It’s always a bit of a shock isn’t it? Over the last few years life has started to tip straight from Autumn and Halloween into Christmas. This year it’s worth being organised though because we’re all watching our budgets and nothing makes you overspend as much as a bout of unplanned, late and therefore frenzy driven shopping. So today I’m going to break you gently into a little bit of early Christmas prep with John Lewis and Partners by talking about the early Christmas moments – savouring November. And the interesting thing is that they’ve spotted a change in approach to Christmas since the pandemic.
As you know, I spend a lot of my working life interpreting the stimulus behind consumer spend and this year John Lewis undertook some interesting research with analysts McKinsey. You probably aren’t as gripped by this sort of thing as I am but the outcome confirmed what so many of us have been intuiting for a while – that a lot of us are viewing the Christmas season quite differently, particularly since the pandemic. Before Covid it had become a bit of a frenetic whirl of excess with lots of people saying they almost dreaded it. Two years spent under varying levels of lockdown gave us all a chance to do it completely differently. We realised what we loved – relaxed time with the people who matter most and what we didn’t – the obligation to go to events and see people that we didn’t particularly want to. The McKinsey research found that as a result, many of us have decided to take a new approach to Christmas from now on, focusing more on meaning whilst savouring the little moments that make this time of year feel special.
It’s now more about the lower key happinesses such as walking on a frosty night to meet friends for a Christmas drink, savouring the hit of that first mince pie or taking time over wrapping a much smaller pile of thoughtful gifts with care. We’ve discovered that we can simply say ‘no’ to anything that feels like an obligation. In fact a lot of people are embracing JOMO – the ‘joy of missing out’ over the old FOMO ‘fear of missing out.’ We’re all creating new Christmas traditions that are personal to us; in our own individual ways we’re making Christmas matter more.
Early Christmas moments – savouring November
And so that’s where I’m beginning with today’s post. John Lewis asked me to talk about my own early Christmas moments – savouring November and the slow build up to Christmas. This year I’m looking forward to Christmas more than ever because last year the shine was taken off it when I went down with Covid on Christmas Eve. And this year our lives have changed a lot; one of our retail contracts has grown to the extent that Mal is now spending a lot of time away based at their HQ. It means I’m working hard to run things back at our base and so I miss him as well as the boys.
I’m not one of those people who believes Christmas is only special for families with small children. I can’t wait to have everyone at home for a while and I know the boys will be glad to be back after four months away. I’m filled with anticipation and I can’t wait to make it feel extra special. January and February will no doubt feel a bit dark and gloomy so I’m determined to squeeze as much joy as I can from November and December.
It’s become a tradition for Mal and me to kickstart November with an afternoon in a John Lewis store, it fast-tracks us into the mood. So I thought I’d take you along with us and then invite you home so that you can see us put some of the bits and pieces we found in place. Let’s start in the Newcastle store, we weren’t particularly ready to start shopping for gifts yet so this post isn’t about that. Instead I was looking for inspiration so there was only one place to begin and that’s the Christmas Hall. They knew we were coming and had Christmassy jumpers ready for us to try on so as soon as we looked the part, we we were off. You can see it didn’t take me long to get started…
…I had specific things in mind. For the last few years I’ve missed out on this brilliant treescape because it sells out as soon as it comes in and as I type stock is already low. It’s described as a table centre but I was hoping to use it on a mantelpiece – you’ll see how it worked later on.
Their crackers this year are all fully recyclable, including contents. For the last few years I’ve picked a box up with my supermarket shop and then felt guilty when the bits and pieces all end up in the bin. Not this year – with the boys front of mind I couldn’t resist a dinosaur theme with a quick, recyclable dinosaur game that we’ll play after the starter.
And we really don’t need any new baubles but as usual John Lewis have lots of irresistible new themes in intricately designed glass. I was tickled by this one – when I was little there would always be a few pieces of coal in my stocking – Father Christmas used to swap them with presents at any point in the year when he’d spotted me being naughty. Coal was harder to come by in London when the boys were little so it’s always been potatoes for them which come in handy for our Christmas dinner!
And in the end I couldn’t resist adding this to the collection on our family tree of baubles that all have meaning. The boys tell me that the one thing they don’t miss about home is the amount of steamed broccoli that I make them eat.
There’s something about being in the John Lewis Christmas Hall that just always lifts our spirits. Mal, of course, is rarely seen wearing anything other than black and so it was a stretch to get him into a Christmas jumper but he was quite happy to wear this chunky winter look. Especially when he found friends in matching outfits…
…and so it was time to steer him towards dresses (always guaranteed to subdue him). But first we happened upon JL’s Quality Street offering which has become a new tradition in itself. As you know, you can choose to have your tin personalised and filled with whichever flavours you prefer – which always means no strawberry for us (details here). Oh and they let you taste their exclusive new honeycomb crunch flavour while you’re there…
It was time for us to go down to the fashion floor and catch up with Personal Shopper, Amber who was pulling together some early partywear arrivals for me to show you. She talked me through the options for different moods and occasions…
…and then left me to my own little fashion show. Before we start I should remind you that the store’s lighting always adds a green tinge to everything so warm the photos (and my skintone!) up in your mind. We also had a problem with shoes because there were barely any in my size but Amber managed to find some sandals for me to wear with the clothes.
