THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

December 25th

My Own Heart – The London coach arrived today, bringing with it your gift of a partridge and a pear tree. You are too clever by half!
Yours For Eternity

December 26th

My Love – Two turtle doves! How simply smashing. I cannot wait to see you again that I might thank you personally. You are too droll.
For Ever and Ever

December 27th

Darling – There we were, my footman and I, dispensing bird seed when what should arrive at Blicking Hall but three French hens. You cannot imagine the look they brought to the footman’s face. Truly, you shouldn’t have.
Always

December 28th

Sweetheart – Four calling birds. How quaint. You should know that my lady’s maid is making noises about leaving the Hall. The footman is none too happy, either, although the local carpenter is quite over the moon to have been hired to construct the aviary. Typically, work is scarce for him at this time of year.
Love

December 29th

Dearest – How could you do this to me? I do not mean to be short with you, but none of us here has gotten much sleep of late, what with all the billing, cooing, chirping and calling the birds are wont to do.
Yours
P.S. Thank you for the five golden rings.

December 30th

Dear – Now you’ve done it. Cook is quite put out by the six geese laying in her kitchen, and no wonder. You must end this. Accomplished cooks are difficult to come by in the country.
As Ever

December 31st

Dear Sir – I am most heartily sick of the sight of feathers. Your seven swans arrived today and are swimming in the ornamental fountain in the conservatory. Oldham has been snorting at me disdainfully all morning. Have you ever been snorted at by your butler? It’s off putting, to say the least.
Happy New Year

January 1st

Sir – Is there a market for spare goose eggs? The eight maids you sent today are a welcome sight, what with all the seeds and feathers we have to sweep up hourly here. Once they have finished with that, the maids intend to walk to the village, where they are determined to help with the milking. Wherever shall they all sleep?
Please Cease and Desist

January 2nd

To Whom It May Concern – This daily gift giving business is no longer amusing. The entire village have followed the nine drummers drumming to our door. The staff are up in arms, save for the footman, who has not been seen since shortly after the eight maids arrived.
Stop it!

January 3rd

You black hearted scoundrel – the magistrate appeared at Blicking Hall today. It transpires that the villagers are being driven to distraction by the ten pipers and their constant piping. Perhaps you should have sent mimes.

January 4th

Could you not have sent the eleven ladies dancing to Almack’s instead of to me? Do these outrageous gifts have anything to do with the betting book at White’s? Is that idiot Brummell somehow involved? Have you a good receipt for fowl fricassee?

January 5th

My entire staff have deserted me, taking with them the maids, pipers, dancing ladies and, blessedly, the drummers. There is the tiniest bit of good news – I have been given to understand that some of them have made successful matches and are currently bound for Gretna Green. I was headed to my rooms with a bottle of port when who should arrive but twelve lords a leaping. And what lords they are – so handsome, so gallant, so utterly divine! How could I have doubted your intentions? Please give my regards to all in London, as I fear I shall be much too occupied here at Blicking Hall to partake of the Season.
Your Most Grateful Friend

