Well in one way or another it’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas isn’t it? I still can’t quite believe it’s only a fortnight away, perhaps because we don’t have any of the usual Christmas counting down going on here – things like the boys opening their advent calendars after breakfast or the pleasure of adding little Christmas surprises into their lunchboxes. A few of you have mentioned that you’re finding it harder to get into the mood this year perhaps because you’re missing your offspring like I am… or you have difficult things going on around you… or because of wretched Omicron rearing its head. I’m finding it helps to work small pleasures into my day as I go along, sometimes little details make all the difference so I thought I’d talk about what I’m doing to make these few weeks of December stand out: making the run up to Christmas feel special.
Making the run up to Christmas feel special
Often I find that it’s the sensory details that are the quickest way of getting into a Christmas mood… the sparkle of fairy lights, the touch of velvet, the taste of cinnamon. There are certain Christmas songs that will always make me smile and the fragrance that surrounds me changes the way I feel. The trees will add to it when I put them up this weekend, for now I’m using candles and oils. When I was working in home fragrance six years ago we noticed a new trend that was starting to come through. The smell of pine had been unpopular for years because it had been ‘owned’ by the cleaning product industry for so long and research showed that it made people think of loo cleaner and disinfectant. However market tracking noted that this was changing because domestic cleaning products were increasingly using floral and citrus fragrances.
This year I’ve seen a number of home fragrance companies at the upper end of the market move towards pine and it seems to be doing well. There aren’t many options that I’d recommend at a high street level because they tend to use a low percentage of fragrance oil and some just fragrance the ‘topper’ which is the upper layer of the candle that is waxed last. It’s an easy way to cut costs in the industry because consumers simply think they’ve grown used to their candle and just can’t smell it any more. However some are good and this year I’ve added the Fir Tree candle from The White Company to my usual ‘Winter’ order. The botanical is the best value for something as seasonal as this and it means you don’t have the quandary of what to do with the empty glass jar afterwards either. This is the botanical candle and you can see the full fir tree collection here.
Don’t forget that a few drops of oil used in an oil burner or a vaporiser often have a better fragrance throw than a candle if you have a large space to fill and cost far less. A small bottle will last at least three years and it doesn’t deteriorate. I always use Winter, you can find the full collection here.
And here’s a very simple secret that I haven’t shared before. At Selfridges we used to buy large quantities of Air Wick’s mulled wine for the Christmas Hall and Grotto and since then it’s always been the shortcut to the season for me. I would never usually use one of their products because they’re often sickly and synthetic but this is a simple blend of orange and cinnamon notes. I have a couple of the plug-in diffusers and on the lowest setting they’re enough to add a soft note to the whole house. You can buy them at most supermarkets or online as linked – just don’t buy the apple and cinnamon version by mistake because that’s not great.
Mulled wine plug-in diffuser kit
The other smell that I associate with this time of year is woodsmoke. The disadvantage of having an old house is that it’s draughty but the upside is that we still have open fireplaces in most rooms and so have at least one fire burning in the evening during the winter months and the warm smoky smell lingers. I’ve been looking for nice matchboxes for a while and this week found them on a Midlifechic reader’s website – I’ll talk more about it in a minute but I bought these – and there are other lovely designs available.
For the first time in years, the run up to Christmas has felt properly cold. This and my rebalanced hormones mean that I can enjoy wrapping up for the first time in ages. I’m digging out jumpers that have been languishing in my drawers and enjoying rediscovering hats and scarves again. I’ve finally accepted that I’m never going to be one of those women who has a hundred different ways to tie a scarf, I find a snood much easier and I bought this one in rust when we were in Newcastle. It comes with matching gloves and hat and there are lots of other colours available here.
I didn’t have anything warm with me for lounging in the flat so this caught my eye as we were walking through the store and it’s lovely, especially for the price. Don’t forget that there are new drops at Anyday all the time, it’s also available in navy and it’s a neat fit so if you want a loose look, size up.
