A Long Way From California... Part 2.

by Beverly Franklin-Atkinson

...back to part 1

Back in Southern California we’re much more relaxed about Christmas morning. In general, if it’s a non-workday, then mornings are meant for a lie-in. Second – we normally just roll down to the Christmas tree in our jammies and bed-head with a cup of coffee to bolster us for the melee that is to ensue. Then to maintain some semblance of order and prevent trampling, presents are handed around the room. Once in hand, though, all bets are off – let the games begin! Paper, bows, ribbons start flying as the much anticipated gifts are disrobed. That’s at home. Not in the Cotswolds. Apparently they are much more civilized as everyone comes down fully dressed in their Christmas day outfits all done up by some ungodly hour like 9am. And when my husband tries to pry me out of my cocoon of warmth and happiness to go get ready in the 50°F bathroom with only a bathTUB/no shower!, I am none to cooperative.

At this point I tell him to head down without me and I’ll be down later. This is when he gently tells me that everyone has to be down there in order for the dissemination of the gifts to begin. In other words, not using quite the same phrasing, but basically it is my fault that the 5 & 7 year old cousins are having to wait because the lazy, discourteous American won’t get her princess butt out of bed. So up I get, bitching and moaning the whole time, until I get downstairs to the smell of coffee and breakfast wafting about. We enter that same small family room with the ever faithful stove crackling away. The whole family is there waiting and they’ve saved me the favored seat right next to the heat source. All is good. Still attempting to wake up, gifts are being passed around. Once one hits my hands I get to the task of opening it, at which point my husband whispers that we’re to wait until everyone has their gifts before opening. Oops, yet another faux pas – oh well, what’s one more.

One subject I haven’t touched on is the food. From the minute we enter to the time we leave, it is non-stop. I’m not complaining mind you. It is wonderful – biscuits, cakes, mince pies, hams, bread, cheeses, turkey, whitesauce, roasties, brussels, leeks, kale, gravy. The veggies right out of their garden. Breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, dessert, nightcap, evening snack. The amount of preparation and planning that goes into being able to feed 15-18 people for the entire holiday period is a herculean task that is not truly appreciated until you try it for yourself. When I try to replicate just a small portion of this at home it is a futile attempt and usually a total disaster. My kitchen was a total disaster zone, I ended up a frazzled mess yelling & screaming like only Gordon Ramsay could. This does not happen at Fairfield House. Everything seems to move like a well choreographed ballet. The subject of wonderful food made with love and years of experience is worthy of a post all its own.

Usually when it’s time to leave we have finally reintergrated into my husband’s family and their traditions once again. It’s a whirlwind of activity, a beehive of socializing, long country walks through the surrounding fields and up the hill to the monument – time spent catching up with one another. Just before leaving I always soak in my last view of the horse standing on the frosty hill out the kitchen window, I check to see if there is ice I need to crack on the pond in the back garden so the fish & frogs can breath, I walk around the garden taking stock of the miraculous plants that have not curled up into a ball and just died for the winter – all while my poor husband is running up and down stairs lugging my well-stocked suitcases to the car. My first Christmas was a learning curve for me, figuring out what was expected and how not to be the ugly American. Each Christmas after that first one has been like coming home again. There is no feeling like it.

Beverly is a Californian who loves to be warm. When she’s not writing for Christmas in London, she can be found in the kitchen, on horseback or looking after her chickens at Suburban Chicken.

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