Friday, 10 September 2010

That "Christmas" word

Well its official that "C" word has  reared its head again along with all the produce to go with it.  Our local Coop has all the Christmas bits and bobs in i.e the full range of goodies to tempt customers to part with those few extra pennies.  Well yes it is September some four months to go until Christmas.  Most people have only just had their "summer" holidays. And it is somewhat of a body shock and wake up call to be reminded that Christmas is drawing nearer and nearer and parents start worrying about how they are going to be able to afford that particular present that "Betsy" or "Bob" wants as well as make sure that there is plenty to eat on the table for the Christmas celebrations and afterwards as well.  Please remember that Christmas in reality for most families means that they only get time off for a day or two, although traditionally Christmas was a festival of 12 days and that for the most part the shops are usually closed for a one or two day period in any event, so you don't have to go overboard.

Even the cheapie book shop has Christmas cards in, the Charity shops too, Lakeland have started bringing a few things in including cake decorations for the Christmas cake. Even a stall on the market that sells fabric and vinyl table material even has a Christmas design as well as  quite a choice of Christmas fabric for the avid crafter. Oh well - it doesn't seem that we are going to change them so might as well take advantage and plot and plan and budget for the weeks ahead so that we are not faced with an astronomical bill all in one hit just before Christmas. It doesn't mean that I am going to rush in.  With a little careful planning and thought we can achieve this.  After all Christmas is a religious festival.  Although I have my beliefs, for me Christmas is primarily a time for spending time with family and friends and spending quality time with everyone.

For some years now, every September I have started buying a few things a week and putting them up for Christmas. My squirrelling instincts come out and every item is precious and hard earned.  I have had a huge red polythene chest that I keep in the cupboard under the stairs (the jam pantry) and I fill this  with a few choice items per week. Its quite satisfying to see things build up and know that you are accumulating good stock items that  will mean that you and your family will have a Christmas of sorts and without having to pay through the nose for it. I buy in things like After Eights (eg these were £1 a box in my local pound shop this week), amaretti, jellies, Icing sugar, mixed fruit, nuts, marzipan etc. etc. tinned fruit, tinned cream, crisps, pringles, wines, spirits, (and from what I have seen spirits have gone up a lot just recently so it would pay to try and by these if needed when they are on offer), crackers and biscuits etc the choice is yours as we all have different palates and love different things.

I make sure that my baking ingredients store is well topped up as then I will have free reign  as to the choice of which recipes I can actually bake come Christmas.  I always do a Christmas bake  - traditionally in my family it has always been on Christmas Eve (early morning going through the day listening to the carols on the radio), but that is another subject altogether. 

However I am drawing the line at tins of sweets this year at the moment as they want £11 a tin round at the Co-op at the moment per variety the largest being Quality Street at 1kg in weight the others being Roses and the mixed chocolates like mini Mars bars, Snickers Bounty etc. and they are less than 1kg.  If I can get them cheaper else where I will do but not at that price at the moment and they may well be off the list for this year altogether.  I will have to make the most of what comes my way.  But they were £8 for two tins last year - ridiculous that they want £11 a tin now.

I look at the date stamps on the items I am considering buying and only buy those items that go well into next year that will keep for quite a period.  I make a list of items that don't fit into that category for contemplation nearer the time.  This is a good way of taking advantage of bog offs or special weekly offers that are ongoing within the different stores.  I have in the past  also re-used old sweet tins to either put a mixture of different sweets in (ones that we like - in recent years we have gone off the variety of sweets provided by the regular manufacturers as they have messed with the contents and with the flavourings) so I would rather do this and then provide a selection of a few choice home made sweets - they really are not complicated once you have had a go and played and found your way round the recipes.  I love proper Turkish Delight but it is expensive.  However, it is very easy to make, can be made a few weeks before Christmas and keeps relatively well. Plus by making it yourself you get more for your money.  Home made fudge and toffee are also good ones to do as well.

Christmas is not about keeping up with the Jones'  or about being a slave to the kitchen but being able to have a good main meal and at least a few luxury items - most of which you can prepare yourself in advance with the aid of the freezer, a pantry, a jam store, wine cellar/store, fridge and by taking advantage of the seasonality of things and making things like jams and wines and beers cider chutney curds mustards oils vinegars. And there is still a lot of produce to take advantage of yet so if you get your skates on you can add a few extra goodies to your own pantry/larder cupboard to ring the changes with a little time and effort.  Making as much as you can as you go along means you will have more time to do the things that you really need to do and enjoy doing them as well.

I am very fussy when it comes to Sausages and Sausage meat and I like Lincolnshire style sausages which has quite a bit of spicing and herbs in - that is my choice.  I cannot always afford what I would really like to due to expense but what about buying a 1lb or 1kg of sausagemeat on a weekly or every other week basis  and making sausage rolls and then freezing them.Then whenyouneed them you just bring them out and cook them.  All ready prepared can be ticked off the list so that you can get on with other items thus maximising your time.  So don't panic, you can achieve what you need to  as well as make lots of other things along the way. 