Borg lounging fleece (also available in navy)
The youngest arrives home next week and I’m determined to have all of the present wrapping finished by then so that I don’t have to banish him while I’m doing it. We’re planning to do it on Sunday while watching Last Christmas – we haven’t seen it before but I’ve spotted it in a few ‘best Christmas movie’ lists. As we go along we’ll have a glass or two of this amazing sherry that we discovered when we were in Jerez. I love Jancis Robinson’s description of it:
‘Transcendental tasting’ is the secret pinnacle of wine appreciation. At this level, bordeaux and burgundy are mere foothills compared with the rarefied obscurities of vin jaune or Carcavelos or marsala. Appreciating these treasures is the mark of the truest, most committed, highest-altitude wine lover. Few drinkers will ever reach the penultimate stage of transcendental tasting: the sweet style of sherry known as Cream. But those who are ready can prepare themselves for the rapture that is Lustau East India Solera.
It’s actually 80% oloroso (dry) blended with 20% Pedro Ximenez (super sweet) and in total aged for 15 years before being bottled – you can read all about it here. We have a single bottle left from the treasures we brought back with us but you can buy it quite easily and like most sherries, it isn’t expensive. It truly is something else.
If you’re looking for something non-alcoholic I just want to give a quick mention to Everleaf who have sent me a selection of their non-alcoholic aperitifs. They only arrived this afternoon so I haven’t had a chance to review them properly yet but I see they’ve won a number of awards and high acclaim from wine journalists at The Guardian and The Financial Times. They’re a great idea for a gift because they come beautifully packaged as you can see:
Launched by Paul Mathew, a conservation biologist, each aperitif is made from a blend of different botanicals and he’s found a way of using seaweed and acacia to build in viscosity; apparently that’s the element that’s usually missing from non-alcoholic drinks. The Marine is designed for classic gin lovers, the Mountain for people who prefer pink gin and the Forest if you like a spritzer. Use one part aperitif mixed with three parts tonic for a classic drink or there are lots of non-alcoholic cocktail recipes on the website here. They’re low in calories and a great way of making Christmas feel special in a healthy way.
Everleaf non-alcoholic aperitifs
Anyway back to wrapping presents, I think most of us are being more careful about the paper we buy this year, making sure it’s recyclable and kind to the environment. This is what I’m using, I’ve bought it in copper, gold, silver and green which should really add an extra element under the tree; it’s also available in red, navy or turquoise.
Kraft wrapping paper (FSC certified and fully recyclable)
I’ll break it up with different ribbons which I salvage as soon as they’ve been ripped off – I keep them in the Christmas box and they’re great for hanging baubles and wreaths the following year. You can find a selection of gift ribbon here.
One of the other shortcuts to knowing that Christmas is almost here for me is unearthing our Christmas mugs.
We’ve had them for years so it’s always lovely to see them come out and they lift the days at my desk with a reminder that the year’s work is coming to a close.
If you don’t have any, you can find a complete collection of Christmas mugs here.
Silver snowflake mug (also available in white)
When I have a chance to pause, as always at this time of year I stop with a coffee and read the day’s diary from Nigel Slater who just happens to be my favourite chef.
Christmas Chronicles – Independent bookshop
If I have a bit more time I’ll read one of Jeannette Winterson’s collection of short Christmas stories which seem to be going out of print – I’ve had my copy for a few years and it was hard to track a link down for you but I found an illustrated one on special offer. I find Christmas novels are often a bit schmaltzy but a short story can be just what you need to tip you into a festive mood on a dark day.
Christmas Days – stories and recipes
We always have a Christmassy puzzle on the go until the new year. We’re doing this one at the moment…
… and I’ve just ordered this one from a tiny puzzle company that’s been launched by a Midlifechic reader, Philippa (who also has the matches I showed you in her store). She works with four different British artists on the designs and they’re stunning; everything is produced sustainably in the UK and charitable donations are made to different causes along the way. As always it’s really inspiring to see a midlife woman building a business around a particular passion so if you’re in the market for a new puzzle do support one of our own. There are various designs to choose from here.