CHRISTMAS PAST – IN THEIR OWN WORDS

What would Christmas be without our trimming the tree? Some believe that it was Prince Albert who introduced the custom of the Christmas tree to England, while others maintain that they were introduced to England by King George III’s German wife, Queen Charlotte. However, it was only circa 1848, after the London Illustrated News ran the engraving depicting showing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrating  around the Christmas tree with their children (above) that this tradition caught on with the public.
The painting above, Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree at Windsor in 1850 as painted by James Roberts (1824 – 1867), depicts presents around the tree from Prince Albert. We thought it might prove amusing to see what others had written about the Christmas tree in centuries past.
From Recollections from 1803 to 1837 by Amelia Murray:
“Christmas-trees are now common. In the early part of this century they were seldom seen, but Queen Charlotte always had one dressed up in the room of Madame Berkendorff, her German attendant; it was hung with presents for the children, who were invited to see it, and I well remember the pleasure it was to hunt for one’s own name, which was sure to be attached to one or more of the pretty gifts.”
From 20 Years at Court
The Hon. Eleanor Stanley (maid of honour to Queen Victoria, 1842-1862) to her Mother, Lady Mary Stanley, Windsor Castle, Saturday, Dec. 25th, 1847.
“Dearest Mama,—A merry Xmas, and many happy returns of the day to you and all the family at the dear old Castle. Yesterday evening we were desired, at a quarter to seven, to come down to the Corridor, to get our Gifts; we found all the gentlemen and Mrs. Anson already assembled, and presently the page desired us to go to the Oak-room, where the Queen and Prince already were, standing by a large table covered with a white cloth, in the middle of which was a little fir-tree, in the German fashion, covered with bonbons, gilt walnuts, and little coloured tapers. I send a bonbon as a Christmas box to little Blanche, which I took off the tree. . . . The children had each a little table with their new toys, and were running about in great glee showing them off; Prince Alfred, in a glorious tinsel helmet that almost covered his face, was shooting us all with a new gun, and Princess Alice was making us admire her dolls, etc. They had one Christmas tree among them, like us, but the Queen, Prince, and Duchess had each one, and altogether I never saw anything prettier than the whole arrangement.”
Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck
From The Memoirs of Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck
Cambridge Cottage, January 1, 1848.

“My Dearest Draperchen,  (her former governess, Miss Draper, whom she addressed as ‘Ma chere Draperchen), . . . Our Christmas went off very well. The room was beautifully decorated ; there were four fine trees, and these were connected by wreaths of laurel evergreens and holly.”

by the same author

Cambridge Cottage, January 9, 1849
“The Christmas holidays have been very happily spent by the inmates of Cambridge Cottage, and I have received a number of cadeaux! Our Trees were arranged in the Conservatory, which was hung with festoons of evergreens, from which transparent lamps were suspended. The whole was well lighted up, and looked remarkably pretty, and the three trees were quite covered with bon-bons and fruit.”
Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower

From My Reminiscences By Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower

“At Trentham, Christmas 1854, I find, on turning the pages of that record of my early years, much detail regarding our Christmas gifts and of the Christmas tree; now so general in English homes at Yuletide, but then hardly seen but in a few English houses. Our German tutor claimed to have introduced this pretty custom in this country in our family, the first implanted out of Germany having been erected by him in the hall at Stafford House. Until recently there was always one of these Christmas trees, richly decked, placed in one of the drawing-rooms at Trentham on Christmas Eve; and the household attended to see the illuminations and receive the gifts that were one by one cut off from the lighted boughs. No one was forgotten, from the most honored of the guests down to the kitchen-maids and stable-men. Christmas was worthily maintained in those days at Trentham. Generally after the tree there came a ball for the servants, given in a long gallery overlooking the stable-yard. All took part in the dances, which, with itscountry dances and Highland flings and reels, when the Scotch piper was in great demand, were always most successful festivities.”

From Letters by Lady Harcourt, December 17, 1885

“Yesterday I made an excursion to the city with Hilda Deichmann and her husband to buy things for our Christmas trees. It was most amusing ransacking in all the big wholesale houses, and reminded me of my childish days and similar expeditions to Maiden Lane . . . . . . . . Our shopping was most successful. All the prettiest things come from the German shops. The ginger-bread animals were wonderful,—some horses and dogs with gilt tails and ears most effective. The decorations were really very pretty—the stars and angels quite charming.”

 

by the same author

To G. K. S., Albert Gate, London, December 24, 1885.

“The sisters and I have been shopping all day getting the last things for the tree, which is to be on the 26th. The streets are most animated, full of people, all carrying parcels, and all with smiling faces. . . We wound up at the Army and Navy Stores, and really had some difficulty in getting in. They had quantities of Christmas trees already decorated, which were being sold as fast as they were brought in.”

Wishing you a memorable Christmas!

Have Yourself a Stately Home Christmas

Each year, at the beginning of November, I start checking the mailbox for my invitation to spend Christmas at Stratfield Saye. Each year, I’m disappointed in this hope. All is not lost, however, as I’ve still been fortunate enough to spend a few Christmas’s, and a New Year’s Eve or two, in England anyways. Recently, Victoria and I were mulling over our choices for future holiday stays and we both thought it would be grand to really splash out and spend the hols at a stately home or three – even if none of them are Stratfield Saye.

