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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Taking on the Christmas Day challenge

This year, as for the past ten years (give or take), Drake and I divided our Christmas Day between his parents and mine. Before Duckling was born, we used to have Christmas lunch at his folks, then head to my parents late afternoon, usually arriving just in time for dessert following their evening Christmas dinner. Since Duckling and Gosling (his cousin) have been on the scene however, we've gone full Vicar of Dibley and have two full Christmas dinners in one day, arriving an hour or two before dinner at my parents to give the kids time to play together. Gaviscon is definitely our friend come Yuletide.

At 22 months, Duckling is still comparatively portable, and not sufficiently caught up in Crimbo mania to be particularly bothered about where he is or what's going on. By next year however, I suspect he'll rather more switched on, and won't be so keen to pack up his presents mid way through the day for yet more forced brussel sprout eating at his other Grandma's. To be honest, upping sticks at 3pm, ramming a range of oversized toys in an already bulging boot and driving 30 miles across South East England is not my idea of a fun either these days (and that's before we get on to the indigestion issues), so I'm definitely ready for a change.

As such, I have tentatively offered to host Christmas at our house next year, for the first time ever. It's a full twelve months away, but I'm already terrified. Our dual family Christmas has been a tradition for so long, I'm not really sure where to start when it comes to stamping my own, grown up identity on the day. Here follows just a few aspects that will need to be considered:

Opening presents. Drake's parents go for the slowly slowly, one at a time, everybody admires each other's gifts and is suitably complementary approach. His Mum and Dad give each other sensible, practical things, like garden twine and golfing shoes, and we get whatever we put on our Christmas list, and not much more. With my family, it's a bit more of a simultaneous wrapping paper rip fest, not least because my Mum always goes a bit mad on the presents and if we took them one at a time, we'd still be opening them some time in February.

Christmas dinner. Drake's mother cooks a small turkey crown (there are only four and a half of us), Paxo stuffing balls, a few roast potatoes, sprouts from the garden, and just about enough carrots to allow for four (five if you're lucky) batons each. My mother serves up a turkey large enough to feed an army, a navy and an air force combined; homemade sausage meat stuffing; bacon roll ups and pigs in blankets; roast potatoes and parsnips; new potatoes; a ham (usually eaten on Boxing Day); five different types of veg; cranberry sauce; bread sauce; and several pints of gravy. Plus a minimum of three desserts. She cooks everything from scratch (though my sister does help with the desserts), and it's always timed to perfection and absolutely bloody amazing. How in the hell I'm ever going to pull off Christmas day to anywhere near her standard, I do not know.

Helping out. Drake's folks tell us in no uncertain terms that we cannot help with the cooking, as we deserve a rest, and it's our time to put our feet up an relax. My Mum tells us we can't help out because she has it all planned, and it's difficult to delegate anything without spoiling the metaphorical broth (a.k.a we'll balls it up). I'm fairly sure I'll be in the latter camp when it's my turn, though I may try to pass it off as the former...

Post dinner activities. We spend the evening of Christmas Eve with Drake's parents, and the evening of Christmas Day with mine. At Drake's, we are plied with alcohol by Drake's Dad (he takes it as a personal failing if we do not have a full drink in our hands at all times) while everyone engages in polite, and increasingly slurred chit chat about people I mostly haven't heard of, and places I haven't been. Then at some time after midnight (we have to 'see Christmas in', however knackered) we all head to bed, after repeated reassurances that we really don't need hot water bottles as it's 16oC outside, thank you, and we really won't be bothered by the heating 'clicking on' at 5am (I have yet to hear the cacophonous din this apparently involves, but we are warned about it every year). At my parents, we collapse on the sofa, switch on a Christmas Day film on which nobody really concentrates, and vegetate until bedtime. Incidentally, at no point are apologies made for the heating, even though it's a blow-air system that sounds like a B52 bomber starting up every time it comes on.

Family relations. Drake's family are all about harmony, peace and avoiding any form of conflict or awkwardness. As such, discussions about religion, politics and psychology are off limits. Drake's mother once famously snapped at his father for fussing over some placemats, but that is honestly the only time I recall any tension whatsoever. My family, well, not quite so calm and collected. Christmas is usually a noisy affair (particularly with two nearly-twos together) with spirited debate welcomed, and at least one falling out over something pretty much guaranteed (most famously when my Dad bought my Mum a bread bin rather than an ice cream maker. Not well received). I don't want to exaggerate - the arguments are never on an Eastenders scale, and mostly we all have decent enough senses of humour to laugh things off and avoid real issues. But passions definitely run higher in my family abode than they do in Drake's.

In summary, it's a choice between moderation and tranquillity, and (moderate) excess and (mild) drama. Given that Drake and I both bring elements from each family, it's probably inevitable that next year's dinner - if I stick to my promise - will be an odd mixture of all of the above. Plus plenty of stress on my part. I can't cook for people without stressing (usually about gravy. It is my nemesis). Whatever we do, the most important thing will be making it memorable (in a good way) for Duckling. I'm pretty sure that doesn't require a million presents, or two dozen perfectly roasted chipolatas. It just needs happyish, probably slightly tipsy parents, the wonder of Santa, lots of fairy lights and a decent cardboard box to play in. If we stick to that I'm sure we can't go wrong.

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