The key Christmas moments I’m looking forward to
So those are the little things that are making the run up to Christmas feel special. I’m also enjoying catching up with friends and work associates as we go along. The next two weeks (currently) have lots of things in the diary but that’s changing by the day so who knows. In the meantime I’m savouring the anticipation of moments that should happen and holding them in my mind.
Christmas Day itself will be slightly different this year – our elf will arrive home around midnight from his final Christmas grotto stint and I’ll be so relieved when I know he’s made the journey safely because he hasn’t driven a long distance on his own before. We’ll all wait up and then go to bed quite late so I doubt the younger two will bounce on our bed early to wake us up… although they still did last year. People usually pop round for a glass of fizz in the morning so I’m going to put some cold meats and cheeses out rather than do breakfast and they can graze if they want to.
My welcome drink will be a glass of fizz with a tiny scooped ball of sorbet at the bottom – I have plans for making my own cranberry sorbet this year but if I don’t make it I’ll look for orange or red berry flavours in the shops. It will be the first Christmas around our new dining table and (hopefully) with our new deep green velvet sofa in the room so I’ve bought this peacock runner to dress the middle of the table – it’s much nicer in real life than it looks in this picture.
Peacock feather embossed runner
There are always so many dishes that there isn’t much space to add a lot of decorations to the table. I’ll be dotting around the crystal whisky glasses that we were given as a wedding present and making them twinkle with tealights as I do every year. I’ll also arrange these starlights around them to add extra sparkle as the day grows dark.
I have bought crackers this year, the ones I chose have sold out now but they have a game inside like these which are late arrivals but I think they’re brilliant. You divide the table into two teams, each player takes a turn to spin the carrot spinner and picks up a card that gives a challenge, act or question. If their team guesses correctly they score a point – it would be a great way to keep spirits high between courses and it’s so much better than a rubbish plastic cracker gift. There are other late cracker arrivals with interesting contents here.
Carrot spin snowman game crackers
And the rest of the table will be filled with all of our best glasses and dishes – the boys are old enough not to break things now(!), even though they’ll no doubt swiftly replace the wine with beer.
One thing I’m really looking forward to is playing games again. There have been so many Christmases when I’ve inwardly wished I could sit quietly for a while and read a book but not this year – I’m going to relish every moment of the five of us sitting with a board game. A few of you have asked for recommendations and our all time favourites are always Ticket to Ride, Perudo and Carcassonne which is hard to get hold of at the moment but I found it here. I have to say that some of our funniest times over the last couple of years have been had playing Cards Against Humanity. The original is very much an adult game and it shouldn’t be played by anybody who is (even moderately) easily offended but there’s now a family edition which would be brilliant if you have a mixed range of ages in your family. This year I’ve bought the Absurd Box because it looked a bit gentler than the original when I was standing in Waterstones choosing it although I’m not so sure now.
I’m told that there’s a lack of new game launches this year as a result of Covid (sigh). I had a quick look through the selection at John Lewis & Partners when I was in last week and these are the new games stood out:
‘On A Scale of One to T-Rex’ is said to be for anyone who is bad at charades and it has glowing reviews just about everywhere. There are three cards to act out in each round and everybody does the same thing. The difference is that each player picks an extra secret card that dictates the level of intensity of the actions – and the goal is to find the person who is acting at the same level as you. You have to be prepared to let your hair down with this one. It says it’s for 2-8 players aged 7 and upwards although it’s hard to see how it would work for two, I guess you have to try it.
This has good reviews too, better than its close competitor MusoDJ. I think it’s the other one that I’ll buy this year (although I know I won’t have a clue when it comes to the eldest’s music). You spin the discs on the decks and using your favourite music app, race to name the artist and the song. Then you challenge someone in the group to ‘sing like a BeeGee’ or ‘play air guitar with a frying pan.’ One of the boys’ godmothers has been raving about playing it with her sons so it obviously works across the generations.
And not a new game but I was thrilled to see ‘Shut The Box’ in JL at such a reasonable price. It takes me back to crazy days with Mr MC when we had a ski client in St Anton and had to go over for regular business/ski-ing trips. He enjoyed the ski-ing, I preferred the ‘apres’ with the team we worked with which included endless quick-fire rounds of Shut The Box – the forfeit for the loser being a shot of peach schnapps.