Victoria suggested Castle Howard, above, in Yorkshire, which will be decorated and receiving visitors until 22 December. From their website: “Beautifully decked out each Christmas by the Hon.Simon and Mrs Howard, a visit to Castle Howard fills the festive season with sparkle and cheer. Approach the magnificent 18th-century house along the Christmas tree-lined drive.

“Inside, discover breathtaking interiors lit by candle and firelight, dressed with magnificent trees, a stunning display of traditional Howard family ‘twigs’, winter garlands and floral arrangements. Christmas at Castle Howard includes live music performances daily, audiences with Father Christmas and delicious seasonal menus in the restaurant and cafés. Remember to leave enough time to visit the gift shops, Farm Shop and Garden Centre where you can pick up that special Christmas gift.”

Victoria also suggested Wiltshire’s Bowood House, above, for which she harbors a soft spot in her heart, not least because it’s home to the current Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne. Speaking of whom, here’s the invitation to visitors from the Lady of the House: “For the second year the Marchioness of Lansdowne invites you to Bowood House Christmas Extravaganza.  See Bowood House decorated for a family Christmas and indulge in a fantastic shopping experience.  Come and see stunning stalls filled with handmade toys, Christmas food, antiques, evening clothes, indulgences, shoes, books, silk flowers, handbags, furs, puzzles, table decorations, candles, book signing by famous food writers and much much more.” The Extravaganza has become a seasonal favorite – last year, the Duchess of Cornwall paid a visit.

While Bowood House itself closes to the public before Christmas proper, the Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort.offers a two night Christmas Break, which includes a Christmas Eve visit to Lord and Lady Lansdowne –

Two Night Christmas Break – Get away for two nights with dinner, bed and breakfast, as well as full use of our spa facilities. What the break includes:

Christmas Eve
Arrive in time for a Champagne High Tea, served between 3pm and 4pm, before heading down to Bowood House to join Lord and Lady Lansdowne for carols in the private family chapel, followed by mulled wine and mince pies in the Orangery. Return to the hotel for a delicious three course dinner. If you wish to attend midnight mass in the village church, transport will be available. Then it’s time to relax. Enjoy a nightcap or a complimentary hot chocolate before you head up to bed and remember to put your Christmas stocking on your door before you go to sleep.
Christmas Day
Start the day with a full Wiltshire Breakfast. Spend the morning relaxing or work up an appetite with a walk in the beautiful Bowood Grounds. Santa will arrive with gifts for all. Lunch will be a gourmet experience offering traditional Christmas fayre, with a menu designed and cooked by our Executive Chef. The afternoon is a time for a nap or to watch the Queen’s speech and if you’re peckish, you’ll be able to help yourself to a delicious rolling buffet in the evening.
Boxing Day
Enjoy a full Wiltshire Breakfast and then make use of the luxurious Spa facilities before you leave. If you want to postpone your departure, add an extra night bed and breakfast from only £170 per room.
From only £450 per adult, £200 per child. Prices are based on two people sharing a twin or double room, single supplement applies, upgrades are available at a supplement. Price per child is based on sharing with two adults. If two or more children, an adjoining room will be offered for £375 per child, subject to availability. For more information or to make a reservation please call Bowood Hotel Reception on 01249 822228.

Personally, I’d love to see Chatsworth House at the holidays. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire first opened the House to visitors at Christmas as a way of making up revenues after a year of poor visitor attendance due in part to hoof and mouth disease in the local area. Now, decades on, the Chatsworth Christmas displays are a well loved tradition for visitors from near and far.

This year, from November 9 to December 23, Chatsworth offers Christmas displays on the lower
floors of the house. The theme for Christmas 2013 is ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe at Chatsworth.’ In addition, each year the House hosts Christmas Market Weekends, seasonal floral workshops and twilight evenings.

