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WHAT MAKES CHRISTMAS? FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

A bigger dining table

Have you ever thought what makes a really good Christmas? When you are young the answer is probably quite simple . . . lots and lots of presents. But when you grow older where does the magic of Christmas come from?

Most of us will have had good and bad Christmases, especially the older we get. You tend to forget the bad ones and the good ones probably blur into one idyllic Christmas. Enjoying Christmas to the full is something that the younger and older members get to do most of all because they have no responsibilities and can just enjoy the day for what it is. But there is still a lot of pleasure to be had in providing a great Christmas for your family, even if it means a lot of hard work and stress putting it all together.

For me, like most people, the central focus of Christmas day has to be the turkey dinner. Many people now cook alternatives to turkey but the focus of the day is still the main meal. I wonder if I was able to travel back in a time machine whether the Christmases of my teenage years and early twenties would actually be as perfect as I remember them.

Looking back on my early life I think I have to say I was very fortunate to have lived in a most wonderful house. It was huge! To explain how huge it was, it had one of those grand staircases which splits halfway up and goes up either side to the next floor - and the hall was the height of the house which was three storeys. It was on the half landing that a huge Christmas tree sat as the focal point of the festivities. Off the hallway was a lounge probably the size of the ground floor of many modern houses, with a similar sized dining room and morning room.

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Christmas morning would always start with a visit from the local farmer to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. He would turn up around 9.00 am, with his boots covered in mud and other smelly stuff. Allowed no further than the kitchen by my mother, he would sit down to drink a very, very large whiskey. If that was how his day started I hate to think what he was like by the end of the day. Of course, by 9.00 am the kitchen was already in action with a huge turkey already starting its marathon cooking session.

Christmas was never just my mother and father with us three children. There was always a grandparent or two, remote cousins or dear old ladies referred to as aunts, even if they were no relative. My mother would spend all morning in the kitchen with me roped in to peel potatoes and any other chore that did not require any great skill. My father's job, as man of the house, was to ensure everyone had a full glass throughout the day and, of course, to carve the turkey when the time came.

The house would be truly alive at Christmas with so many people to share it. There would be two coal fires burning in the lounge and the morning room from first thing and as the morning progressed the dining room would be prepared for the meal. There are no longer any photographs in my collection of what the dining room looked like in all its glory but the focal point of the room was the dining table. Not any old dining table but one that could seat up to twelve people. Wmple space for everyone, the decorative Christmas displays and all the extras that go on the table at that time of year.

It goes without saying that the Christmas dinner was first class, with as much to eat as you could manage. I used to compete with my grandfather to see who could put the most on his plate and be first to finish . . . and then have seconds!

This is not the place to give guidance or ideas about cooking your turkey dinner as this has been covered previously in an article entitled How to Cook a Roast Turkey. What I really wanted to focus on was what really brought the whole thing together to make it a truly great day. It has to be sitting around the huge dining table with several generations of the family, all able to sit comfortably and with space to breathe. So my secret tip for making your Christmas meal something really special is to get a bigger dining table!

How everyone enjoyed themselves was illustrated by the fact that we would probably be at the table for two to three hours before adjourning to the various living rooms. My grandfather and “auntie” Maude to the one room where they would doze off in armchairs, with auntie Maude showing her knee-length bloomers, and the rest of us to another room so as not to disturb them.

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