How to enjoy (or just survive) Christmas Day with family

We’ve asked a handful of The Early Hour’s past contributors and interviewees for three Christmas Day survival tips. Some are elaborate, some are simple – all will get you in to the festive spirit…

Christmas Day tips from writer Laura Dockrill, journalist Joe Muggs and Natasha Morabito of Big Fish Little Fish, the editor Annie Ridout, author Anna Whitwham and chef Claire Thomson. Originally published last December but still TOTALLY relevant this year…

Christmas Day tips #1

Writer Joe Muggs and head of comms for Big Fish Little Fish events Natasha Morabito, say:
1. Bucks Fizz for breakfast. Do pace yourself, obviously, but starting drinking straight away and keeping steady momentum is imperative.

2. Live near enough to your family so that you can have them over for lunch then send them home before fractiousness sets in.

3. Don’t overcomplicate things: Christmas is about presents, overeating and telly. Anyone suggests playing a board game = instant red card.

Christmas Day tips #2

Laura Dockrill: poet, performer, author, talker, doodler, says:
Basically this is actually quite easy for me because I am simply obsessed with my family. I think the survival tips should be put to them, not me.

1. YES! Just be happy. Constantly. Even when it gets stressful and the oven is crammed and trays are leaning on top of each other and you open the fridge on mum’s request to reach for the stock, which is RIGHT at the back and you’ve dug your hand so far back you’ve knocked a double cream off the shelf and the dogs are licking it off your beautiful new Terry de Havilland’s… It’s ok. It’s Christmas. Calm the hell down. Unlike your birthday, you can’t just cry if you want to. It’s not a day for just you. It’s an everybody day. So shut the hell up and put a smile on… Yes to everything, go with the spirit.

The more you don’t want to wear a paper crown, the more people will make you. The less you want to read the little joke inside the cracker the more people will hate you. Read the bloody joke. Laugh at the others. Wear the stupid tissue paper crown; it’s so light you forget it’s there after a minute – it’s like a cobweb hat. But clean.

Wash up. Carve a cross into some sprouts. Walk the dog with your sister. Smile at a neighbour. Watch a stupid great cartoon with your brother. Rip open the Twiglets. Have your photos taken. Don’t dodge the call from your nanna. Try your new dress on. Try your new bra on for mum. Say thank you. Eat everything you want. Drink alcohol the entire day. Say yes to the things you don’t usually try that are Christmassy: bread sauce, cranberry sauce, snowballs, eggnogs, puddings, cakes, pies, cheese. Brandy. Whisky. Play a card game. Be prepared to be squeezed onto a sofa. Dance. Sing. Don’t be a bore. Fly the toy helicopter, set up the Scalextrics. Laughing is addictive. So do it and you’ll find you’ll want to do it more.

2. Have a spare set of standard presents up your sleeve. We’ve all been there. You’ve got presents for your family and they’ve got presents for you. Then suddenly, last minute, oh what do you know? Your brother’s friend’s girlfriend has got you a Body Shop gift box and proudly shoves a ‘here’s everything you could want but mango flavoured’ into your arms almost deliberately knowing full well you’ve not got her anything. Well… Ah ha, actually brother’s friend’s girlfriend… Here is this standard, non-gender specific, brandless, non-scented all over body moisturiser that I had up my sleeve for this exact reason.

3. Don’t fall into the same old traps. Learn from your mistakes.

One year, my mum was away in the lead up to Christmas for work. I was about 17. It was a big deal. I wanted to get Christmas really good. And like she had it. So when she came back the house was sorted. Tidy(ish), radiant, cosy, festive. The tree was up, I cooked sausage rolls for no reason and put clementines in a bowl.

I started with the tree, unpacking the decorations one by one out of their bubble wraps and wrestling with the Christmas lights when I found a letter. It was from my mum to, well… my own mum. A letter she had written to herself of what to do and what not to. She had been adding to it for years and it was VERY long. Scribbles, notes, recipes. Firstly all of this was very not like my mum at all as she is not very well organised but this just showed me how much she cared about this day and how special it was.

I think hosting a family Christmas for your babies or just people you love is pretty much the most wonderful pleasure/privilege in the world. The whole message of the letter as well as cooking times and cocktail ideas was tips for how to keep herself calm and happy. And my favourite piece of advice that I remember for everything – not just Christmas…

Don’t look after you. Look after the FUTURE you. Whether that’s filling up the ice tray again after you’ve made a gin and tonic, taking your make-up off on Christmas Eve, washing up immediately after dinner to avoid bluesy Boxing Day stale gravy plates, to keeping a warm body and a cool head.

That’s the best survival tip of all…

Christmas Day tips #3

Founder and Editor of The Early Hour, Annie Ridout, says:
1. Accept that there will, almost definitely, be arguments. Whether it’s about what to have for breakfast, who’s cooking lunch, your brother not pulling his weight, your sister forgetting to buy you a present – with all of you together for an entire day, which probably happens once a year – your inner child will emerge. So chip in, help with the cooking and clearing, crack jokes and drink plenty of booze (though that won’t always diffuse the situation).

2. You don’t need to spend loads of money on Christmas presents; it really is the thought that counts. So think about whom you’re buying for and what would really mean something to them – it might be an ethical product, a babysitting token, donating to charity, a homemade hamper. If they really do have expensive and limited tastes, a bottle of champagne should do it.

3. Amidst the arguments, boredom, embarrassingly bad presents, over-cooked turkey and far too many sherries/Prosecco – feel free to remove yourself from the room, find somewhere quiet (like the toilet) and repeat this mantra: it will all be over soon; nothing lasts forever.

Christmas Day tips #4

Anna Whitwham, author, says:
1. One of the best Christmases I had was in Brooklyn with my sister a few years ago. We were both feeling blue and aren’t great cooks really (or just couldn’t be bothered!) so ended up with a few tree branches in her room covered in lights with a picture of Elvis at the top. We got a very suspect bit of poultry from a supermarket and had a really rubbish dinner. But the whole time we laughed and drank mulled cider and let the day wash over us.

My ‘tip’ is it’s all about the company. This Christmas it will be the three of us in a cottage and we will do and eat exactly what we want. Am hoping for lots of walks and naps and cakes. We might do a turkey – or we might not. Make your own traditions up. Definitely avoid anyone and anything that stresses you out. Draw lines and be a little selfish and have fun with your kid.

2. See a show. One of the best things I’ve done with Sylvie is take her to a Christmas show. She’s only 15 months but she was completely into the fake snow, sounds, lights and puppets. Like reading, you can’t start too early. And we loved it too. Actually, we might have been more excited than Sylvie.

3. My mum always gave the best stockings and they were the highlight of Christmas Day for my sister and I. They were never extravagant, just thoughtful and personal. This year is Sylvie’s second Christmas and one where she can appreciate the colours and sparkle I plan to fill her stocking with. I have been collecting dreamy, inexpensive things for her since November. It’s a nice way of doing presents on a budget – it’s just really fun.

Christmas Day tips #5

Claire Thomson, chef and author of The Five O’Clock Apron cookbook, says…
1. It doesn’t have to be turkey! I would always opt for a good rib of beef with imaginative sides of vegetables…  plenty of vegetables. Likewise, brussels don’t always have to be boiled. Sliced finely and stir-fried with a little walnut oil and pinch of salt they are delicious.

2. We like to open our main presents after lunch and a long wintry walk… this way stockings get proper consideration and the Christmas boom and bust doesn’t happen quite so early on in the day.

3. Plenty of fizz for the cooks on Christmas day, that and good music and many hands make light work of Christmas dishes!