The Cavendish family also own Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire and its there that you can enjoy a magical walk and discover the 12 scenes from the traditional carol come to life. Explore Strid Wood to find the 12 scenes – see 7 swans a-swimming, 3 real french hens and have a go on the drums. Nearby, the Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel and Spa offers its own fabulous Christmas Package. From their website:

With its signature puddings and wild moors, Yorkshire is a marvellously English place to spend Christmas. One of the county’s finest properties is the 30,000-acre Bolton Abbey Estate in the Dales, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire; and, on it, the Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel and Spa is offering two- and three-night Christmas packages. A Champagne reception and dinner in the Michelin-starred Burlington Restaurant will warm guests up for some carol-singing,

Christmas Eve –

Champagne Afternoon Tea, this will be served in the lounges and will include a variety of delights
19.00 Drinks Reception in the Cocktail lounge
19.30 Seated for a set menu dinner The Burlington Restaurant. We respectfully advise that the dress code for this evening is Jacket and Tie
22.30 The Choir will leave to take their place in The Priory for Midnight Mass. We invite you to board the 1920’s Charabanc to chauffeur you to The Priory from 10.45 pm
23.30 Celebrate the First Mass of Christmas
00.30 Once safely back at the Hotel, and if you can fit it in, enjoy hot chocolate, marshmallows, brandy, mulled wine and mince pies as a bed time treat.

Christmas Day
Breakfast is served in the Burlington Restaurant.
10.00 Morning mass at the Bolton Priory for those wishing to attend, The Priory is approximately 1 mile along the river or road. Reception has information on other Church services.
12.30 Champagne reception in the cocktail lounge.
13.30 The Traditional Christmas Luncheon, served in the Burlington Restaurant.
16.30 Games or walk
19.00-20.00 A Christmas buffet will be served in the Burlington. Help yourself to as much as you can eat.
20.30 Christmas Pub quiz to be held in the Brasserie.


Boxing Day

8.00-10.00 Traditional Breakfast will be served in the Burlington Restaurant.
12.00 noon Join the Airedale Beagles in the Devonshire’s front car park on their traditional Boxing Day hunt. Mulled wine & mince pies will be available to keep you warm!
12.00 noon For those of you who have chosen to go on the guided walk with Eddie, please meet in Reception at 12.00 noon, to see the Beagles & returning at approx 3.30pm to 4.00pm.Packed Lunch will be provided.
12.30–14.00 For those not attending the walk, a Boxing Day lunch is served in The Burlington Restaurant.
19.00-00.00 Champagne Reception prior to Boxing Night Black Tie Dinner with wine package and Jazz Band in the Cavendish Room, this is when the prizes will be given to those who have won the competitions.


Three-night packages from £1,645 per room. Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel and Spa, Bolton Abbey, Skipton, North Yorkshire (01756 710441; www.thedevonshirearms.co.uk)

Have Yourself a Luxurious London Christmas

In case you’re feeling the need for a little luxury this holiday season, we’ve rounded up some gift ideas that might come in handy whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of things.

This year, Harrods, that venerable institution dedicated to conspicuous consumption, has chosen
the classic British steam train as the theme for their holiday windows.

 
 
 
Of course, what Harrods is famous for are it’s hampers and this Christmas, Harrods offers it’s Decadence Hamper at a mere twenty thousand pounds.
 
 
 

Filled with everything one might need for an over the top culinary Christmas, the Decadence Hamper includes such staples as goose foie gras flavoured with truffle, Beluga caviar, table top decorations, a variety of cheese, mince pies, meats, jams, puddings, a Christmas cake and enough high end wines and liquors to make Mr. Carson envious. The hamper also includes Christmas crackers, but we doubt they can compare to those offered this year by Tiffany and Co.

 

The Tiffany and Co. Christmas Cracker, £180,000,  is available at the Bond Street Store and includes eleven pieces of Tiffany jewelry: a circlet diamond necklace in platinum, a pink tourmaline ring, Cobblestone earrings in platinum with diamonds, a yellow diamond ring, 8.75 carat aquamarine ring in platinum and a Marquise diamond cluster bracelet.


