The Christmas season is so full of excitement – from the first Christmas song you hear in the grocery store, to the Big Day itself, and even Boxing Day, which is filled with its own delights. Christmas in England brings forth images of snowy country cottages (although, any British person will tell you, snowy days tend to be few- and far-between) with mulled wine, mince pies, and the Queen’s annual Christmas speech on the television.
Christmas at the Cambridge house – or, more accurately, at Amner Hall, the country home where Kate and her family has spent the past several Christmases – must be full of joy. The extra special happiness that children add to Christmas day, mixed with the picturesque Norfolk countryside and a beautifully decorated country home must make for an idyllic Christmas. At a royal engagement in Leicester, Kate said that George, Charlotte, and Louis are ‘getting so excited for Christmas time. They’ve started all their Christmas songs and Christmas trees are going up and all that.”
So just how does the Duchess of Cambridge prepare for that special day, and how can we capture that royal sparkle for our own Christmas season?
Luckily, we’ve got some real insider tips. In her first official interview, Carole Middleton, Kate’s lovely, classically-British mum, shared her top Christmas tips. Kate and Carole are so close, that we are sure they’ve shared the same ideas and traditions for making spirits bright. In her interview with The Telegraph, Carole shares:
Carole’s Christmas Tips
- I start planning Christmas soon after Hallowe’en. I’m a big list-maker and I try to get everyone involved.
- I’ve recently gone vegan. Or maybe that should be flexitarian. If I go to somone’s house for dinner, I’m not going to make a fuss. For Christmas, I’d probably have two options – very traditional and something vegan.
- Be organised. Don’t take on more than you feel comfortable doing. The minute the host is stressed, everyone else is too.
- When it comes to dress codes, make it clear on the invitation if you’d like people to wear black tie and long dresses. If guests call to ask what to wear, don’t be tempted to downplay it if you’re going to be formal, because they’ll feel awkward. That said, I really don’t mind what people wear when they come to supper – I rarely host anything that formal.
- Don’t get hung up on perfection. Often it’s the mistakes that make things memorable.
- For last-minute gifts, I love a Christmas market. A few years ago, a girlfriend gave me a tree decoration. Every time I get it out, I think of her.
- I like to have a theme for the wrapping – all red, or all craft paper, or make a big thing with the ribbons. Mike gets very involved with the square shapes. He’s very precise. I like to save boxes and put tricky-shaped presents in them, and I do the whole thing listening to carols.
- My Christmas essentials are mince pies, mulled wine and mistletoe.
- I try not to be too set when it comes to the schedule. Generally, we got to church in the morning, then a walk, open a few presents (with more in the evening). Then champagne and smoked salmon for lunch, and the main Christmas meal in the evening – but with young grandchildren, maybe we’ll move that forward and have it at lunchtime.
- I like to dress up on Christmas Day: something like the red Goat dress, with a big pinny over it for when I’m cooking.
- It’s really important to write thank-you letters. Within 10 days ideally. Which reminds me, I’ve got a couple outstanding.
Kate and Carole also share a very sweet tradition for the children – each little one has their own tree in their bedroom, which they can decorate with homemade decorations or special ornaments meant just for them. Many families have adopted this tradition, picking up tiny trees anywhere from the tree farm to Waitrose and letting the little ones create their own Christmas masterpiece. Plus, we bet it makes the bedrooms smell amazing!
Decorating the tree is one of the best ways to get into the Christmas spirit. Unboxing all those lovely ornaments (oh, what we would give to see what ornaments Kate has on her tree!), untangling lights, arguing over whether the star is straight atop the tree, all while Christmas carols play in the background. In addition to decorating, we bet Kate gets in the kitchen with her little ones to make classic Christmas cookies and mince pies. If you’ve never had a mince pie, you really must try one – they taste just like Christmas, and we love this recipe from Kate’s beloved Waitrose.
As for gifts, it really must be difficult to shop when your grandmother-in-law is the Queen of England, and your own family lives quite comfortably. The royal family tends to buy gag gifts, such as a silly heated toilet seat or a ridiculously tacky pair of socks. For the hardest to shop for on your list, you really can’t go wrong with homemade gifts. On her first Christmas at Sandringham, Kate famously gifted the Queen a jar of squash chutney, which ended up on the table on Boxing Day.
Kate’s sister, Pippa, shared the recipe in her famous party-planning book, Celebrate, along with several other edible homemade gift ideas, including chocolate truffles, gingerbread stars, and peppermint creams. Here, we are sharing the now-infamous recipe fro Granny’s Squash Chutney – if its good enough for the Queen, it is good enough for the hard-to-shop-for family on your Christmas list:
Granny Middleton’s Squash Chutney Recipe
Granny Middleton's Squash Chutney
A recipe fit for a Queen, or your own loving grandmother, adapted from Pippa Middleton’s book, Celebrate.
- 4 lbs zucchini or summer squash
- 4 onions
- 3 apples
- 8 oz golden raisins
- 8 oz pitted dates (roughly chopped)
- 2 1/2 cups malt vinegar
- 2 lbs soft brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tbsp mixed picking spices (tied in a piece of cheesecloth)
Peel and chop the onions, squash, and apples into small chunks.
Add the squash, onions, apples, raisins, dates, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, ginger, and pickling spices in a large preserving pan, or a very large stock pot. Stir together and place over medium heat.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1-2 hours until the chutney is thick and aromatic.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. When cool, remove the pickling spices, squeezing the juice from the bag.
Spoon the chutney into sterilized jars, leaving about 1/3 inch at the top. These can be stored in the fridge for up to one month, or preserved with sterilized lids. If preserved properly, they can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months.