What teachers really want for Christmas

As the end of term approaches parents may be wondering what to buy their child’s teacher for Christmas. It’s the season of goodwill, after all. It’s also a golden opportunity to win a way to Sir or Miss’s heart, so they’ll continue to take good care of little Olivia or Oliver in the new year. The days of apples left on desks are long gone, so what to give teacher might cause some confusion. Money is tight this year, an added complication – although at some of the independent schools where I’ve taught gifts seem to become more extravagant each December. So what kind of presents do we teachers really

The office Christmas party is back with a vengeance

I’m bad at Christmas. I hate turkey, wrapping presents and the idea of forced, planned fun. My family – mostly – shares the same view. Extra shifts are picked up and presents are sent with time to spare to avoid actually having to see each other. Fortunately, even if I’m no fan of Christmas itself, there is one saving grace: the office Christmas party. No other work event can compare. Leaving drinks are strained, after-work drinks are pedestrian and inviting colleagues to things like birthdays often just feels wrong. The office Christmas party is the opportunity for a night of true debauchery before you all head off for the festive

Why Munich is the ideal Advent destination

Ambling through the Christkindlmarkt, Munich’s biggest Christmas market, feeling distinctly tipsy after my third (or maybe my fourth?) mug of Glühwein, I experienced a strange sensation, something I hadn’t felt in ages. For the first time in a long while, I realised I was feeling rather festive. Back in Britain, I’m the archetypal Christmas grouch – but leave me in a German Christmas market for a few hours and I become a big kid again. This is the first year since Covid that Munich has been able to mount a proper Christmas market season. That might not sound like such a big deal to Brits, but it’s headline news in Bavaria.

‘Christmas creep’ has gone too far this time

For sale in the village shop last week: punnets of locally-grown strawberries, multicoloured bucket-and-spade sets, postcards featuring British beach scenes… and no fewer than 14 varieties of Christmas bauble. Down the street at the Post Office, you can buy Christmas cards, tinsel – in green, red or sparkly silver – and wrapping paper festooned with candy canes. The garden centre, meanwhile, is doing a roaring trade in tins of festive shortbread (expiry date: 26 October). Christmas, so the saying goes, comes but once a year. And this year, it seems to have come during a baking hot August. Before you suggest I live in a sort of Yuletide wormhole, it’s happening

Cold turkey: is a Christmas tradition coming to an end?

When I recently asked younger work friends about the prospect of turkey for Christmas dinner, it was greeted with grim fatalism. Nobody said that they liked it (though the accompaniments and the leftovers got some enthusiastic thumbs up). One cosmopolitan European colleague even said she felt like ‘the Grinch who stole Christmas’ after suggesting to her horrified British in-laws that they have goose instead. For how much longer will the tradition of eating turkey last? A sense of heritage keeps it, for now, on the Christmas table, particularly in rural Britain. But our cities are younger, more multicultural, and it isn’t uncommon today for some families to have turkey alongside

Olivia Potts

The ultimate turkey curry

Turkey curry, as a means of using up festive leftovers has become something of a joke: the turkey curry buffet in Bridget Jones is the true low point of Bridge’s festive calendar. The prospect can strike fear into the most Christmas-spirited of souls. But actually, on boxing day, or the day after, the last thing you really want is the same meal you’ve been eating for the past two days, looking a little tired and fridge-worn, all the best bits gone. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be first to the table for cold roast meats and my fifth serving of stilton in 48 hours, and if you hesitate for a

The secret to making a Yule log

I watch a lot of Great British Bake Off. I’d like to say it comes with the baking territory, but the truth is, I’m simply hooked. I love all of it: the triumphs, the disasters, the crap jokes, the obscure technicals, all of it. My dedication to GBBO has taught me a couple of things: the Hollywood handshake has been so devalued in recent years as to be completely worthless; it’s probably worth breaking down and having a cry over your macarons just to get a hug from Noel Fielding, and swiss rolls are a bloody nightmare. They’re fiddly: they require whisking the yolks and whites separately, and then gingerly

