Tag Archives: tradition

Margot’s Twelve Days of Christmas

Look at that darling little boot!

Look at the darling little boot!

On the first day of Christmas, my dear Jerry gave to me……some truly wonderful presents to kit me out for the countryside in 2013: the most delicious cashmere welly socks complete with tiny silver welly, an AMAZING box set of River Cottage handbooks and a very uncamouflaged green and white spotty bag from Cath Kidston!  Dear Reader, I can assure that I was most certainly one of the nine ladies dancing!  Presents done and dusted by 7:30am!  That’s what I call efficient or rather very impatient!  We even managed to make the wonderful nativity service where Primrose stood angelic as one of the angels by a real baby ‘Jesus’ whilst Poppy screamed for most of the service and could only be silenced by a packet of rice cakes.  Crib service completed, we trudged off on our Christmas travels with our two little ‘angels’ who had been awake since 4:47am, desperate to see what St Nicholas had left under the tree.  Even industrial amounts of coffee could not keep me awake on Christmas morning and there was rain of biblical proportions sloshing down as we left the Big Smoke, ruining my straightened hair and making me question whether or not the Mayans might have been on to something!Journey finally at an end, we turned our attentions to the business of Christmas lunch.  Day one of the Twelve Days of Christmas and  not a partridge in sight.  However, I did try my first ‘turducken’.  Yes that’s right, a ‘turducken’ (turkey, duck and chicken), also known as a three bird roast.  A modern take on an olden day feasting dish when one served a bird in a bird in a bird (you get the idea) all neatly packaged up inside a swan, feathers, beak et al.  I can see where jeggings might have evolved from.  They must be the modern day equivalent of hose!  Thank goodness we only had 2 days of feasting to get through rather than the full Twelve Days of Christmas.  I am not sure I could have managed the swan roast or the 12 pies for a lucky 12 months that nursery rhyme Jack Horner is alleged to have consumed!

Boxing Day arrived with its post Christmas lunch slump and mad sale spendathons.  Traditionally the feast of St Stephen (the patron saint of horses), farmers and horse owners alike used to take their horses to their country parishes to be blessed.  It is also well known as the biggest day in the hunting calendar.  The Boxing Day hunt – a time honoured country Christmas tradition which is so rarely cheered in villages these days.  Dear Minty took her little babe to his inaugural Boxing Day hunt to watch riders and hounds depart from a sleepy village in Gloucestershire for the frost-covered fences and hedges of the surrounding countryside.  If Minty’s husband has anything to do with it, that dear little boy will be riding, hunting, shooting and fishing before he even takes his first steps.  I applaude that sentiment entirely!  No local hunts around our parts so I made do with a little dress with horse and hound pattern!  Embarking on the second day of our gluttonous feasting, I started to feel like the Vicar of Dibley in the episode where she is invited to all the villagers’ Christmas lunches.  I wasn’t sure how much more I could fit in and wished I had saved a pair of maternity jeans!  Following a considerably over indulgent lunch, I fell into a dream of turtledoves and dovecotes on my country estate and was woken somewhere around 2am by the ‘twit twoo’ of a pair of owls .  I say owls…..it could merely have been the whistling of darling Jerry’s drunken snoring.  Difficult to tell….

Hunting horns at the ready!

Hunting horns at the ready!

Well dear Reader, day three of Margot’s Twelve Days of Christmas and all was looking rosy as we finally returned to the familiar surroundings of our dear little cottage.  Presents unpacked, fire lit and pyjamas on, I was delighted to be back.  I will admit to be being a very poor house guest.  I like to be in my own home.  Tragic as that sounds.  I also felt a little twinge of loyalty to the cottage as after all, this will be the last Christmas spent in its tiny embrace.  Three French hens were not on offer….you can see I was not fully prepared for the full twelve days at all…BUT Primrose and I did make a rather charming bereted French snowman (if I do say so myself) for the top of my Christmas cake this year.  Rustique.

C'est chic non?!

C’est chic, non?!

As for the rest of the Twelve Days of Christmas, not really sure how I am going to manage four colly birds (apparently these are blackbirds, who would have thought?), five gold rings (oh God nothing Olympic related I promise), six geese-a-laying (might have to make do with chickens for this one and book myself on a hen-keeping course), seven swans-a-swimming (could a few trips to The Swan pub count?), eight maids-a-milking (dairy farm, perhaps?).  Still it all looks promising for a good old New Year/early Twelfth Night shindig.  A little visit to see Tom and Barbara in the offing and no doubt, I shall definitely see at least one of the ten lords a leaping on New Year’s Eve (can’t wait to see Tom strutting his stuff with his energetic version of Britney’s Toxic) and might even manage to do some piping for the eleven pipers piping.  As for the drummers, dearest Poppy got a drum from Father Christmas so when New Year’s Day comes and inevitably, Jerry and I have sore heads, it will feel like twelve drummers drumming.  Might have to hide that one…… Here’s to 2013 and Margot FINALLY making it to the countryside.  Happy New Year to you, Dear Reader!

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Mr Tree!

Mr Tree!