We’ve since played it year after year with the boys (minus the peach schnapps obviously!). There are various ways to play but the simplest is as follows: each person (up to 4) takes a turn to throw the dice and flip numbers down that match or equal the sum of the dice. You keep going until you throw a combination that you can’t continue with – then somebody else takes over. The objective is to be the one who flips the final numbers and shuts the box. Given that maths isn’t my forte this game is probably a key reason why I didn’t enjoy ski-ing the next day!
There were other flourishes that I noticed while I was in store, more little details that you could use to lift the days…
Sprout loo rolls; sprout kitchen roll; twist and sprout game; Christmas jokes; sprout table lights; sprout party poppers (in store only)
Christmas balloon arch; party poppers in store only; Who Am I guessing game; Balloon Christmas tree; Make your own personalised Santa sack; Pudding game in store only
And the ultimate finishing touches were for the bedroom, you can transform a guest room (or your own) into a winter wonderland.
Brushed cotton checked duvet set; white fur cushions; Christmas towels
Winter stag duvet cover set; fur throws; fur cushions
Making the run up to Christmas feel special
So what are the other Christmas moments that I’m eagerly awaiting?
- The arrival of the youngest – I’m picking him up from the Brief Encounter station after first having lunch and a mooch around a garden centre with a reader. That’s going to be a lovely day.
- Going to see the middle one’s first elf performance in Newcastle – we’re (hopefully) taking mum-in-law and then going on with her for lunch, she’s chosen a cousin’s cafe so it will be great to catch up with more of the family over there.
- Getting back to find the eldest at home, just in time for his 25th birthday and he’s requested a festive trip to the New Balance factory shop in Shap and lunch at a cosy pub in our family’s homeland.
- A ‘pie and prosecco’ evening at our house with family and friends, we’ll then walk round to the church where I’m singing with the village choir again. I can’t wait for that descant moment of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’, I really missed it last year – and then we’ll all finish off with a quick drink in the pub next door.
- The midnight return of our Christmas elf as I’ve already mentioned – I’ll be so relieved when he’s home safe.
- A Boxing Day trip to see the new Matrix film – it’s been one of Mr MC’s obsessions since the first movie was released in 1999 so to say that we all know how excited he is is an understatement. He’s firmly instructed the boys to ‘revise’ by rewatching the other three movies first so I suppose I’d better get on with that too.
- My family coming over en masse on 28th – siblings… nephews… great nephews and nieces… some who we haven’t seen for a few years. If we’re still able to go ahead by then it will feel incredibly special.
Sometimes you have to think yourself into Christmas. I doubt many people really have the all-singing, all-dancing experience that the supermarket adverts promise with huge gatherings of people and endless parties. I do think it’s worth treasuring the time though, even if it’s justly quietly at home. The food, the fragrance, the warmth and the light have been celebrated at this time of the year for centuries, since way before the beginning of christianity. In our northern hemisphere it’s a way for us all to bolster ourselves before the slow trudge of January and February so I hope you can think of a few things that will give you meaning and pleasure… and also enjoy some special moments along the way.
I’ve got lots on over the next two weeks so I’ll be popping up on Wednesdays for a change and my posts will be shorter. I’ll just be chatting about what I’ve been doing and wearing so I hope these Christmas prep posts have been useful. I know that this time of year isn’t always easy for everybody so with that in mind, in the comments please add any tips you have for lifting December and share anything you’re particularly looking forward to, however big or small it is. Equally if you’re not feeling great this year and would like to share the load by letting off a bit of steam, here’s your chance. At times like this our community comes into its own. It sometimes takes me a while to get to the comments but I love the fact that you often chat among yourselves in the meantime. So please do hold onto the friendships that I think we have here and let’s share tips, laughs, ideas and shoulders to cry-on… whatever would come up if you were chatting to a friend over a cup of coffee. See you on Wednesday.
Disclosure: ‘Making the run up to Christmas feel special’ is not a sponsored post
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