Holiday issues were among my favorites in my magazine career, first at Better Homes and Gardens, and then at Victoria Magazine. We covered traditions around the country–and around the world.
Joy was always the goal—to enrich our readers’ own holidays with inspiring ideas.
One of my very favorite Christmases was the one I spent with my family at a grand country house in England’s Lake District. The following year, I happily shared the wonderful experience with the readers of Victoria Magazine.
The British have a special relationship with the holidays. After all, it was Prince Albert who brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to England in Queen Victoria’s time. The huge tree at Michael’s Nook was decorated with the prize ribbons the Great Danes of the house had brought home.
How wonderful to make a tree so personal—and in the pages of the magazine, we often encouraged readers to make their trees such by attaching a small toy, an old pocket watch or a wee baby rattle to tree branches, as well as treasured photos in miniature frames.
Lovely indeed this grand house looked festooned with pine branches, pine cones, holly and flowers. Candles flickered on the mantel and on the table tops about the house.
Coming in from a walk amid grazing sheep on the misty moors, a roaring fire greeted us.
On Christmas Eve, we journeyed to nearby Dove Cottage, the 19th-Century home of the poet William Wordsworth!
Here the poet lived until his family outgrew the cottage’s quaint size, and here again, candles and firelight reminded us we were in another place and time.
Wordsworth wandered with daffodils in this most romantic terrain–and on this night, visitors from America found their way in the dark down a winding road with just a dusting of snow to enjoy warm fellowship and English holiday feasting.
At Michaels Nook, meals were a lexicon of English holiday feasting, with such specialties as Beef Wellington. Tyler Florence has a wonderful video here to encourage you to prepare this traditional favorite. And of course, there was flaming plum pudding. The recipe was shared with our readers, but to have the pleasure of a “pudd,” why not order from the Vermont Country Store? They import it from England in two sizes. Add your own hard sauce from Michaels Nook’s own recipe.
Michael Nook’s Plum Pudding Sauce
2 sticks softened unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3-4 tablespoons brandy
1-2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in brandy, a little at a time. Beat in the orange juice and rind. Transfer to a serving dish. Sauce may be chilled covered, but bring to room temperature before serving. Yields about a cup.
Inside the cracker boxes are party hats and little gifts. Caspari has very special ones with lovely decorations that will add that merry touch to your holiday table.
Since our trip to England, we have celebrated Boxing Day–the day after Christmas. There are various explanations about the history of Boxing Day, but it usually means a wonderful lunch, almost picnic in atmosphere. A boar’s head graced the table at Michaels Nook–certainly something we were unlikely to have at home! Gifts are part of this occasion, and under the tree a Michaels Nook were gifts for all the staff and guests. How wonderful to have one more day of Christmas!
I continue to be charmed by the British devotion to creating Christmas magic, and with my editor’s instinct, still seek out creative talents like Nikki Tibbles. Her flower arrangements and Christmas wreaths are spectacular and inspiring. Visit her website for Wild at Heart to enjoy her talent. It will put you in the Christmas spirit with each click of a key.
The First Noel Bouquet and red berry wreath above are two stunning examples of her work. The red berry wreath features pine cones, pussy willow and eucalyptus–not only festive but fragrant.
The British have their own edition of House and Garden magazines. Susan Crewe is the editor, and I have admired her editorial skill for some years now. In this December issue of England’s House and Garden, she shares here ideas for her own tree with imitation snow, many lights, and pine cones. Susan suggests misting the tree before applying the fake snow. Editors always have their secrets!
What better background for an English manor house holiday than the Tynecastle Collection from Hooker Furniture with its classic Georgian details. Named for an area in the north of England known for its manor houses and equestrian lifestyle, Tynecastle features a long rectangular dining table with two 18-inch leaves to accommodate a host of dinner guests.
Christmas comes but once a year, but this welcoming seating will beckon family and friends for celebrations all year long.
Happy Christmas to all!