Notes From The Cotswolds – A Pick’n’mix Christmas by Penny Parkes
Those of you who have already dived in to my new book Snowed In At The Practice will have an idea of the special place in my heart reserved for Pick’n’mix – and I’m not just referring to the halcyon days of jelly snakes and toffee deluxe at Woolworths. For me, life itself is the very best version of Pick’n’mix you will ever hope to find, as long as you take the time to remember that you’re the one making the choices.
So, when it comes to Christmas the same must always apply – indeed, our family Christmases have become a hotch-potch of pilfered traditions, favoured treats (traditional or not) and a slightly random dress-code that drives my In-Laws to distraction.
Christmas a la Carte – if you’re feeling fancy, which I’m generally not, by the time the presents have been sourced, bought, wrapped and the fridge is bursting at the seams with goodies – means taking a step back and asking yourself one simple question:
What do we enjoy?
Not, you will notice, what will everyone enjoy? Because you simply cannot please all of the people all of the time.
Take a moment before the festivities begin to sit down with your Very Nearest And Dearest and sketch out a fantasy Christmas. Anything that involves ‘shoulds’ or ‘ought tos’ is immediately up for review. Anything that involves getting into debt, feeling uncomfortable – emotionally or physically – is open for debate as well. And spending time with anyone who puts your mental health in jeopardy must surely be on the ‘WHY DO WE DO THIS?’ list.
And, fairly quickly in my experience, a little perspective slips into place. A little direction about what gives you the time you love, with the people you love. And “family” is not a three-line whip – if your relatives haven’t been there for the last 364 days of the year, they surrender the right to bogart your Christmas Day. There’s still plenty of other days to share around in the festive season, so allocate one of those instead.
Likewise with traditions. I’m going to tell you something now that would have my late Grandfather turning in his grave and my late Grandmother exuberantly cheering me on – it’s okay for traditions to change and evolve.
Our lives are different now than for the generations before us – more geographically diverse, more material, more choice not necessarily leading to more joy and festive spirit.
So pick your own traditions to continue.
Sod it – make your own.
If you enjoy the thrill of fancy clothes without the harassment of tights – pull on a cashmere jumper over your pyjamas – you’re ready for the day!
If you loved your family trip to Iceland, embrace jólabókaflóð and give each other books on Christmas Eve to read by the fire while something decadent is marinating in the kitchen.
If you just adore all the trimmings but find turkey a snooze – and this I have to whisper – it’s okay to just have all the trimmings and give the poultry a push! A plate laden with devils on horseback, pigs in blankets, parsnips, stuffing and roasties will hardly look hard done by.
A little bit of what you fancy does you good, has always been my maxim. Mainly because the moment I deny myself something, it becomes all I can think about and I don’t think I’m alone in that. So make sure that there’s something for everyone, however obscure or non-Christmassy their heart’s desire. But it’s only a few days – you do NOT need two trolleys full of food. Be selective. Or better still donate to your local food bank.
Love a Christmas tree, but fir trees make you wheezy? Be creative – Have a giant reindeer (we do), or a spray of pussywillow branches twisted with fairy lights. You don’t have to hoik the dismally drooping artificial one down from Granny’s attic to be the sad sentinel in your sitting room.
If you love a Christmas Carol but can’t quite face a full church service, walk in the woods and sing your heart out – the trees, in my experience, always being a very rewarding audience.
And if there’s a chance – any chance at all – that a little selectivity now, can bring you a festive season you can savour, a day where you can laugh and love and relax, perhaps even one you can look back on with a wistful smile, then it might just be that a little pick’n’mix is the answer you’ve been looking for.
Happy holidays to you all,
With love from Larkford one last time