Four times Boris said this Christmas would be better than last

‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…’ Or it certainly was until Omicron intervened. For the latest Covid variant has raised fears the government will be forced into a Groundhog Day style re-run of the awful events of last December, when Boris Johnson ‘cancelled Christmas’ less than a week before the big day. What followed was somewhere between Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the evacuation of Saigon as thousands of desperate Londoners stampeded through stations to get home before restrictions took effect. Twelve months on and with most of Britain double or triple jabbed, there were hopes such scenes could be avoided this year. But with case rates soaring, the Cabinet are meeting

The death of ‘Father Christmas’

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the F-word is vanishing.  It’s been insidious, but where once perhaps 20 or 30 years ago it was ubiquitous at this time of year, now – well – you can hardly find it. In fact, look carefully, and you’ll see that Father Christmas is disappearing quicker than an ice cap. That’s because Father Christmas is being supplanted by a stronger, altogether better-resourced foreign invader: Santa Claus. Browse the shelves of Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and yes, my friends, even Waitrose, and you’ll find dozens of ‘Santa’ themed products – but hardly anything associated with Father Christmas. He is being airbrushed out of Christmas, one paper napkin or

It’s not up to Boris to save Christmas – it’s up to us

How well-behaved have you been in the second year of Covid? I wouldn’t say I’ve been perfect but I haven’t been that bad. I’ve done most things the government has demanded of me. I’ve had both my Covid jabs. I’ve downloaded a vaccine passport, even though I hate the idea. I’ve squelched antibac gel on to my hands most times I’ve taken the Tube. I’ve shoved countless cotton swabs down my throat and up my nose. I’ve worn my mask. We all did lots of this stuff in the hope that life would get back to normal, whatever that means. But the threat of Christmas being cancelled hangs over us

The moment I fell in love with music

I’ve lived in Chelsea for the past 35 years. Since 2002, I’ve photographed everything I find interesting here — churches, streets, door knockers and pub signs, plus two old Chelsea pensioners chatting on a bench with their medal ribbons and rank pinned to their scarlet coats. I’ve recently finished my project and added these 1,800 photographs to the historical research I’ve done about Chelsea, which is now sitting safely on my bookshelf. My love of photography comes from my Uncle Jack. When he returned home at the war’s end, he had a Leica camera, which he got by trading his cigarette rations with an Italian civilian. He gave me his

Tanya Gold

The torment of a tasting menu: Hélène Darroze at the Connaught reviewed

The Connaught Hotel’s formal dining room was always, to me, a place of childish myth; more comforting for being mythical. I am certain it is the dining room in Judith Krantz’s novel Princess Daisy, to which a Russian prince takes his daughter in the 1970s. In this tableau you find Robert Maxwell, Margaret Thatcher and people willing to pay for newspapers. I had, in a crowded field, my best ever celebrity encounter here, with the Netanyahus, in what used to be the breakfast room overlooking Carlos Place. ‘Shalom,’ I said, thrilling to the Waspy-ness we were subverting with our very presence. (I meant it. I meant it more than they

The best of this year’s Christmas TV

Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the BBC. Upon publishing its 2021 Christmas schedule, the corporation was quickly attacked by some of its more trenchant critics who pointed out that – shock horror – its Xmas day line-up was completely identical to last year’s. What kind of fools do they take us for, they cried. Yet this brutal accusation breaks down almost entirely when you look at the schedule and realise that the vast majority of these alleged ‘repeats’ are actually nothing of the sort – but rather entirely new episodes of the same old Christmas staples. Is that a problem? Maybe. But imagine the backlash if the BBC

Melanie McDonagh

A gourmand’s guide to Christmas chocolate

Christmas is coming and you know what that means? More Lindor truffles than any human being can decently put away, family size boxes of Quality Street and, for the upwardly mobile, Ferrero Rocher. My friends, I am as keen on Lindor truffles as the next greedy pig but there is another way. There is a whole world of chocolate out there which is respectful of the defining ingredient, cocoa, often imaginative and delicious. The starting point, the founding principle, for decent chocolate is, More Cocoa, Less Sugar. Simple as that. And this principle doesn’t just apply to Christmas chocolate, obviously, but to chocolate all year round. Chocolate is a bit

