A Canterbury Christmas Diary
There was a point last Christmas, as I was wrestling 5kg of potatoes, a dinosaur-sized turkey and 100 pigs in blankets* into a boiling hot oven that I asked myself: is it really worth it? All the money, the effort and hard work? Just for one day?
So, as Christmas 2019 – and that oven – come ever closer, now is the time to remind ourselves of all the good things about a Canterbury Christmas, a celebration of both the city’s and my family’s traditions. So, here it is: Christmas, as experienced by me and my family.
This is the day that the family gets together to make the Christmas pudding* (which no-one eats apart from me!), everyone stirring the mixture and making a wish. It’s also the day that you really need to make sure that you have advent calendars for everyone under the age of eighty. The Christmas Craft Market in Canterbury opens around now, so Christmas shopping and the drinking of mulled wine* can begin!
The Last Weeks of School
As rosy-cheeked children tumble out of bed to open the first door of their advent calendars, the excitement builds. All over Canterbury the schools and kindergartens put on their nativity plays: 4 and 5-year-old ‘shepherds’ dressed in stripy tea towels, tinsel-crowned angels bashing each other with their cardboard wings and lots of invented characters to keep all the kids busy! These plays are for parents and carers only but if you want to see the miracle of the nativity performed by the cutest actors ever, Canterbury Cathedral holds a Family Crib service on the 24th December as one of its many Christmas events.
Canterbury looks magical with the streets and buildings festooned in lights. Lots of Canterbury residents have already put up their decorations, and many have taken their Christmas creativity outside into their gardens. One of my children’s favourite traditions is to walk around the streets of the city looking at all the displays, awarding marks out of ten. I’m happy to do this as long as we end up at the Goods Shed for a spiced latte and some gingerbread!
In earlier times, British families decorated their homes with green holly branches that they hung from the ceilings. We usually decorate the tree while listening to Christmas carols* and try to ignore the children squabbling over who gets to put the star on the very top. Eating mince pies* and drinking mulled wine makes this job much more enjoyable!
Dickens and Christmas
Charles Dickens wrote the definitive Christmas story – A Christmas Carol – the tale of the mean, embittered Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemption at the hands of three spirits. Dickens loved Kent, Canterbury and the seaside town of Broadstairs and there are always events that celebrate his stories. This year we’re at The Rose pub in Wickhambreax, just outside the city, for an evening of Dickensian carol singing (and the odd glass of wine or two). The landlord will be dressed as Dickens and I might even get my husband to go as Scrooge!
The Christmas Drinks Party Season is in full flow. At work, at home, in the pub – the Christmas spirit is alive and kicking. I usually have a party for friends and neighbours at home, all the children are invited and it can be chaotic, but fun! If you don’t have a party to go to, just drop into one of the (many!) pubs in Canterbury. The atmosphere’s always warm, the locals are friendly and there might even be singing!!
Silent Night 23rd December
The children are nearing a fever pitch of excitement, the house is filled with food, drink and surprises, even the news readers on the telly* are wearing Christmas tree earrings. We’re nearly there – only two more sleeps until the Big Day. And it’s about now that I like to remind my family of the true meaning of Christmas by taking them to the Christmas Carol Service at the Cathedral. The famous male choir –some of the choristers as young as nine – sings the most well-known carols, celebrating peace and love to all humanity. And I feel a rare sense of calm descend in the middle of all the Christmas chaos. The services at the Cathedral are free, and anyone can attend – space allowing.
Christmas Eve 24th December
In most European countries Christmas Eve is the day for celebration. In Britain it’s the day for last-minute shopping, collecting the turkey, wrapping presents (and running out of sellotape!). In the afternoon, I always make mince pies and in the evening we might go to friends for an early dinner. The children are very keen to go to bed early. They leave a mince pie and a glass of sherry for Father Christmas, a carrot for the reindeer, hang up their stockings and off they go.
Christmas Day is here – stockings are unpacked, a breakfast of Buck’s Fizz and smoked salmon is consumed and the turkey is shoved in the oven. Now it’s time for the Christmas Day walk along the River Stour. If the weather’s crisp and cold, it’s the perfect way to work up an appetite for the feast to come, and let the children run off steam*. Back at the house, and I’m into the last hour of frantic activity to get the Christmas lunch on the table. We eat far too much, pull crackers*, tell silly jokes and NO ONE eats the Christmas pudding (apart from me). Then, at 3pm, we sit down to watch the annual Queen’s Speech. I’m not sure many of my friends do this anymore, but it’s so much part of my family tradition that I can’t imagine missing it. Afterwards, we exchange presents by the tree, fall asleep, play silly games and eat chocolate.
This is something that I think is only celebrated in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. It was traditionally the day when employers would give their employees a Christmas box – a gift of money or meat – and an extra day’s holiday. But that was hundreds of years ago, and now it’s a day when people eat leftovers, visit friends, go for long walks and generally recover from Christmas Day. In my family, we always go to the pantomime* at the Marlowe Theatre – this year it’s Mother Goose – and then home for Christmas Cake and mince pies by the fire.
So that’s my Christmas in Canterbury. And as I read through what I’ve written and remember the fun and the times spent with my friends and family, it does seem worth all the effort and hard work after all. Although, once a year is enough. . .
Pigs in blankets – small sausages wrapped in bacon
Christmas Pudding – sweet cake like dessert made with dried fruit
Mulled wine – hot, spiced red wine
Carols – religious Christmas songs
Mince pies – a typical Christmas sweet pastry filled with dried fruits and jam
Telly – slang for television
To run off steam – idiom meaning to get rid of excess energy
Christmas crackers – paper tubes filled with a small present, a paper hat and a joke. They make a bang when you pull either end.
Pantomime – a funny musical play, based on a fairy tale. The boys are played by girls, the girls are played by boys and it’s all very silly – but great fun.