Own your Christmas!

Own your Christmas!

Make it your celebration

For this year's festive season I have a few tips to re-think and re-frame to keep festivities more merry than stressful.


  1. Make it your celebration

How about tuning out the noise of how it 'should' be to uncover what we really want it to be: What does Christmas really mean to you, personally? (Even if you don't celebrate it as such, my guess is that some kind of festivities are dear to you at this time of year.)

Take a moment to ponder: What memories do you cherish? Which festive rituals do you love most, and which conventions do you hate? What memories, sounds and smells does it conjure? Which particular dishes do you crave, or rather skip?

It's an opportunity to tune into what you love the most about this special time, while giving yourself permission to drop the parts you carry along just because 'it's done that way'.

My own memories of Christmas very much gravitate around the food; of fun and laughter in the kitchen while cooking something special and exciting (though not necessarily 'traditional'). I also love the twinkly lights and candles giving these very darkest days of the year a special festive glow (there is a reason why lights and winter festivities are associated!)

But while I love all the kitchen excitement, I like to remain unfussy, even at Christmas. A bit of extra effort is OK for a special day, but in my world, 'special occasion cooking' never equals 'slaving in the kitchen'.


2. Have a feast

Celebrating with a feast is one of those uniquely human activities that runs though our history as a species. Feasts are meant to be lively and convivial. As Nigel Slater puts it in A Cook's Book:

"Feasting is about how you eat as much as it is about what is on your plate... [it] is about unbridled generosity and a sense of spirit."

Indeed, cooking is meant to be sociable! Don't lock yourself away alone in the kitchen.

Put on some music, light a candle and involve others. Enlist the help of family and guests. Peeling, chopping, clearing up as you go, setting the table, mixing the salad dressing... there are all kinds of jobs to be shared out to people of all ages to lighten the load.

At the very least, demand company. Even if not helping as such, kitchen 'companions' can chat to you, pour you a glass of something, share in the tasting and sniffing and generally make the occasion feel as jolly as it's meant to be. You may be surprised at how different cooking feels when in good company!

Keep everyone involved in the cooking process too - chat about recipes and ingredients, let people sniff and taste as you go, and everyone will feel as excited about the cooking as the cook.

Yes, it may get a bit messy but it will be so much more fun along the way. Try it at least once - and why not this Christmas?


3. Trust the journey

For maximum enjoyment, focus more on the journey and less on the destination.

Reframe your cooking as a process and a ritual and take your eyes off the finishing line. It doesn't have to be a competition. Cook to cook, not just to eat.

And when it comes to eating, stick to the same approach: Eat to eat, not just to swallow.

Aim for quality not quantity. Enjoy every bite to the fullest: the anticipation, the smell, the mouthfeel, the taste... Listen to your body too: eat what you fancy, decline what you don't like, eat as much as feels right, and stop when you feel full (you can always have more later).

Choose food over 'food products'. Remember: if you cooked it, it's healthy (this also applies to cakes, desserts and snacks :)

Trust in the magic of home cooking: as humans we all appreciate being cooked for, and nobody expects, or even wants, a fancy restaurant meal for Christmas.

Give some thought to what you truly love about the festive table, and let go of the dutiful rest, alongside any expectations of 'doing it right'; it's meant to be a feast of joy!


4. Get into the mood

Do you have pre-Christmas rituals? Window shopping. A home-made Christmas cake. Getting out the decorations. Digging out the recipes. Singing carols. Lighting candles. Whatever it is that gets you into the festive mood, take an extra moment to feel the joy and gratitude this brings.

Get inspired by recipes without getting stuck. Browse for fresh ideas but never be shy to adjust and simplify to fit your needs.
And if you don't feel like experimenting on the big day, how about trying out some new dishes in the weeks ahead?

Adopt a low impact mindset. Choose quality over quantity: buy less, buy better.

Use everything (whether it's leaves and stems or bones and giblets).

Use common sense to avoid waste: Food does not suddenly disintegrate the day after that printed date. My approach: If it looks, smells and tastes OK, it's fine.

Think twice about presents - the gesture always counts more than the 'thing'. Is it useful? Will it last? How was it made? Can you gift an experience instead? (a meal, a trip, a course, a memory?) Something handmade or upcycled? What about the wrapping - can you re-use or recycle? (I love using newspaper, yes really!)

Support independent small businesses where you can. (Your butcher, greengrocer, bakery, deli and local book store will thank you more than you know.)


5. Think outside the box

Making things easier, better, or just more your own doesn't have to be complicated or difficult. Sometimes the solution is right under our nose, but we can't see it until we change perspective.

Like some, I used to be a Brussels sprouts hater. Steamed Brussels wasn't something I would eat voluntarily, any time of the year. But then my vegbox subscription forced me to go looking for ways to learn to like them. I went into research mode (= having fun browsing through my favourite cookbooks) and learned that Brussels sprouts hate water and love fat, spices, and a bit of acidity to balance their bitterness.

I have since tried them roasted with butter, cumin and harissa, sautéed with bacon, honey and balsamic, and stir-fried with miso, ginger and lemon zest. Guess what... no more sprout hating in my house! The trick is to avoid water, and be generous with strong flavours.

So whether your challenge is about making the bird roast easier, coming up with a vegetarian centrepiece, a festive meal for one, or rustling up an easy side or one-of-a-kind salad... I suggest you have some fun with the research and never dismiss the unusual solutions.

I'm not a recipe writer, and I won't turn into one for this occasion, but I have put together this collection of my favourite resources and ideas for an out-of-the-ordinary Christmas feast.





NOTE: This blog was originally written as a series of festive guest posts for the TREE newsletter.

Categories: (RE)THINK, EXPLORE


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