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This Christmas was a tale of 2 very contrasting experiences for us. Ever since we got married 6 years ago we have managed to keep up the year on/year off routine. So one year it’s Christmas Day with my family and Boxing Day with hers, then the opposite the next year and so on. This year was no different in that respect. The plan was Christmas at one of the in-law’s with immediate family and Boxing Day at my Nan’s, with cousins, aunties, uncles etc (going to my Nan’s on Boxing Day has been a tradition going back 30 odd years). All was fairly normal until things started to take a twist a few months back.

I don’t know about you but when I get to October Christmas is a slightly distant mirage in a desert of ‘regular life’ and anything sounds like a good idea because my mind is not yet accepting all realities. The thought of eating my way through at least 3 days’ worth of food in one afternoon, the image of the children’s happy faces as they excitedly open all of their gifts one by one, the possibilities of a white Christmas all seem so reasonable. So when one day back in October my wife asked me if she thinks it’s a good idea that we host Christmas at our house this year my response immediately was ‘yes, that’s cool’. It’s the second time we have hosted Christmas since we have had a house big enough to do it and I didn’t think twice about it. As the youngest siblings in the family I see it as kind of a privilege that we are able to have everyone at ours having a good time, eating, drinking and being taken care of. We have been waited on and taken care of for years so now we get to return the experience.

But let’s face it, when you consider my wife’s immediate family is 15 strong and counting, it’s never really a compelling offer to host Christmas at your house is it? The idea is wonderful, the thought of being surrounded by the ones you love is even better, but the reality of 89% of the day is non-stop hard work. Men, women, teenagers, young adults and children of all ages with differing culinary desires makes it one almighty task to plan and execute to everyone’s satisfaction. As it was ‘our house, our rules’, we made some controversial decisions that caused a mini protest/grumble that simmered and slightly boiled but cooled off quickly with no casualties. The offending decision was that there would be no extra meats, which meant only two meats, and we opted for turkey and lamb, so no fried chicken or curry goat(!). Uh oh, in a Caribbean family this decision went down like a bag of soiled nappies but we stuck to our decision as every year when we make everything on the wish list the amount of waste is shameful. Not to mention the fact we would have roast potatoes, dauphinois potatoes, rice, all the seasonal veg, mac and cheese, pigs in blankets, two types of stuffing, Yorkshire puddings, prawns, coleslaw, goats cheese tarts AND desserts. Needless to say, we were right, we didn’t need the extra meat and everyone had a great time. 15 family members fed, watered and family fun’d out by the end of the night. So now that we have done this a couple of times we have learned some valuable lessons and tips that help ease the pain slightly, so if you ever decide to host family Christmas for 15 at your house, here are just some of our top tips:

Online shop – Sit in bed and buy the food. Everyone is trying to cram into the shops and grab everything but let the experts do it while you sip tea, or gin if that’s your thing, and add 4 bags of sprouts to your basket. Get in quickly though because the delivery slots become less convenient the longer you leave it.
Borrow tables – Unless you have a house big enough for 15 (and 1 baby) to sit around one long table, we went to our local community centre and Church to borrow some fold away tables. Community centres are often closed or don’t use the tables over that period so are very willing to let you borrow them if you are known to them. Once its decorated and set you would have no idea there was chewing gum and ‘MK5 woz ‘ere b4 U 89’ underneath.
Bring your own chair – We don’t have 15 chairs in our house so we asked a few to bring their own!
Bring and share – Split the duties and allocate family members to take care of the starters, desserts and drinks so you can focus on the main.
Maximise kitchen storage – Earlier in the year I built some outside storage out of a large wooden delivery crate and got some square decking tiles to put on top so we used it to store all of the veg, drinks and other bits so it stayed nice and cold. Obviously keep them wrapped in bags so animals don’t ruin Christmas dinner!
Washing up process/system – The amount of washing up generated by 15 people is a bit nuts. So have a system! Whatever your kitchen set up is, don’t let everything come from the dining table to your kitchen in any old fashion. All plates, all glasses, all cutlery, all serving dishes should come together. It helps ease the pain.

So that was the first of our experiences, the second was very different. A few weeks before Christmas my incredible Nan experienced some health issues and as a result had to have an operation to strengthen the bone in her leg before they could start her on a course of treatment. Her surgery was booked for just over a week before Christmas so the chances of her being recovered from surgery and home for Christmas were good. For varying reasons the operation was pushed back, and back again, and back again until we finally received confirmation that she would have the operation 2 days before Christmas. We knew then that she wouldn’t be out of hospital for Christmas day so our hopes were pinned on her being home for our traditional Boxing Day extravaganza at her house. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, they wouldn’t let her out until she could perform certain actions and was on her feet again. All understandable. So the whole family hatched a plan through WhatsApp; Mission ‘Bring Christmas to Nan’.

In 32 years, I’ve never had a Boxing Day with my family that’s been anywhere but my Nan’s house, it’s what I’ve grown up with, it’s what I know and it’s what makes me feel comfortable. The thought of this day passing without doing something did not sit well with anyone. So we decided that if Nan couldn’t come home for our traditional Boxing Day, we would bring our traditional Boxing Day to her. We decided a time – 4.30pm, a place – the hospital, a suitable area – Gate 38 by the visitor sofas, a menu – cakes/drinks and a game – our family original ‘Present Fishing’. 20 brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles and cousins all descended on the hospital, commandeered a wheelchair and snuck Nan out of her room and down to the lobby to enjoy some family fun. We were in and out within an hour and a half with not a trace of mince pie left on the floor. The mission was a success.

It goes without saying that the NHS do an incredible job looking after our family members and friends and we often forget that they never stop working, the hospital never closes and people don’t stop being sick just because it’s Christmas. While we have the freedom, some do not and this Christmas was a stark reminder of that reality. So thank you NHS and thank you Southmead Hospital Charity for allowing us to bring some Christmas cheer undisturbed and unchallenged. Nan loved it : – )

Here’s to a few years off from hosting duties! Wishing you all a great New Year and I’ll be back with more rambling in 2018.

I’d love it if you headed over to my Instagram @this_father_life or my personal blog site

Robert x

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