HDL Does Christmas

Christmas at Disneyland!

Despite my role amongst my friends being a year-round scrooge, I actually quite like Christmas in all its glittering, materialistic glory. I am not even slightly Christian, and while the key message of the Christmas season is not lost on me, I don’t feel particularly bad about celebrating a holiday that doesn’t quite belong to my vague belief system. Because, as we all should know, the idea of having a huge celebration and feast in the middle of winter was hardly something invented by Christians, and Jesus wasn’t even born in December anyway.

But before I offend anyone with my neutrality on the Christ aspect of Christmas, let me move on. My quite liking the festive season can probably be attributed to my noted affinity for pretty, sparkling things, which are in abundance as the 25th of December rolls around. Beautiful, shimmering ornaments; the gentle crispness of a frosted lawn; lazily twinkling fairy lights. These arbitrary refractions of light have managed to creep slowly into my heart, driving home a deep sense of both aesthetic contentment and nostalgic pleasure.

I suppose Christmas is quite a sensory affair generally, so although you might catch a glimpse or a scent of one Christmassy thing, there is nothing quite like the total immersion into the Christmas senses. Perhaps in Southampton, our annual German Christmas Market is the best example of this, although being Southampton, it’s more often than not a little damp, overpriced and generally disappointing. But that feeling of cold weather biting into the exposed areas of skin, combined with the rich scents of cinnamon and oranges, the sound of bells and cheesy pop songs, the taste of warm mince pies and mulled wine, with the vision of warmth and sparkle, is like no other.

One of the most exciting things about Christmas is that every year it’s basically the same. This familiarity passed down through generations of weird repetitive traditions is what attracts us to the concept, bringing some stability to our otherwise crazy lives. And the more traditions you pick up along the way, the more important the day becomes. Here’s a brief list of some of my personal Christmas traditions!

Hot chocolate & Christmas films
Liking hot chocolate has become quite a recent thing for me. Before, the cloying sweetness and distinct milky aftertaste were simply too offputting. Now, I add a bit of salt, load up on whipped cream, and enjoy the indulgence! And what could be a more perfect accompaniment than a great Christmas film? My favourites are Love Actually, Home Alone and It’s A Wonderful Life. 

Stocking purchasing
This might be my very favourite out of all in this list, and I only introduced it last year. Fahad and I will go into town, sit and have a warm drink somewhere, get out £20 each and then split up to shop for each others’ stocking fillers. The price constraint forces us to get the most ridiculous gifts – last year I managed to pick up a tabletop pool table for £1 (thank you Poundland!) which we only got around to using last month before throwing it away (it was hilarious for the 10 minutes we played it for, but once you realise it’s a bit of plastic that doesn’t function properly, it loses its desirability fast!). It’s just a fun way to spend an hour – rushing around town trying to avoid each other while we buy each other copious amounts of crap.

Gingerbread house
Okay, so this isn’t strictly a tradition… yet. I used to decorate the fully constructed gingerbread house presented to me as a child, and I feel like actually making the whole thing from scratch will be so satisfying. I envisage making a beautifully iced gingerbread cottage, complete with dots here and there of various sweets (hmm, if only we hadn’t eaten the huge multipack we bought for trick or treaters on Halloween), but it will probably look more like a gingerbread shack than anything else… Will post photos when this imminent disaster occurs!

Christmas Dinner party
This started off when we lived in our first student house and included a rotiserrie chicken from Sainsburys up the road and 7 people wedged around a table barely fit for 4. Thankfully, these days the affair is much-improved. It traditionally involves a roast dinner of some kind – with some recurring classics (goose fat roast potatoes, spiced red cabbage, honey roasted parsnips) and some completely new things – this year I’m going to do a clementine butter sauce for my carrots and green beans. The night always ends with a game. Last year it was Trivial Pursuit, which I think led to a slight mental breakdown for Fahad… It’s a great way to cook for some of my great friends, and because the other guys coming this year are all couples, we’re going to all be taking on different courses and doing a secret santa too!

Christmas Eve with the Nicaraguans
My surrogate family are a bunch of crazy Nicaraguans who have been a part of my life for many years now, and for at least the past five, I’ve spent Christmas Eve with them. We sit around in pyjamas and read ‘A Visit From Saint Nicholas’ in funny accents by the light of the Christmas tree while we drink hot chocolate or tea and generally invoke a Christmassy mood with mince pies, old Christmas hits and the occasional shot of Flor de Caña (well, it wouldn’t be a special occasion without it).

Opening one present on Christmas Eve
This is a very vague nod to my German heritage that probably stemmed from me being an impatient child annoying my mum, for her to placate me by allowing me to open one present before Christmas Day. Either way, opening presents on Christmas Eve is a German thing, and it’s something I’ve continued into adulthood. Although I enjoy opening presents in a great heap (if I’m lucky!) on Christmas morning, there is something very special about being allowed to open one prematurely.

My wonderful Grandad and me

Last year, I embroidered mine and Fahad’s names onto our respective stockings, and I am determined that they will survive many years ahead despite their humble beginnings (thank you, Poundland). Although this doesn’t seem like a very unique tradition, Fahad had never experienced anything so Christmassy, being raised in a Muslim family, and I set out to show him how magical and fun these things can be – no matter your religion. We open our stockings while we’re still in bed, and they include all the classic tacky novelties – chocolate coins, a chocolate orange, a clementine. Plus the spoils from our stocking scavenge in town the week before!

Christmas brunch
After stockings, we will come down and indulge in a Christmas brunch. For me, Christmas hinges mostly on food (sparkles too, but mainly food). I love the decadence and the excuse to indulge in such warming flavours and luxurious sweets. This year, I’ll be making smoked salmon bagels with asparagus (mine topped with a poached egg and hollaindaise, Fahad’s topped with garlic mushrooms and creme fraiche), washed down with orange juice – or maybe bucks fizz if we’re feeling adventurous.

“May I kissmas?”
This one is kind of an inside joke between myself and Fahad. If you put on a stupid voice, “merry Christmas” becomes “may I kissmas”, at which point you’re either granted or denied a kiss. It’s pretty stupid, but last year, everytime I got the urge to wish Fahad a merry Christmas, I ended up being kissed all over my face. We’re not always very openly affectionate with one another, so sometimes it’s nice to enact our inner soppiness, even if it’s in a pretty stupid way.

Ice skating
I am slightly undecided on the fate of this particular tradition, as last year, I hounded all our friends to go ice skating as a group, only to fall over and break my wrist. We did manage to get in a few beers in Ben’s shed before I caved and went to A&E, but I had a splint on my hand for a month and I am in no way prepared to repeat those events. Nevertheless, I am not one to be discouraged, and maybe this time I’ll eventually stay on my feet!

The year list
This is just a list of cool things that happened this year. Fahad and I reached a lot of milestones in our relationship (moved into a house that was just ours, bought our own sofa and TV, caught up on The Walking Dead with minimal spoilers), but I also have achieved some personal goals and have generally had some really great moments that I know I’ll forget if I don’t note them down. I love having a resource to look back on when I’m feeling down or unproductive, to let myself know that I am far more capable than I realise.

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