I couldn’t resist starting with this dress which is one I’ve had in mind since I saw it at the press show in September. It’s also available in olive and I saw someone with long dark hair trying that one on with great success. With my skintone though I opted for gold and it’s such a flattering dress. The sleeves are particularly good if you like to keep the tops of your arms covered; it skims beautifully over your waist before flaring out in the skirt.
Next up was one of the new Queralt Ferrer designed double breasted blazers with matching wide leg trousers – great value because although the green has a hint of Christmas, it’s something you could wear all year round. It needed flat shoes and we didn’t have any which is why I’m barefoot. The sleeveless sequin top (and glass of fizz) made it party ready.
Now these black velvet trousers are a good find. They have a flat front but a small panel of elastic at the back making them comfortable, especially for eating occasions. They’re not too narrow and not too wide so they’ll last you for years, a simple, elegant trouser for wearing with flats or heels.
I loved the Ted Baker sequinned top too, it’s a deep shade of chocolate brown which is so unusual and unfortunately it isn’t available online in this colour but there are similar versions in silver or navy which is the colour I bought last year and wore a lot. The one thing I’d point out is that I’m wearing a 12 and it’s absolutely skintight so I think you’d need to upsize for comfort. I don’t think you can beat a sequinned polo neck on a cost per wear basis for Christmas because it’s so flexible – you can wear it with everything from jeans to a party skirt.
I’m sure you’ll have read that black is back – really! It’s been coming through for a while as a reaction to the post-Covid dopamine brights but apparently the elegance of the outfits seen at the Queen’s funeral has accelerated its return. This is a blouse and skirt co-ord that can of course be worn together or as separates making it good on a cost per wear basis again. The sheen of the satin makes the black a little easier to wear and the blouse has a pussy bow option although I’ve styled it as a tie – it’s also available in pine green or pink. The skirt is in this season’s slinky wrapover cut.
The final party outfit that I tried on was this sequin skirt with a soft cashmere jumper in this season’s hot pink. Amber had styled it with this much looser cashmere V neck but I needed something neater so I went for a classic crew. I have to say that this cashmere really is good, much more luxurious than anything else I’ve tried this season. Now unfortunately because of the store lighting, the skirt looks black in the video but it’s actually a beautiful mix of blue and pink sequins which look great with the jumper and of course a top in navy would work perfectly with it too.
And for the last outfit Amber told me that she’s finding a number of people saying they choose not to get dressed up on Christmas Day at all. Instead they’re looking for glamorous pyjamas to lounge in which just backs up the notion of people reinventing Christmas and doing it their way. So here’s a truly glam pair in satin and next to them a lovely soft cotton jersey option if you’re going for even more comfort and warmth.
Early Christmas Moments – bringing light and warmth into our home
So as you can imagine by the end of our afternoon in store I was feeling absolutely ready to start thinking about Christmas at home. I like to get all of the prep done in November so that I can just relax and enjoy December when it finally comes along. This week has felt really dark since the clocks went back so it’s been good spending a bit of time thinking about my John Lewis Christmas moments. I don’t invite you into the old part of our house very often because it’s over 300 years old which means it’s cottagey and sometimes quite dark – but of course that makes it extra cosy in winter.
I’m starting here in what’s usually the boys’ room, it’s where they have their games consoles when they’re at home and a TV which feels unfeasibly large to me but according to them it’s embarrassingly small. Anyway, the upside of the empty nest is that this room stays tidy – no random socks or crisp packets when I go in in the morning and for the first time in years we can even sit in here in the evenings if we want to. I’m not sure how I’m going to decorate it for Christmas yet but the treescape that I bought fits perfectly with a few little baubles to catch the light. The online reviews for it as a table centre aren’t good but I found it works beautifully set against the wall like this.
John Lewis lent me some samples to play around with too. This gold leaf garland is quite lovely, it doesn’t look too Christmassy so we could leave it there now and like the baubles it adds a warm glow. As a huge fan of disco balls I love the various disco themed decorations they’ve brought in this year, they throw sparkles of light all around the room.
Early Christmas moments – enjoying the written correspondence
I really enjoy writing Christmas cards if I start in November, for some reason if I leave it until December it just becomes a chore that I don’t want to do. It’s a good way of reflecting on the year that you’ve had – and the people who matter too. There are moments of nostalgia as you come across names in your address book who are no longer around though.
