Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas in the Countryside

Oh, these are a lovely few days of peace after Christmas and before the New Year.  I hope you all are surviving the season, dear readers!  This was my third Christmas with my in-laws-to-be in Suffolk so I was fully prepared for all of the traditions that come with this holiday here, but three days of family and food and festivities were a whirlwind regardless and now, on the train to London, I'm ready for a break.  Though, knowing me, the next couple of days in town will be anything but restful... I've crammed in as many plans as possible already!  But let's catch up about Christmas, shall we?


Jon and his father picked me up from Heathrow early in the morning on Monday - wonderful men, they are! - and we drove east for nearly three hours into deepest Suffolk, arriving at the house with enough time to spare for a nap before more family arrived.  Once the house was full, we watched Love Actually and chatted over my homemade chocolate caramels and tea until dinner.  The 24th is always relatively calm: it's Jon, his parents and sister, his maternal aunt and uncle and their three teenagers, and me.  But after dinner and lots of wine comes the main Christmas Eve spectacular.

We all gather in the sitting room, draped over armchairs and sofas with wineglasses in hand, and light the fire as well as the candles on the tree and turn on the fairy lights and turn off the main lights.  Jon's father reads "Twas the Night Before Christmas" in a sonorous voice - apparently his asides have gotten more inappropriate as the kids have gotten older - and then the caroling begins!  We start with Once in Royal, of course, and continue on to the usual favorite hymns, meandering our way through seasonal pop hits.  The girls and boys pair off for Good King Wenceslas and Jon, his father, and his uncle each take a verse for We Three Kings.  Eventually we land at the Messiah with a rousing chorus of Hallelujah.  And with that, full of wine and song, we head to bed so that Father Christmas can surprise us with presents in the morning!


Christmas morning begins with the delighted shrieks of the cousins as they open their stockings, and Jon and his sister and I take ours, which were deposited at the foot of our beds in the night, into their parents' room.  We cradle mugs of coffee in our hands, curled up against the bedposts, as we take turns pulling one gift after another out of its paper and ribbons.  Once everything's been unwrapped, we get ready to make the pilgrimage to another aunt's house with much shouting of "I get the next shower!" and "Where are my boots?" and "Get in the car now!  Finally, though, we make it over a few villages and are greeted by Jon's paternal aunt, uncle, cousin, and their assorted guests.  Champagne and spiced nuts are handed round until the golden turkey, wreathed in a ceremonial halo of tinsel, makes its appearance to thunderous applause.  Then we sit down to a feast: turkey, of course, plus stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, brussels sprouts, parsnips, sausages, potatoes, and gravy.  The table is decked out with funny masks, Christmas crackers, and little presents - when the children were little, it was all to keep them entertained, but the tradition's been maintained even as everyone has grown up.  The Christmas pudding, set ablaze, is toasted around the table, and when the alcohol has burned out we douse it with brandy butter.  After we've eaten all we can, we light sparklers in the remains and cheer as they flame.

Then we decamp to the sitting room for the Queen's speech.  (2012 was quite a year for Great Britain, you know, and I found her words very stirring.)  Afterwards, all hell breaks loose as the youngest amongst us ferries presents from under the tree to their respective recipients, and wrapping paper and bows and thank-yous go flying across the room.  Finally, we collapse amongst the gifts and the rubbish and call for cups of tea so that we can revive ourselves for the trek back home.

The evening is spent in front of the TV, recovering from the day's exertions with the Doctor Who and Downton Abbey Christmas specials.  (Both were disappointing this year, unfortunately, though I promise I won't give anything more away!)


The main event of Boxing Day is the epic annual walk.  In the three years I've celebrated Christmas with Jon's family, we've gone a different route each time, but every walk has been rambly and beautiful and has ended at a pub for cups of tea and pints of Adnams.  This year, we covered about four miles through woodland and heath and along the beach.  England's had some serious flooding recently, which we experienced first hand as we waded nearly knee-deep through paths that had merged with the surrounding marshes!


Our final celebration of Christmas is the Boxing Day dinner, hosted by Jon's mother and with the same cast of characters as Christmas lunch.  We tuck into a huge ham with all of its accompanying side dishes and plus a delicious lemon meringue pie for dessert.  Then, once the guests have gone, we pass out, happy and full and, generally, more than a bit tipsy from the past three day's festivities.

And that's how we do Christmas in the countryside!  I hope you're all having a perfectly lovely week, dear readers, regardless of your Christmas-ness.  Happy everything!


17 comments:

  1. Can I come spend Christmas in Suffolk with you?? I have never been to Britain for the holiday! It sounds amazing! Looks like you are having a great time! Happy Christmas!

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  2. La Chapstick FanatiqueDecember 27, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    my grandmother is british and we totally do the christmas crackers when we get together for the holidays. i think you can see me in my paper crown from last years post: http://lachapstickfanatique.blogspot.com/2011/12/weekend-christmas.html

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  3. Love these photos! What a wonderful time with your new family. Have a lovely New Year, Betsy :)

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  4. You and Jon really are the cutest couple ever! Lemon meringue pie.... YUM!!! What a pretty Christmas ;)

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  5. Sounds like a lovely Christmas, Betsy!

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  6. it's so funny that these things - that we Americans think are special and extraordinary - are the norm for Jon's family! you'll have to come next year :)

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  7. I wanted to bring some back but apparently you can't take them through security at the airport because they explode! they're SO fun.

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  8. it was DELICIOUS - I might have eaten all the meringue off the top :) Merry Christmas love!

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  9. ooooh my "new family" - this made me tear up! Happy happy :)

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  10. Love the picture of the Christmas hats! I think hats (and crackers) are my favorite part of Christmas! I make everyone wear theirs as long as possible. They pretend to hate it but I think they secretly love it!

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  11. Christmas crackers are my FAVOURITE! I love the little hats. This year, I got ear rings in mine. Hahahaha.

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  12. Jon says you spelled "favorite" correctly! haha :)

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  13. I love the picture of you hiking in the water. It sounds like such a wonderful way to spend Christmas. Glad you are back with your sweetie for the holidays. I can't wait to see all of the wonderful things that 2013 has in store for you, Betsy!! Happy New Year!!!

    xoxo
    Selena

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  14. haha thank you - I have written an email to JCrew to compliment them on the waterproof-ness of their riding boots :) Happy New Year to you too!

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  15. Now that's a cozy and wonderful whirlwind of a Christmas!
    And oh Downton!!! My emotions are all over the place on that one xx

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  16. this type of christmas is the best! It sounds truly wonderful; relaxing, traditional and full of food, wine and fun.

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