on Christmas Day when roads are deserted. You bring back lots of memories of how it was. Thanks for sharing

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