Christmas at Lalande

Christmas is my absolutely favourite day of the year and I take it very seriously!

As a child, I couldn’t spend most of Christmas Day with my parents. They owned and ran a nursing home for people with Alzheimer’s, so worked every Christmas Day. They used to wake me up early to open my presents (it was difficult to wake me early even then!) and then I would only see them for a quick lunch. I don’t remember this upsetting me at all at the time, but maybe it explains why I’ve chosen to creat epic Christmases with family and friends in my adult life.

My mother thinks that I make way too much of a fuss. Her idea of an acceptable Christmas tree is a small, undecorated wooden sculpture of a tree that she uses year after year. She would avoid Christmas at Lalande if she could, but I’m usually successful at guilting her into turning up! And I think that she secretly enjoys it every year.

She enjoys floristry and can usually be roped in to making a wreath larger than herself!

Over the years, Christmas at Lalande has become filled with various traditions. We always wait for the arrival of Michael Potts before decorating the tree. Since he and I met in 2001, we’ve always decorated the tree together and it would be unthinkable to do it without him! So, as soon as he arrives, we set out to choose the biggest tree we can find, and struggle home with it on top of the Jaguar!

We carry the huge, dusty red chest of decorations down from the attic and always start by putting the fairy lights on. Once we’ve turned them on and made sure they’re evenly spaced, we add the decorations.

The first Christmas decorations that I bought – in Hong Kong at the age of 12 – are red silk men. Since then I’ve added butterflies from Bermuda, clay creatures from South Africa, porcelain dolls from Russia, glass icicles from Austria – the list goes on and on. Michael also buys decorations whenever he travels to a new country, so now we have a huge collection from all over the world. Each decoration brings back a memory!

Then it’s time to put all of the presents under the tree. I love this moment and tend to get a little overexcited.

By Christmas Eve all of our guests have arrived and it’s usually about now that some sort of heating/electrical/water crisis strikes. I can’t remember a Christmas without one, so now I just cheerfully see it as one of our traditions and set about trying to fix it.

Christmas Eve marks the first night of Lalande’s ‘12 Days of Christmas’. We’ve pulled together winter solstice traditions from all over the world to make our own, very unique, programme of events. I’ll describe that more fully in another post. But it all starts on Christmas Eve with a black tie cocktail and canapé evening and carols around the piano. I always wear a red evening gown.

Then, in the early hours of Christmas morning (not in the middle of the night because everyone’s definitely still partying then), huge sacks magically arrive from Santa Claus – one for each person in the chateau. They’re hung from the beams in the salon, ready to greet us on Christmas morning. I still haven’t worked out how this happens…

At 11am we all meet by the tree to open our stockings whilst drinking tea, coffee and mimosas and nibbling on my Christmas cake, mince pies and panettone.

There are always lots of us as, as well as family, we invite friends, especially those who’s families live on the other side of the world, so who wouldn’t be going home for Christmas. We’re usually a very international bunch!

We have a very late lunch at 4pm. I’m the cook and for years I’ve been using Delia Smith’s ‘Christmas’ book. I’d be lost without it!

I’m insanely traditional about Christmas lunch. We usually start with prawn cocktail, because it’s definitely a day to enjoy things we love even if they’re uncool!

The main course is turkey, goose, roast potatoes cooked in goose fat, caramelised carrots, glazed parsnips, brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, sage stuffing, chipolatas wrapped in bacon, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy. Oof! And then Christmas pudding with brandy butter followed by cheese and port.

One year my mother and I unbelievably received the same dress from different people by sheer chance. We embraced the moment and both wore them for lunch!

After lunch we generally loll around – no one has the strength to party! So we watch movies, play board games and read books that we received as gifts.

If we’re still peckish in the evening we grab leftovers and sip whiskey by the fire…

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