This is the part of the festive season where you wonder how it all arrived quite so quickly. Surely it isn’t only two weeks away? You planned to make chutney, sip mulled wine whilst watching Home Alone and dance around the tree to Wham. Well, it’s fast approaching and if you’re not careful you’ll forget to enjoy it under the pressure of trying to get everything done. You should always enjoy Christmas. It’s time to get into the festive spirit.
No matter how busy or manic you might be, if you don’t enjoy the season and the extra time and attention you to get to spend on those that mean the most, then you’ve kind of missed the point.
1. Set The Scene. The 4 Best Christmas Scents.
It likely won’t come as a surprise to you that I’m a big believer in the power of scent. You name an occasion, situation or mood and I’ve got a candle for it. Christmas is one of those occasions that comes alive with a scent. A smell can evoke so many things and I’m not sure thats ever more apparent than at Christmas.
1. Winter, The White Company
A true classic of the genre. Warming, festive and in the nicest possible way, potent. On the 1st of December, as I extract the baubles from their dusty holiday home beneath the bed, this is the candle I light. It is to all intense and purposes Christmas in candle form.
2. Orange Bitters, Jo Malone London
I’ve said it many times now, but it remains as true as ever. I like to smell like a fruit. Orange Bitters is that kind of warm zesty scent that makes you think of a gooey chocolate orange liquor rather than a blossom filled orchard. It’s a little less traditional but in no way any less festive.
3. Ambre, Diptyque
Perhaps you don’t like cinnamon and spice. Some people have a real aversion to those scents. Ambre is warm and smokey, without being overbearing. It isn’t overtly festive but cosy and caring, perfect for those who want to dabble in something wintery without feeling like they’ve ventured into a spice rack.
4. Skog, Skandinavisk
If you find yourself longing for the scent of real Christmas then Skog could be the answer to your prayers. There are many fir tree scents out there; all with varying levels of pine. For me they can often smell a little like toilet cleaner… Skog is quite light in comparison. Fresh and clean. If someone was to create a candle that portrays being in a snow covered pine forest in the Swedish countryside, this would be it.
2. Don’t Rush. Wrap A Present A Day.
I think why most people dislike wrapping presents is due to the fact they try to fit the task into the day before Christmas, haphazardly trying to find the end of the Sellotape as they clumsily attempt to render the shape of a teddy bear unrecognisable with shiny paper. Stop. Take your time. You have two weeks. A present a night and you’re likely done.
If you’ve already bought some presents then sit down on a quiet evening, put on a Christmas film or a rerun of The Vicar Of Dibley and enjoy it. It should be a pleasant job. You’ve bought someone a gift, this is your chance to celebrate what you’ve done.
If you’re not the most talented wrapper, fear not. YouTube arrived for a reason. If you search for it you’ll find videos on everything from tying the perfect bow to wrapping a cylindrical shape.
3. Take Some Time. Write Some Cards.
Sending Christmas cards has sadly become something very few do now. Personally I’ve never stopped. Over the years the quantities have most definitely decreased but still, every single year I sit down with a mince pie and a book of ridiculously over priced stamps and I write my cards out. A lot of the people I send cards to aren’t those who I see all that often so it always feels nice to write out a kind message of well wishes, more than likely finished with a comment about having to meet up soon, despite the fact we never quite got round to it this year.
It’s a nice task. It feels calming to write something I always feel? To nearly write an address on a perfectly white envelope before positioning a jolly red sticker in the corner. It’s a lot art, I say we bring it back.
This year my cards have come from Mark + Fold, a small British brand I absolutely love. You’ll be able to see more of them very soon.
4. Plan Ahead. The 4 Christmas Cookbooks You’ll Have For Life.
Planning makes me happy, as does making a good list. The act of planning the Christmas dinner, writing the list of things to do and the things I’ll need to buy is one of my favourite parts of the season. I make a pot of coffee and I settle down with my books, Post It noting every page that catches my eye.
This book requires some time spent with it. It’s filled with recipes but it is more than that, it’s a book to be read. It walks you through the season right from October and finishing in early January. Last year I made the Christmas Cake recipe from this book, it’s a little unorthodox in that it doesn’t feature a single spice, but it’s incredible. I made it again this year and shipped off bundles of it to my family. The toasted hazelnuts and sour cranberries are perfect against the sweet icing I lavish on top.
Yes, she does advise buying a huge plastic bin to brine your turkey in. That is undeniable, but once you move past that it’s a book filled with dishes I come back to year after year. It’s a tradition in my house that New Year’s Day features Nigella’s Gleaming Maple Syrup Cheesecahke. It’s not overly sweet and the base is peppered with crispy pecan nuts; it’s the perfect antidote to the night before.
The reason I love to cook is Delia Smith. I watched her religiously as a child and still have the huge tome my mum bought me for my eight birthday. It’s one for the most traditional of Christmas dinners, your fail safe. Cranberry sauce, classic stuffing recipes – it’s all here. Truth be told this isn’t really my style of cooking anymore… but it just captures the traditional family Christmas so well. If you need to brush up on the basics of preparing the perfect roastie, this is the book for you.
I’ve always been a little jealous of Christmas at Jamie’s house. It always seems so big and full of life, so many people crammed around the table and sloshing gravy about the place. In a way this is the polar opposite to Delia Smith’s book; everything is modern and updated for the way we eat now. The deserts are pretty epic here, especially if your family has a strong aversion to Christmas Pudding. I can’t vouch for it being a vegetarian, but each year I make Jules’ Gravy from this book and each year it goes down a storm.
5. Take To The Kitchen. Give Something Homemade.
Last year I set myself the challenge of making my friend’s and family’s main presents myself, in addition to my usual round of jam, chutney and biscotti. It was a task I won’t be setting myself again anytime soon, I’m not sure I’ve ever had quite such a stressful Christmas. Flannel pyjamas for long limbed folk, monogrammed dressing gowns for best friends and leather shopping bags for mothers, I tried it all. It nearly broke me.
As a result I try to take it a little easier with the homemade gifts now. Each year I deliver overflowing tins of biscotti (a handy and easy little recipe for which you’ll find here), chocolate truffles, honeycomb pieces and ramshackle piles of shortbread biscuit. Generally they’re placed inside glass jars from IKEA and all in all cost little more than a fiver. There’s just something about receiving a homemade gift that feels so special. Someone spent time on it just for you. It’s almost as satisfying as making a gift for someone.