Should you prefer your jewels to come complete with historic provenance, you may want to turn to one of London’s venerable auction houses. Here’s a little something we found from the Sotheby’s Fine Jewelry auction that took place on December 13th in London –

 
                
 
                                                    
 
Diamond tiara, circa 1900 – The centre designed as two wreaths, each swing-set to the centre with circular-cut and pear-shaped diamonds, between two modified rectangular panels of open work floral and foliate design, set with circular-cut and rose diamonds, inner circumference approximately 290mm, central motif detachable and can be worn as a brooch or pendant, the panels can be worn as brooches. Sold for 18,750 GBP                 
Should selecting gifts for everyone on your list become overwhelming, head to Selfridge’s, where this year they are offering shoppers their very own Elfridge.

The festively attired elves have been sprinkled about the Oxford Street store to guide shoppers through departments, find the perfect gifts, gift wrap and carry packages and hail taxis.

Of course, you’ll need to put all of those pretty packages under a tree and for inspiration on that score we direct you to The Goring Hotel and it’s 2013 Luxury Christmas Tree Collection.  This year, the trees have been created by iconic British brands including The Real Flower Company, Olivia Von Halle and Honeyjam. You can read more and see all of the trees here.

Once your shopping has been completed, reward yourself by booking in for Claridge’s Timeless Christmas offer that includes:

  • A two night stay in Claridge’s
  • Welcome bottle of champagne and festive treats in room on arrival
  • Overnight stocking delivery filled with edible delights for the younger guests
  • English breakfast on Christmas Day
  • Horse-drawn carriage ride through Mayfair on Christmas morning with refreshments
  • 5-course Christmas Day lunch in Claridge’s Ballroom
  • Boxing Day breakfast
                            
From £860 per room per night (including all taxes).

 

Raising a Toast to Christmas

The grocery store Trader Joe’s recomends egg nog for Christmas in its Holiday Guide 2011. We all love the rich mix, whether or not it is laced with whiskey or rum. The Guide notes that there are some things among our food and drink traditions that are closely associated with the holidays every year.   One version of eggnog’s origin is from the English area of East Anglia where a noggin is a small mug.  There are other explanations, but this one is probably as good as any.  Yum.

The picture above accompanies Rachel Ray’s recipe(s) for EggNog. Try one of them here.  Ray suggests rum to add a touch of cheer to the traditional egg, cream and nutmeg ingredients.

I remember my parrents serving Tom and Jerrys many years ago at the holidays.  I thought they meant the cat and mouse cartoon characters, but the drink was invented by Pierce Egan (1772-1849), creator of the regency era ne-er-do-wells Tom and Jerry, whose Life in London ran to many editions in the 19th century.  The cat and mouse were named after them too.  Egan was a journalist and sportswriter, and his silly characters had many adventures.  Above, they manage to enter Almack’s, where they probably would not find any alcohol, unless it was smuggled in by a regency rake. Though there are many variations, a Tom and Jerry resembles eggnog.
For a recipe, click this link.
As long as I was looking into Christmas cheer, I looked up wassail.  I’ve sung about going wassailing for years in the well-known carol — and never stopped to wonder what in the world it meant.
Here is an recipe based on fruit juices and without alcohol.

Appropriately, there are many recipes for wassail or wassail punch, though all seem to have a apple  cider base.  According to several sources, wassailing was a group activity involving singing and saluting the health of the apple trees to encourage a good harvest in the future.  Wouldn’t this just be a good excuse for a party?  Wassailing could be done at harvest time in the fall, particularly in the south of England where the apple orchards prevail, and at Christmas time, though the roots of the custom seem to go back to pre-Christian days in England. For ale-based and wine-laced recipes and more, click here.

  Another popular warm drink for the holidays is the Hot Toddy, usually made with a lemon-juice base. As in all of the above, alcohol is optional. I note than many examples carry a cinnamon stick as a stir.  To repeat, yum.  Some sources say the Scottish version is usually made with whisky and the English version with strong black tea. For recipes, click here.

 There are many more Christmas drinks, both traditional and cutting-edge.  Think hot buttered rum, mulled wine and/or cider, hot chocolate, or Irish Coffee.  Or try Bishop, a warm wine-based drink mixed by Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. 
So here’s to you, a virtual cup of good cheer for the holidays!!