If I was to play a word association game with ‘Christmas’, the first thing to come into my head would be ‘Euston’. A necessary evil, nothing says ‘festive’ to me quite like a packed concourse filled with hundreds of people all waiting for the Glasgow Central train. Yet despite the stresses of navigating the crush, trying to deduce which platform the train will be departing from in a desperate attempt to beat the crowds, there is a certain type of romanticism to this chaos. After all, it signifies that I’ll be going home. Home for me isn’t one place. Home is the flat I share with my boyfriend in south London, yet it’s also the bungalow my mum and stepdad live in up in the Lake District and, finally, it’s my dad and stepmum’s little cottage, nestled underneath a Scottish mountain.
With over 100 miles between my two sets of parents, where I spend Christmas alternates each year. This year, if all goes to plan, I will be with my dad and stepmum, meaning either a pre or post-festive visit to the Lake District. While simply seeing my parents is something to look forward to, so too are the little traditions we’ve carved out over the years.
These traditions start as soon as I step off the train. My dad, waiting for me on the platform of Dumfries station, always suggests a visit to a local cafe and organic farm shop. The perfect pit stop before another hour of driving, this - if having come straight from London - is when my shoulders really start to drop and my pace slows. Each time we go to order we make like we don’t know what we want yet our choices never change: two bottomless coffees, two cheese scones and one piece of shortbread.
My time in Scotland rotates around the familiar. Due to the remote location, the choice of activities is limited and I can usually be found either on a walk or curled up in front of the woodburner, tucking into some of the snacks that are purchased especially for my arrival. Bombay mix is a regular, as are little bags of Babybels and a carafe of homemade sloe gin. The only time that any level of formality is required is, of course, Christmas Day but even that is relaxed.
My stepmum is always in charge of cooking and what she rustles up changes each year. The starter will often centre around something like goat’s cheese and cranberry filo parcels while the main may be vegetarian haggis with all the trimmings, particularly mounds of roast potatoes because, as far as my dad is concerned, the world would come to a shuddering halt if dinner was served without potatoes. One dish that never changes is pudding. A lemon tart which is a cross between a cake, soufflé and a flan, this decades-old Delia Smith recipe makes an appearance every year. The perfect balance between sweet and sharp, it is a welcome antidote to the richness which often accompanies festive meals.
Christmas with my mum and stepdad has a slightly different feel. Part of this is due to their more urban location (by Lake District standards) and the fact that a lot of my school friends’ parents still live in the area. The few days I spend here are a whirlwind of trying to see as many people as possible. As well as making time for coffee dates, lunches and catch-ups over never-ending glasses of vino, it is also imperative that time is put aside to make a gingerbread house. A rather recent tradition for my mum and I, this is planned with military precision. No detail is neglected. Over the course of a few years we have perfected the biscuit recipe (it can’t be too soft) and have found that royal icing is the closest edible substitute to cement. The first attempt was a disaster and resulted in a ginger lean-to tent. Other years have been more successful; we even had a drawbridge one year and turrets courtesy of some long-forgotten mini Swiss rolls.
This gingerbread - alongside a Christmas tree-shaped jelly forms the crowning glory of our dinner. Even if I’m not there for the 25th December, these puddings are served up as part of our early or late Christmas dinner. It is not just the desserts that are organised well in advance. For weeks my mum will have been tinkering with a nut roast recipe. Gone are the days when we relied on a packet version, now I can expect something along the lines of cashew and parsnip studded with blue cheese and a redcurrant layer in the middle. Slightly different each year, it acts as a culinary version of a big hug. The cooking of the meal - done by my stepdad - is done relatively quickly, leaving more time for the obligatory game of Monopoly.
Before I know it, Christmas is over. While it often seems fleeting, it is these traditions that make that packed concourse at Euston worth it.