Poppy turned 1 last week despite all of us muttering disbelief of how the time has flown by!  Our little seedling has grown up and is blossoming into quite a feisty young flower!  (Dear Reader, it would be quite unfair of you to even mutter quietly that perhaps she takes after her mother.  A ridiculous notion!  It is all down to her auburn locks)!  With birthday festivities over, Jerry finally allowed me to open the doors to Christmas.  Until now, it had been incredibly hard to resist eating mince pies and glugging back the mulled wine but with all the crumbs from the second birthday cake gone (carrot – and not too much of a disaster this time, although, I did burn my hand whilst pouring over the hot honey) we could turn our attentions to the most important job of all.  The Tree!  In celebration of our ‘better late than never’ embracing of Christmas, we all traipsed off to our greengrocer which doubles up as a provider of Nordman firs this time of year.  I will confess, dear Reader, that I adore Christmas trees.  The smell, the lights, the drinking of sloe gin whilst dressing it with decorations…  What could be more festive than the smell of the dear old fir tree!  Evergreens are part of the fabric of Christmas as we know it now but it wasn’t always so.  Made fashionable by Queen Victoria, it was good old Albert who introduced the idea from his native Germany.  The Germans had been decorating trees for years before we started!  Our traditional English Christmas staple, the kissing bush, was the fir’s precursor and was created with mistletoe and decorated with lit candles.  Of course, the ever faithful holly and ivy also adorned the balustrades of country homes long before the humble Christmas tree ever became a la mode.  With this image of country house Christmases in mind, I set to work on creating the perfect Mr Tree!  A darling little tree chosen, paved the way for the age old debate of the lights, which dear Reader, you may remember that I have already mentioned: flashing coloured lights (Jerry’s particular tacky penchant) or tasteful tiny white globes twinkling in the low level light of the cottage (Margot’s choice).  Needless to say I actually won the battle this year!  Ha!  My success all came down to Primrose, who was desperate to take over the reins of the delicate art of tree dressing.  I soon realised that there could only be one master of Mr Tree!  I had to physically restrain myself as Primrose set about lavishing baubles and trinkets on the tree with no particular theme in mind, other than MORE is MORE.  Usually, I decorate the tree with fascisti tendencies, approving the placement of each one.  Not this year…Primrose bulldozed right through my control freak decoration placement and even added her own homemade touches so that Mr Tree was complete with a homemade bell made from a sawn off litre bottle (I struggled with the tastefulness of that one).  I noticed, with some glee I might add, that my tree decorating fascism had definitely not skipped a generation as I listened to Primrose berating Poppy for moving one of her carefully placed birds!  I love rediscovering all the boxes with neatly packed trinkets.  1 new decoration each year ensures that we have always have a story to impart about how it was found and that particular Christmas.  Primrose and I love our Christmas quest.  My old favourite is a little boy with a bobbled hat (press the bobble and he pokes out his tongue)!  He belongs to a Christmas in the ’80s spent in Cologne and is on loan from my Mamma.  This year’s additions are a rather wonderful couple, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Soldier doll from the Nutcracker.  I found them hiding in a corner of the Royal Ballet’s shop when my lovely friend, Jasper, and I were at the Opera and I simply couldn’t resist!

Our Christmas fairy

Our Sugar Plum fairy

The family tree dressing ceremony over, I set off to find some holly for the cottage staircase.  Countryside tradition dictates that holly is hung in farmhouses and cowsheds alike to bring good luck.  An age old tradition, the Romans used to give sprigs to signify lasting friendship and blessings for the year to come.  You can just imagine the face of the Roman nobleman who received a prickly offering as his Secret Santa rather than an amphora of wine at the Forum’s annual Saturnalia shindig.  One of the best countryside traditions I stumbled across this week, was indeed about the marriage of holly and ivy.  Holly with its prickly edges and robust berries was thought to be a sign of masculinity and ivy with its ability to entwine other plants and cling to things was thought to represent femininity.  Together they were brought into a farmhouse on Christmas Eve (and not before) to symbolise the coming together of kin and to ensure a happy family life for the new year.  All the earlier talk of Sugar Plum fairies had given me an idea on how best to welcome in the good luck with touches of evergreen.  Thumbing through some old culinary tomes, I found an excellent way to give those prickly leaves that snowy Christmas look for our Christmas cake!  Ever resourceful Mrs Beeton (Book of Household Management, 1851) suggests that one ‘frosts’ the leaves: dry out any moisture, coat with ‘oiled butter’ (I used a smattering of melted butter for this one) and ‘coarse powdered sugar’ (granulated will do.  Although caster did look better).  Leave to dry by the fire.

Adding one last touch to our beautifully dressed fir, Primrose made me promise that I would leave a shoe under Mr Tree.  She told me that Father Christmas will see my shoe, know I am a girl and leave the right presents behind.  So…..never one to part with tradition, I followed her instructions to the letter and have placed a festive green velvet number from LK Bennett under the tree.  Father Christmas will definitely make his judgement on what sort of girl I am with that one!  That in mind, he may just leave me the keys to my very own Georgian rectory complete with holly adorned balustrades and a 12 ft Christmas tree in the Hall.  Wishful thinking I know, dear Reader but I had had a large snip of sloe gin by that point and had been pouring over the glossy pages of this year’s Christmas double issue of Country Life.  I may also have been just a wee bit tinky tonk too…..but don’t tell Father Christmas!

Please leave something fabulous Father Christmas!  Margot has been very good this year.

Please leave something fabulous Father Christmas! Margot has been very good this year.