According to Jo March, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any presents. And to some extent, the heroine of Little Women is right. But for the CEO of Festive Catering Services Plc (not so much ‘little women’ as ‘women with way too little time’) it’s not so much the presents, but the presence, from early December, of a robust and comprehensive to-do list.
Or is it? I’m at the Xmas Epicenter once again this year and you know what? It occurs to me that I’ve been doing it all wrong all these years – experience has finally taught me that what I really need is a to-don’t list.
I must not, for example, buy any comestible that will still be knocking around the living room come February. String bags of mixed unshelled nuts. Tins of Quality Street, Cadbury’s Heroes or Celebrations. Trays of crystallised fruit. Piccalilli. Pickled red cabbage. Eat-Me dates. In fact anything bought whimsically, while in some weird seasonal fugue, that suggests whatever we ate for Christmas in the late 1960s is essential, but that, bar me, no-one in my family actually eats.
By the same token I will not buy an enormous Christmas pudding, just for the opportunity of topping it with a holly sprig and creating an instagram-friendly conflagration. Because, bar me again, no-one in my family eats them either.
I will not be seduced by the promises of the batch-bake-and-freeze lobby. A long-time folly of mine, the whole business of BBAF (which should be re-labelled FAFF) is much over-rated way to spend time. Sure, it’s great if you a) have time and b) wish to spend it in a cloud of flour in your kitchen, listening to ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’, all alone. And for what? So you can spend more time relaxing with friends and family, as in countless twinkling photographs in lifestyle magazines, showing immaculately groomed women in knee-length velvet frocks, clutching sherry and looking smug, having BBAFed. Newsflash. These women do not exist. In reality, you will still be in a fug, cooking lunch, no matter how many dozen mince pies you’ve knocked out. (Also see ‘come February’ above.)
I will not assume that, after a couple of swift ones in the pub, an array of pre-prepared ‘festive nibbles’, and a carb-heavy four course late afternoon lunch, that my house-guests are going to require a full cheeseboard, six types of pate, three slices of thick-cut Wiltshire ham, home-made chutney, a bunch of grapes, some oaty biscuits, a head of celery, and a warm mince pie apiece, topped with brandy cream. Unless they wish/I wish them (it’s been known) to go to an early grave, that is. Which they can do just as easily via the ingestion of chocolate that will otherwise still be knocking around come February.
I will not see Harvey’s Bristol Cream either as essential or essentially non-alcoholic any more.
I shall redefine brunch. Because it’s all in the designation, isn’t it? Previously, in our house, brunch was the festive spread designed to a) fill the gap between dawn selection boxes and my frankly slovenly 5 pm Christmas lunch, and b) my once-a-year opportunity to introduce bonkers foodstuffs into the boring breakfast menu, such as cranberry and walnut bread, artisan chipolatas, pomegranate champagne cocktails, mini pain au chocolates, kumquat preserve, and rillettes du porc. This year, brunch will comprise toast, eaten late, standing up. Which was what everyone was hoping for in the first place.
I shall not buy sprouts on frigging stalks.
I shall not do anything whatsoever with giblets. We’ve all got the one friend who blanches at the word ‘Bisto’. And we love them, we do, despite this odd thing women have of accepting the myth that it’s somehow morally reprehensible not to at least make a stab at it. However, this year, despite decades of being told just how INCREDIBLY EASY it is to make VASTLY SUPERIOR homemade gravy, I won’t. End of.
I shall rein in my impulse to over-cater. The phrase ‘I’ll get a bigger (whatever it is) so we have enough left for Boxing Day’, will have no further place in my life.
By the same token, the phrase ‘no, really, no need, I think I have everything sorted’ will not pass my lips from this day forth. It will be replaced (yes it will) by ‘yes, thanks, yes, we DO need, any help/victuals/trifles would be massively appreciated’.
Though if I manage to tick that one, it will be a bloody miracle.

First published in the Western Mail Weekend magazine 5th December 2015

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