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Wednesday 7 December 2011

Keeping the peace: Christmas Dinner

As a child it seemed like Christmas was a truly magical time. Each Christmas Eve, as darkness fell, my sister and I would light a candle in our bedroom and talk about all the presents we hoped to receive. Then we would retire to our beds and squeeze our eyelids shut, willing sleep to come and Santa to bring all that we hoped and dreamed of.

Come morning, gifts would adorn the sacks at the end of our beds, and the day would proceed seemingly seamlessly - bucks fizz breakfast with croissants, presents galore, laughing and Grampa as he snoozed in his chair and snored hilariously loudly ... it was lovely. Then, food would magically appear. We would consume it, then scamper off to return to the pressing engagement of playing with our new toys. Never, ever, did we consider the epic organisation, phenomenal cost and undue stress and tension that, as adults, we realise makes up most of the lead-up and execution of Christmas.

Most pressing, most stressful, most heinous and oft-bloody-awful is the preparation of Christmas dinner. Preparation takes an age, consumption seems to take a matter of minutes, and we're pretty sure last year we were still washing up on January 3rd.

Whilst we may not be able to take the pain away away completely, I can offer you some little tips to help the meal go a little more smoothly.

Give everyone a job.
Designate a couple of washer uppers before merriment commences - preferably those who are most likely not to be completely tiddled by the end of the Christmas pudding. By handing out jobs you avoid the classic "can I help?" that comes from someone as they pass vaguely in the vicinity of the kitchen door, with little intention of actually lending a hand. Share out the tasks and you'll be much less stressed come serving time.

Eat early.
By sitting down to eat at 12 instead of 4 you can get some well-earned relaxation time post-noshing. This may mean getting up early to get your turkey in the oven, but it'll mean you're free to drink gin and fall asleep in front of Dr Who. Whoop!

When the prep is done, send the family out for a walk.
*Note* If you live in an urban area, or in a country setting where the local pub is likely to be generously dishing out alcoholic beverages, this may not be so wise. If, however, you can send them out to take a healthy hike and get them out of your hair, then go for it! A moment's peace before the chowing begins.

Prepare whatever you can the night before.
By prepping your veg and leaving them in slightly salter water overnight you'll save time and energy on the big day.

If there's tension in the family, think about it.
A clever seating plan can avoid a bust-up over the gravy. If all else fails and a row breaks out, I always find that a hearty (and BVERY loud) rendition of the Millennium Prayer (or any other Cliff Christmas classic) soon lightens to mood. That, or your family will take a break from yelling at each other to tell you to shut the hell up. Either way, problem solved.

Finally, think crackers.
Why not make your own, thoughtful witty or personal crackers? These can keep both kids and adults amused in between courses, and the thought will touch the heart strings of you (let's face it) slightly inebriated family members. They'll be pouring your sherry for the rest of the day. Result!


  1. I think prepping the veg the day before is an excellent suggestion. I seem to spend hours of my Christmas day doing prep when I should be downing Baileys.

  2. I actually really like the prep part of Christmas lunch! We've got it down to a fine art in my family - stockings in the morning, then breakfast, then it's off to visit relatives for an hour or so (putting the turkey in the oven before we go) and when we get home the champers is poured, a few festive nibbles come out, and we all get cracking on the veg. Then, when everything's cooking away, we open our presents. Perfect!

  3. These are all great ideas, especially sending everyone out on a walk before dinner. A nice way to avoid hovering and repetitions of "Is it ready yet?" and "When can we eeeeeeeat?"

    Of course, maybe that's just in my house... the last two years I've cooked Christmas Eve dinner (and Christmas Day breakfast, and Christmas Day lunch... because apparently I'm a sadomasochist) and it always ends up taking SO much longer than I thought it would. This year I've written out the most detailed, anal-retentive list of things that must be done (seriously fine-grain, down to "take plates out of cupboard...") and written people's names next to each item so that I can play kitchen commander and maybe, just maybe, get dinner on the table in a timely fashion.


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