December is a DIY-free month in our household - we down tools, I paint my fingernails for the first time that year (there's just no point having a manicure when you spend most of your spare time wrestling with various DeWalt-emblazoned power tools and 130-year old pieces of wood), and I mostly stop taking my work laptop home with me to catch up on emails and admin (I spent most of December winding down to my last day in work while wearing a hilarious felt Christmas tree hat to all my meetings that apparently made me look like the Pope and elicited a round of applause from the people who work in the office over the way every time they saw me making a brew in the kitchen).
Here are a few things we did instead to celebrate Advent in our now traditional family manner.
Witnessed the arrival of Father Christmas in Bramhall (friends have just moved there) to the slightly dubious accompaniment of some dude singing Blurred Lines on the mike, which is possibly the least appropriate song for a family event but hey ho. Afterwards Eva announced that she would like to go to a cafe, so we headed for the nearest bright lights of Pizza Express where we all ate like horses and I topped up my earlier imbibed mulled wine with some very nice Prosecco.
Had Santa Sunday Lunch at the Mere with some friends from work. Eva asked what we were planning on doing that day, to which I replied: "Well, sweetheart, we're going to go to a very nice hotel and have a delicious Christmas lunch. Some characters from Frozen will be there. There's going to be a disco, party games, and you can watch a pantomime. And then Father Christmas is going to come, and he's going to give you a present." To which Eva said: "I'M GETTING A PRESENT?!" Cheeky monkey. It was an absolutely fantastic day - I was slightly alarmed upon arrival to see how fancily the room had been kitted out (sitting nicely is not Natalia's forte) but had nothing to worry about - it was basically a giant festive family food fight with everyone's kids going absolutely wild so our two fitted right in. We're definitely adding this one to the list for next year.
Traditional Christmas lobster with more friends. I woke up that morning feeling very chipper after a hilarious Christmas dinner at Solita with colleagues the night before (where apparently we were so loud that the management kept coming upstairs to tell us to keep it down) and realised I'd neglected to make my promised fabled chocolate honeypots for pudding (they have to be made 24 hours in advance) so instead stopped off at the French patisserie in Didsbury on the way home from collecting the lobsters from Evans and purchased some delectably elaborate cakes. Our guests very kindly turned up with various bottles of sparkly stuff and we rounded off the afternoon with a game of Frozen musical bumps in the living room.
Winter Wonderland at Event City. We've been to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park in London before, so knew it was basically going to be a giant indoor fairground with the added attraction of a circus and Sooty puppet show rather than the Narnia-esque experience the title implies. The girls loved it - dozens of rides including dodgems, teacups, a caterpillar rollercoaster, various bouncy castles, a snow globe, and a slightly oddly named ride called SuperBob that the kids took completely in the stride but made me screech at top volume while it went round and round and up and down at top speed. Lovely stuff. Expensive but cheaper than paying for rides separately at a normal fairground. Pictured below is the only balloon that made it home after Andre Natalia let go of the other two less than 30 seconds after purchase.
Visiting Father Christmas at Tatton Park. The queue to see Father Christmas was just too long - they really need to implement some kind of timeslot system rather than making everyone stand in the drizzle for an hour, but we also enjoyed seeing the usual donkeys in Santa hats, nativity, carol singers and reindeer.
Ice skating in Spinningfields. This was a good one - we whizzed around on the ice for an hour (Eva wearing proper big girl skates and clutching manfully onto a penguin, and Natalia slightly more reluctantly being pushed round on an orange plastic seal) and then fell greedily upon the nearby Christmas market stalls, enjoying pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven, porchetta sandwiches, bangers and mash, nutella crepes, mulled wine and hot chocolate. Then we went down the slightly hazardous helter skelter that I'd been eyeing up longingly every day for the previous three weeks on my way from my office to Pret, and then went home to watch The Snowman.
Decorating the tree. This year we ordered a giant eleven-foot tree from Bud Garden Centre - I was slightly unnerved by the prospect of buying a tree sight unseen for the first time in my life, but Brenda reassured me that they had a great supplier and she was right - it was a stunning tree, and we decorated in with red beads and baubles ("don't we already have red baubles?", said Andre, "why do we need to buy more?"), paper lanterns made from doilies, sparkly snowflakes and star-shaped gingerbread cookies that the dogs kept pinching from the tree as fast as I could bake them.
We also had a tree in our bedroom - extravagant, certainly, but very beautiful to wake up to and that bay window was made for a Christmas tree.
I made a kissing ball to hang outside the front door from various evergreens and berries foraged from our garden, and decorated the mantel piece and grate in the same way. Eva perceptively pointed out that Father Christmas wouldn't be able to get down the chimney with my festive handiwork blocking the way, so we agreed to move it on Christmas Eve so he could make his entrance. We also hung paper stars from the ceiling - I have invisible thread criss-crossing the ceiling in the hallway, living room and playroom that we installed a couple of years ago to hang balloons from for a party and have left in place ever since as it's fantastically convenient for decorative purposes, and also as I'm too lazy to remove it.
Other stuff - I made a footlong chocolate log cake, the girls had Christmas trees in their rooms (after each of their first Christmasses we save the top of that year's Christmas tree, spray it silver, fix it into a base and leave it to dry out in the cellar), they wore adorable matching pairs of Christmas pyjamas, Eva drew a Christmas picture of mermaid angels (well, why not) that I had printed onto cards, we attended various parties, I went out A LOT and drank A LOT of prosecco, and Eva sang her little heart out in her first ever school Christmas play.
On Christmas Eve I took Eva to a Christingle service at Emmanual in Didsbury (Natalia is a bag of snakes and would never sit still for that long) that opened with Little Donkey and had me bawling within about five minutes, we all went to the Met for a fantastic carol singsong (can't beat bellowing along tunelessly to The First Noel) and then home to put cookies and a pretend cup of coffee out for Father Christmas along with glittery reindeer food, and spend the next 48 hours on lockdown opening presents and eating Christmas ham without leaving the premises at all.
Tomorrow we're venturing out to meet friends at Lyme Park and see if they've got any snow up there - apparently M20 has its own resolutely non-festive microclimate and has declined to bless us with any of the white stuff. Happy Christmas, everyone! Thanks for reading along for the past year.