Christmas: 8 Festive Traditions

Traditions, handed down through the generations, make the Festive Season special. Adapted over the years, and from family to family, their origins are sometimes forgotten but they remain constant. Even The Grinch traditionally marked Christmas home alone in his cave, as a protest against the commercialisation of the annual winter festival.

Celebrations are important and Thanksgiving or Harvest Festival, Easter and other national holidays represent the core aspects of any culture. Each has its own distinctive motifs and while gathering together with people (whether family and friends, or complete strangers in the pub) is central to Christmas, what holds it all together are the familiar rituals that light up the depths of winter darkness.

The good thing about festive traditions too is that you can choose what you like, and leave the rest. Here are 8 of my favourites to pick and choose from.

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Christmas decorations at Windsor Castle

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and this week I share my visit to see the royal decorations at the iconic Windsor Castle. The day trip was part festive, part reminisce (verb: to indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events) and part pilgrimage. Which seems entirely fitting as the year draws to an end.

Let’s get Christmas 2022 started!

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This week… balloons, bobbins and The Blitz

Summer’s over, hello autumn. September is a glorious month with nature turning slowly into golden chestnut and mellow amber. Every acorn and conker bring a sense of childhood delight and the promise of dark twinkling skies, cosy casserole suppers, and earthy red wines.

That sense of the seasons turning is so evocative. In autumn it’s the ‘back to school’ feeling of anticipation and excitement that we enjoy. It’s a part of our DNA. We are intimately connected to nature and at a primal level the sensuous changes that each season brings makes us feel alive.

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This week… books and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

In an attempt to focus on the positive and ‘forget about the worries and the strife’ of the world-at-large (apologies for paraphrasing Baloo, but you get the idea), I find there’s a lot to be grateful for. Okay, so there’s a lot of rubbish going on too but, hey, I’m trying here.

The bright summer days are metamorphosing into autumnal mellowness. The light is softening and early mornings have a slight chill in the air, with dramatic sunsets taking place and noticeably earlier each day. There is the unmistakable, tell-tale earthy smell in the air and on woodland walks the grounds are strewn with acorns and drying leaves. The simple bare necessities.

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The best farm shops: Cowdray Farm

As the summer starts to wind down it’s time to start thinking about stocking up with those little items that will turn root vegetables and autumnal fruit into heartwarming dishes in the cooler months to come. A few jars of pesto and paste to enrich winter casseroles, a tin of quality sardines to whizz into a pate to accompany hot buttered toast, or a few venison sausages to tuck away in the freezer ready to be enjoyed with a rich gravy and mash.

One of the appeals of farm shops is the retro atmosphere of a visit to the individual butcher, baker, and greengrocer, in person. They offer a return to simpler times when the options were almost entrely seasonal, local and without so much plastic packaging.

And, here’s the thing. Each farm shop is individual and you are never sure exactly what you will find. It’s that sense of the unexpected that appeals to jaded palates used to everything being available 24/7 and year-round.

In the second of the hashtagtravelling series on farm shops, I visited the decidedly up-market Cowdray Farm Shop in search of interesting seasonal and store cupboard ingredients, as well as some late season Italian lemons.

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The Best Farm Shops: Heckfield Home Farm

In recent years I have shopped less and less in supermarkets. Instead, I choose to seek out the farm shops, genuine produce markets and artisan makers for those authentic food experiences. Not all farm shops are created equal, however, with more and more becoming glorified delicatessens, offering products otherwise available at the supermarket or online. The Heckfield Home Farm, part of the larger Heckfield estate in Hampshire, hosts occasional markets offering seasonal produce grown on the farm, or made by local artisan makers.

This week I dropped in to the August market in my ongoing search for real food. And I wasn’t disappointed.

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Discover a secret garden this summer

This week I’ve been enjoying many horticultural delights courtesy of the National Garden Scheme (NGS). The annual summer event provides the opportunity to mosey around private and public gardens in aid of charity.

The scheme is so quintessentially English, reminiscent of the beloved village fete an atmosphere fostered by the delicious homemade cakes available. Spoilt for choice at one garden, I indulged in a generous portion of walnut cake with a pot of cafetière coffee on a shady patio. Hosts were ultra friendly and there was some lively chat amongst the visitors. I met up with one couple at the next garden too, and we greeted each other like old friends. Gardening tips were swopped and recommendations for further gardens to visit. Aah, an English summer.

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Review: Out Of The Blue at The Arc

In the beginning there was Terence Conran, Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell, Mary Quant, to name but a few of the innovative mid-century designers, and Tricia Guild. The Designers Guild began in 1970 with Guild opening in a small section of a shop in Chelsea’s King’s Road in 1974. It quickly became synonymous with cutting-edge design, the brand a byword for stylish living. The Guild’s fabrics were decidedly covetable and bestowed a certain je ne sais quoi.

Out Of The Blue, exploring the Designers Guild, first debuted at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London in February 2020 and subsequently closed due to the pandemic. The good news is that the exhibition, showcasing several exhibits not previously displayed, opened last week at The Arc in the historic city of Winchester.

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Review: moody blooms by Tricia Guild and photography by James Merrell

Tricia Guild’s new book, moody blooms: designing with nature, is part gardening book, part art catalogue and part interior design manual. The pages explode with colour and present an exploration of the varying forms and energies of different plants as an integral element of a beautifully designed interior. Guild’s designs are influenced by the cyclical life of a twig, leaf or flower from tentative bud to full-blown deliciousness, as well as their melancholic demise. Her work is a blend, a meeting of graphic design and painting, travel influences and structural objects, light and shade.

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Jubilee: the best royal trees in the south east

In periods of social unrest public statues are often defaced or pulled down. Man-made buildings too are destroyed, as in Henry VIII’s Reformation, as a symbol of protest and change. Trees, on the other hand, planted to commemorate a special date or event, are an entirely different matter. Trees maintain their dignity and longevity. They go about the business of living quietly and conscientiously. They absorb pollutants in the atmosphere, provide us with oxygen, prevent flooding and land erosion, influence wind speed and temper climate. They also provide habitats for wildlife, and being near them improves our health too. Visit these attractions this summer to see some magnificent royal trees.

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