If, like me, you’ve left everything to the last minute, here are a few Christmas tips and ideas for food, cards, presents and activities.
If you’ve only just made your Christmas Cake, feed it with a teaspoon of brandy three times a day for the next week, then apply the marzipan. Leave it overnight to dry. Buy a ready mix packet of Royal Icing Mix and spike it all over. Supermarkets now have some super and classy-looking ready-made decorations, so pop one of those on the top.
If you’ve left it too late to post your Christmas cards abroad, go out with your camera and take a photograph of something Christmassy. E-mail this with a short note, and a grovelling apology for your wretchedness, to all your foreign or ex-patriot friends and family. This could also work with other friends if you’ve really messed it up.
If you’re really stuck for a present for someone, most supermarkets now have a fantastic range of gift cards for both local and larger High Street shops. I think vouchers are a great gift, especially for difficult teenagers for whom there is absolutely no chance of getting it right unless they’ve given you a list. Monsoon, HMV, iTunes, book shops, cinemas, restaurants etc – you can’t go wrong. Click on these links to High Street Vouchers and The Gift Card Centre and see what’s out there. Fed up with buying expensive wrapping paper that just gets ripped off and thrown away? Wrap your gifts very neatly with newspaper and tie up the parcels with thick brightly coloured ribbon. The ribbon can be rolled up and used again and so can the paper.
Can’t think of a gift for an older female friend or relative? In this cold weather, skin really suffers. Some really nice hand cream, eg. Crabtree & Evelyn, Molton Brown, Aveda, Floris, and The National Trust does a lovely range of flower scented hand creams and co-ordinating products. It will be well received, I can assure you.
Men can be terribly difficult to buy for, particularly if the chaps in your life don’t have any discernable hobbies or interests. Again, vouchers for HMV or a favourite clothes shop will never go to waste, but the following sites have some good ideas. Presents for Men or Find Me a Gift could give you some clues or what about buying them an activity gift to get them interested in something? Also a decanter and a bottle of something nice to put in it would surely bring a smile to any bod’s face. A local antique market would be a great an inexpensive place to start or many high street jewellers sell them now.
Don’t be afraid to ask people what they want. My family doesn’t see enough of each other to know what we have in our houses and we want to spend our money carefully on something the person really needs or would like as a treat. Get everyone to make a list and then you know you’ll get it right. This isn’t cynical and horrid, it’s practical and sensible at a time when people want to spend their money wisely.
Don’t tear your hair out worrying about making Christmas Lunch for the family. Think of it as Sunday Lunch XL! It doesn’t have to be a great extravaganza; after all the point of having people over is to share Christmas with them, not to show off how clever you are in the kitchen. Planning is the key and prepare as much as you can in advance.
Starters – an unusual soup can be prepared the day before and reheated. Smoked Salmon with some coloured salad leaves and a twist of lemon will never be sneered at or failing that, buy some pre-prepared salmon mousses wrapped in smoked salmon and pop them on a bed or rocket. Lovely.
Pudding – Christmas Pud can be reheated in the microwave then served with fresh cream or brandy butter. If some people don’t like Christmas Pud, make a trifle or make/buy a special ice-cream dessert. A good cheese board with nice savoury biscuits and fruit takes no effort and can be brought to room temperature while the dinner is cooking. More importantly, allow people to help you. There are no prizes for being knackered and grumpy because you feel pressured and put-upon.
Christmas Tea – most people will still be stuffed from lunch so don’t go overboard. Have a cold collation prepared: cold turkey, nice ham, a bowl of salad and a choice of dressings, some good bread, crisps, Christmas Cake, Mince Pies. Alternatively buy a selection of party nibbles from a shop and dig in. Again, get people to muck in and help.
If you’re going to be flying around in the style of a fly with a blue bottom, the trick is to think ahead. Make (and freeze) or buy a curry sauce and make sure you have some rice in, then on Boxing Day or the day after, if you can’t face any more cooking, a turkey curry can be knocked up in 20 minutes.
Christmas can be a time when people can get grumpy and dyspeptic if not carefully managed. Think about having a walk before it gets dark to allow the grown ups to walk off their lunch and to let the children run off a bit of steam. Everyone will feel better for it and it breaks up the day.
Have some games planned that everyone can join in with and have a laugh. Charades or Give Us a Clue can involve the whole family as can Trivial Pursuit. Heads, Bodies and Legs is easy for little ones and more fun than you’d think, likewise Consequences, where everyone writes a line of an agreed story and then passes the paper round and everyone writes the next line etc. Kerplunk had us all in stitches last year as did the game where someone sticks the name of a person on your forehead and you have to ask questions until you guess who it is.
I would also suggest that you discourage the children from sitting in front of their new computer games all day. It’s rather bad manners to ignore everyone else like that, the game isn’t going to go away. Take the opportunity to make the day something out of the ordinary and have a bit of fun!