When I was a child, Christmas was spent in deepest, darkest Yorkshire visiting my grandmother. Nestled on the edge of the moors, the road to grandma's house was surrounded by howling winds, abandoned barns and beckoning branches. On arrival, my sister and I would summon the courage to race up the shadowy driveway to grandma's house, where we knew Christmas would be waiting. Sure enough, the crackle of burning logs and a carefully laid table groaning with freshly baked cakes greeted us as we piled through the doorway.
Christmas lunch came and went without a turkey in sight; my French mother would not allow it. Instead, we would sit down to a seafood platter laden with prawns, mussels and crab, pausing only to pass the lemon or pull a cracker. Years later, the turkey-free tradition continues; festivities begin with an apéritif (or two), followed by a prawn cocktail, beef wellington, and finally, a cheese board that would keep most French bistros in business for a week.
If it's your turn to hop into the yuletide hosting seat, why not take a peek at these top tips to help you keep calm and carry on over Christmas...
If you're keen to avoid Christmas carnage in the supermarket aisles, why not mosey online and shop from the safety of your own sofa? Crank up the carols, uncork the sherry and get clicking. You'll find plenty of festive, ready-made food that doesn't cost a fortune, heats up in minutes and tastes good enough to eat. If it's your turn to don the chef's hat this year, don't choose Christmas day to unleash your inner Heston Blumenthal – stick to tried and tested recipes that don't require safety goggles and a lab coat to recreate.
order of play
Is your family descending in full festive force this Christmas? If so, why not circulate a running order for the day, letting guests know when to arrive (and leave, if you're feeling brave), what time drinks will be served (more importantly) and when they can expect to sit down to dinner (subject to change). You'll also need to be aware of any dietary requirements in order to avoid frantic last-minute foraging in the kitchen: if auntie Sarah only eats yellow foods that have been hand-picked under a full moon, you'll need to know in advance (so that you can uninvite her).
santa's little helpers
Are uncle Joe's Yorkshire puddings out of this world? Perhaps nobody does gravy quite like grandma? If so, why not ask them to sing for their supper (no more carols, please) and bring their own signature dish to the dinner table? Assign the more tedious tasks to your in-house army, such as boiling (and then binning) sprouts, peeling spuds and basting the turkey. Ask your children to join you in setting the table, serving the dishes and doing the washing up; convince them how fun it all is, and remind them again years later when it's their turn to host Christmas.
Tired, cranky and ready for a nap - and that's just the adults. When your children - or relatives - need a break from all the excitement and E numbers, stick them in front of a festive film or take them for a post-lunch walk to the park. Stock up on board games that the whole family can enjoy together; opt for child-friendly games such as Pictionary and charades, and avoid competitive games such as Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit that are likely to end in family fisticuffs and removal from next year's Christmas card list.
let it flow
Christmas is about spending time with loved ones, so don't forget to take a break from chopping, tidying and topping up to mingle with your guests. Refrain from agonising over every last detail; nobody will notice if the napkins don't match the tablecloth or the mince pies are wonky. Also, prepare to wave goodbye to your child's daily routine; yes, they may have eaten a family-sized tin of sweets and won't sleep for a week, but, it is Christmas. And remember, the benefit of hosting this special day is being able to seek refuge in your kitchen should any bickering break out (usually from 1:30pm onwards).
Whether your Christmas is a turkey with all the trimmings or a takeaway for two, make sure it's stuffed with good food and even better company. Don't worry about wrapping up the year with a picture-perfect Christmas; the day may be filled with lumpy gravy and burnt pudding, but the memory of shared laughter will keep loved ones coming back for seconds. Across the world, families will be eating too much, arguing over the remote control and hiding the gin from grandma; and therein lies the magic of Christmas – we're all in it together.