I always choose Quentin Blake if I can because it brings back happy memories of working with him on the Christmas windows at Selfridges.
We have friends coming to stay with us in Newcastle in December so I’ve made sure it’s going to feel extra Christmassy. And then Mum-in-Law will be with us for Christmas itself so I’ll be able to reuse some of these ideas at home for her.
Early Christmas moments – any excuse to start filling the cake tins
I don’t particularly enjoy cooking but I LOVE baking. Homemade cakes and biscuits have to be one of life’s ultimate pleasures. My biggest personal achievement over lockdown was practicing all of my favourite recipes until I had them off to perfection and every Christmas I try a new one, making it over and over again, adjusting it until it’s just right so I’m starting now. My KitchenAid mixer was my wedding anniversary present from Mal back in February which doesn’t sound very romantic but it was – I’ve wanted one in Candy Apple Red for years.
The heart shaped cake mould would work nicely with the star that I already have. It’s such a quick way of making a simple cake feel special if you’re short on time – just top with butter icing and a few decorations and you’re done. The apron is one that my mum bought for me years ago and it always makes me feel closer to her when I’m in the kitchen.
I mention it every year but don’t forget to get your copy of Jeanette Winterson’s book out – or Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles which starts to depict the beauty of winter in the English countryside from the beginning of November. This is the room I keep for reading, you can see that the treescape works well in here too and by my side I have a simple LED twig bundle, an easy way of adding an accent of light to a corner. The sample I’ve borrowed is bright white but there’s a lovely copper version too.
… and because I’m writing this post I’ve cracked open the Coole Swan earlier than I should have done… the things I do for you! I find it smoother and less sickly than Bailey’s but it has the same Christmas hit. I always like it best served chilled but without ice and in a rocking glass that I can hold in the palm of my hand. As you know I’m extremely fussy about home fragrance and this candle is a new choice for this year after I spent a lot of time in store going through them all. Rather than classic cinnamon it’s the heady, fresh fragrance of a pine forest with a touch of spice underpinning it.
Actually I’m really not planning on doing much of this in the run up to Christmas, instead I’m hoping to see friends in November and then just keep December for family for a change. And a faux fur jacket may not be the thing in Newcastle where they’ll all be out in their strappy dresses but it’s cold up there so I’ll be wrapped up warm! This one is just the loveliest quality, I’m wearing black but I’ve just seen that it also comes in navy. The necklace you can see is a lovely take on a diamond tennis necklace – all the sparkle but a fraction of the price. And JL have an incredible range of evening bags this year, this is contemporary but lots of them look quite vintage – you can find them all here. Be quick though because they’re so well priced that a lot have sold out already.
The earrings that go with the necklace are just as lovely and not too heavy to wear. I’ve been wanting to try this finishing powder for ages because it’s become one of those iconic products that you hear about and it mattifies the T Zone without taking away the glow. The lipstick as you can tell is one of my three core favourites – if you’re looking for the perfect pink, this is it.
And as November comes to a close, the anticipation of advent calendars draws near. I send one out to each of the boys because I like the idea of them counting down the days until they come home. John Lewis make it easy with lots of different options to choose from here. Those of you who are empty nesters will know that it isn’t long before the animals in the house fill the space that the children have left and so this year it’s Teddy and Alfie’s turn for a treat with scarves (which they embraced more willingly than expected)…
Which brings it back to me – and this is my own personal indulgence because I believe the John Lewis beauty advent calendar is worth every penny. It gave me so much pleasure last year, not just at Christmas but on holidays too because so many sizes were just perfect for taking away. I’ve tried a few of the luxury calendars and have concluded that it’s the best which is why I spend my own money on it. And here’s a preview of Day 1… the rest will have to wait.
John Lewis launched their Black Friday hub today so it’s worth keeping an eye on the page as offers will continue to be added throughout the month.
Save the date – a chance for us to meet!
That’s it for today – every year these posts get longer, I’m getting close to replicating the full magazines I used to produce at Selfridges! I have one more thing to mention and it’s a ‘save the date’. I don’t know how many of you are based in the North East but I’m going to be working with the personal styling team at the John Lewis Newcastle store for a special My John Lewis evening on Thursday 8th December. I’m really hoping some of you will come along and make me feel at home. The whole store will be filled with exciting activities, I’ll tell you more about it all soon but for now please put it in your diary if you can – these things are a bit nerve wracking so I’d love to see some friendly faces there. You need to be a MyJohnLewis member to come along but sign up is free and it comes with all kinds of monthly rewards.
In the meantime I hope I’ve helped you to get into the mood for early Christmas moments of your own. And there will be two posts a week for the next few weeks so look out for an extra one on Tuesdays. Thank you for reading and have a lovely Bonfire weekend.
Disclosure: ‘Early Christmas moments – savouring November’ was commissioned by John Lewis and Partners but as always I retain full control of product selection, content, thoughts and imagery
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