I am particularly keen this year to go collecting where I can greenery to add to the decorations I already have.  I had always thought it complicated but after the wealth of Christmas programmes on last year it has sort of demystified the process slightly and  I am particularly keen to have a bash myself.  that all takes time and needs to be done a couple of days before Christmas so yet again if all the basics have been done in good time with the preparation this will give you more time to deal with the asthetics and enjoy doing the pretty bits with regard to the decorating etc.  Its also a good time to go collecting willow and making your own frames for Christmas decorations as well as a good time to pick up those fir cones on that walk to turn into Christmas decorations or fire starters (that is if you or a friend has a proper open fire) as well as teasels for drying.  There are lots of options open to you that need not cost the earth and whats more it helps reconnect you to the season as you are giving so much more of yourself by putting all the extra attention and effort into things.  They say that you only get as much out of something as the effort that you have put in.

Well enough of my ramblings for now I hope it has given you some food for thought and I hope it helps you formulate your own little plan of action.

More ramblings to follow at a later date.




  1. Nice post, I'm afraid I get very irritated with these 4 month long Christmas's in the shops but I'm all for buying and putting away gifts if I see something I think is appropriate. Food prep doesn't begin until late October/early November for me when I make the Christmas cake and mincemeat. I prefer to enjoy the season I'm actually in and especially autumn as this is my favourite time of the year. People always seem to be racing on to the next thing rather than appreciating the present. I'm reading on American forums about people getting out Halloween decorations and starting to put them out! I do decorate for Samhain but not until a couple of days before. It's good to live in the moment I think though there's nothing wrong with a bit of anticipation along the way:)

  2. Hi Rowan - lovely to hear from you. Hope the family are all well and that you have had a really good time.

    I tend to agree with you about the four months lead up to Christmas - from a completely purist point of view that would be my chosen way. Its the way I was bought up. But working full time my "preparation" time is limited - although I do down tools to do certain things to maximise the time to get things done at the end of the day the housework and other committments still need to be slotted in. This year I have gone back to a more seasonal way of eating and preparing things than ever before. As you put it "living in the moment" and I am enjoying doing this. Its also going back to my roots a more simple and more honest way of living. I still have a way to go - I have a clear idea of what I would like to achieve, but its not there yet and its only through trial and error that you only work out something tailor made to suit everyone.

    I get fed up with the commercialisation too (especially last year when in January they were selling Easter Eggs and had only just got rid of the Christmas stuff) and my immediate reaction was oh no. But we have to deal with what hand life delivers us and our own circumstances are as best we can and cut our cloth according to our kelter. Planning a little helps eases things out - its not necessarily the ideal way but compromise also plays its part so in effect I have my feet in both camps and am "cherry picking" those things I want to do or have a go at pennies providing. I aim to buy one or two things a week - but if the pennies are not there then that cannot be done. It comes down to choices at the end of the day and sometimes too much choice can "muddy the waters". My cake and puddings will be done last week of September/first week of October as I still have other preserving projects and things for the freezer to do. But at the end of the day it comes down to choices, plenty of planning, the finances available and about gelling it into some semblance of order that works for you so that you get variety and lots of good food to boot. I prefer to make things myself if I can as I get so much more satisfaction from this. So here's to living in the moment and finding a solution that suits the family's needs however it is arrived at and having plenty of good food and a good time to boot.

    I too love Autumn and I am enjoying lurking round the hedgerows at the moment and elderberry jelly is next on the agenda. I told you its the Squirrelling instincts that come out with me, now all I need to find is some nuts!

    Catch you later


  3. Hi Pattypan
    I too have always put a box away and added a food item or two to it each week - it was the only way when my children was small that I managed to afford Xmas and all the trimmings for us. Even though my children have all grown now - I still have my box and it is already half full. It takes the pressure off my purse for that last weekly shop just before Xmas - it's amazing how much it does help. Many thanks - Bye Sandra

  4. Hi Pattypan
    I couldn't believe it when I saw the Christmas items in the shops the other day... why can't they wait till after halloween/bonfire night. We end up having 3 different celebrations in the shops all at the same time.

    I always put an item or two away each week leading up to christmas, it certainly helps.


  5. My Nan and my Mum also used to do this. I think that living in the War years when they could not take anything for granted and the fact that wages were a lot lower, spurred this way of budgeting and became second nature. In those days you had to save up for things and pay as you went. I know that mum's family had it tough but equally my other grandparents did too. There were different priorities and different needs. With my partner not working either I think I have sort of gone back to tried and trusted methods in an attempt to make something out of nothing and without paying through the nose either especially with the one wage coming in as most of that is catered for on bills in any event. I find it works for me, but my choices are much more considered these days and I try and work out what I need rather than just buying willy nilly.



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