Our Christmas music is the envy of Americans

For a working musician like me – I compose and conduct – the run-up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. I generally find myself writing some last-minute carols, then come the garage-sandwich weeks: endless travel to far-flung rehearsals in freezing churches and halls in preparation for the annual round of concerts and carol services where I’ve been invited to guest-conduct and perhaps to deliver a Christmas reading. It’s exhausting but inspiring. Two years ago I was due to join the Bath Camerata choir for a recital. Looking around at the jolly gathering of grannies, vicars, bushy-bearded real ale drinkers and earnest-looking students I started to

The Christmas sandwich taste test 2021

December is upon us – the month where our national sandwich chains nobly attempting to condense Christmas dinner into a portable format. This year has seen some particularly strong attempts to crowbar festive cheer into our working lunches and a few notable misses. This guide will help you sort this year’s unmissable sandwiches from those best left on the shelf. Marks & Spencer – Turkey Feast (£3.30) The perfect example of the route one festive sarnie; two triangles of turkey, bacon, stuffing, and cranberry sauce that promise a taste of Christmas. The bacon is slightly granular, in the way that sandwich bacon is, but it’s a minor quibble as everything else

A royal guide to festive dressing

The royals, like most families, had a very different Christmas last year due to Covid restrictions. Traditionally, multiple generations of the family gather at Sandringham House for the festivities. This year the Queen is expected to return to her Norfolk residence once again, to host her extended family for what will be a poignant Christmas – the first one without her husband in over 70 years. We have HM’s great-great grandmother’s generation to thank for many of the traditions of Christmas time. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, inspired by his German heritage, popularised the idea of decorating a tree in the home. An illustration of the royal family standing around

Spare me the celebrity Christmas memoir

Is there anything more dispiriting at this time of year than the dreaded ‘celebrity’ memoir – the publishing industry’s annual two-fingered salute to all us starving mid-list authors? Last week I managed to weave my way through a heaving Waterstones, eventually arriving at one of those vast tables groaning with needy ‘personalities’; there they all were, present and correct in their neat hierarchical piles (the higher the advance the bigger the stack). This year’s roll call of vaguely familiar faces has been much the same as any other year. The garish covers all feature the usual cut-and-paste mug shots of bland variety artists in various stages of eyebrow-raised, what-am-I-like hilarity (I’m gurning

Olivia Potts

The joy of old-fashioned gingerbread

Christmas baking should be a source of joy. It should be something we look forward to, a break from the hectic organisation of dozens of presents, reams of wrapping paper, cosy-but-thoughtful decoration, enormous meals, endless Christmas parties, and stressful hosting. But Christmas baking can take on a life of its own: fruit cakes that ‘should’ have been made months ago (that three members of your family will tell you loudly they do not like and will not eat), puddings that need hours on the hob, edible biscuity decorations with boiled sweet centres that will inevitably stale on the tree. It can just become another chore. Now, I love a Christmas

A look at the Christmas Hampers of 2021

Cutter & Squidge The bright orange box from family run bakers, Cutters & Squidge, is bursting with sweet treats. Their stuffed mince pies are huge – and heavy – and are perfect with double cream. Pop their Biscoff filled ‘NYC style’ cookies in the microwave for 30 seconds for a crunchy cookie with just the right amount of gooey centre. One for the sweet-toothed. The Mini Squidge Christmas Hamper, £50, nationwide delivery.  Panzer’s St John’s Wood’s famous delicatessen Panzer’s offers a luxurious Christmas hamper packed with an array of culinary delights. It features their famous, thick-sliced smoked salmon, various cheeses from stilton to Montgomery cheddar, Firetree dark chocolates and even