Christmas, more than any other time of year, is when the traditions - both real and curiously specific to any one family - come out. And this year, I'm seeing Family Blonde's traditions through new eyes as, for the first time, The Writer will be spending the day itself chez nous.
Christmas is a big deal for Family Blonde, in a way that birthdays and other occasions just aren't, and we have traditions - some real, some curiously specific to us - aplenty.
Weeks and weeks before the big day, Pa Blonde will busy himself with planning, largely around the consumables. He'll go through books and magazines, and devise menus, and the larder and cupboards and fridge and freezers and bench in the garage and buckets outside the back door will groan so loudly with food that it's frankly a little indecent.
The Christmas cake will be made weeks in advance and will fed with booze almost until the day itself, ensuring the slightest sliver will guarantee drunkenness.
If I'm home in time, Pa Blonde and I will head down to the farm shop in the next village to purchase the cheese, an outing that is taken enormously seriously. A few years ago, Pa B declared that having 14 cheeses on the cheeseboard was "ridiculous", and "too many." The following year, we returned with 17. We don't even pretend towards moderation these days. Depending on how late we've left it, there'll be a furtive exchange with the chap behind the counter, resulting in Pa B's triumphant return home with a large piece of Stinking Bishop, demand for which is so high, it's only sold to those in the know.
Come Christmas Eve, things really kick off. Now I'm re-horsed, I'm establishing the tradition of a long hack on Christmas Eve morning - the faster and muddier, the better. I'll scurry home to a hot bath, and the chaos that is the kitchen as vegetables are prepped, and Pa Blonde creates whatever masterpiece he decided he liked the look of on this year's Bake Off. The sister and her boyfriend will arrive, often with some combination of creatures from their menagerie. I take refuge upstairs with a roll of Sellotape and Radio 4.
Ma Blonde and I bicker over who gets to do the giant crossword in The Times in front of the fire, listening to Carols from Kings, while Pa B gets progressively crosser in the kitchen but refuses to let anyone give him any help.
Around 11.15pm, Pa B and I will wrap up warm and head to Midnight Mass early enough to get the Family Blonde pew: Ma B will generally have gone on ahead to do something involved in the service. It's always freezing, and I'll use the excuse to whip out the fur jacket.
On Christmas morning, gifts in the stockings may be opened whenever we like. I'll hang around in the kitchen getting under Pa B's feet and making fun of his novelty Christmas tie. Presents may only be opened once everyone who's gone (usually only Ma B, but occasionally extended family dependent on whether they're staying) is back from church, and is sitting down in the sitting room - with a glass of champagne. As a child, it seemed nigh-on impossible to herd grown ups into a position satisfactory for the purpose of present-opening: there'd always be someone who was in the loo, or otherwise AWOL.
Whatever waifs and strays my mother has collected will usually arrive just before 3pm (this year it's the elderly neighbours), which is when lunch is scheduled. Pa Blonde will spend the morning telling everyone not to fill themselves up on sausage rolls and mince pies. For as long as I can remember, lunch is late: we always sit down at 5.30pm sharp, and there's no use thinking it'll ever be otherwise. We'll roll towards the fire and the tv some point around 8pm, full to bursting and sozzled and sleepy.
Boxing Day is a welcome source of calm, usually with a walk somewhere in the cold and much chocolate eaten. This year, there are plans to see off the hunt; I toyed with the idea of joining them, but thought the big meet might be tempting fate a little for my second time out.
It's loud and chaotic and overindulgent. And ours. And I wouldn't miss it for the world. And this year, I get to spend it with TW too. Whether he'll appreciate that remains to be seen.
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