Lifestyle The Survey

The Survey Vol. 6: Festive Traditions

By Lena Dystant

Jul 13, 2022

The Survey Vol. 6: Festive Traditions

Photography by Kevin Davies. Bonus illustration by Fei Wang, A.K.A Mr. Slowboy. 

Kevin Davies, Photographer

Christmas revolves around family and various locations; Dublin, Co. Durham, or London, where I was born and still live. The city is surprisingly quiet and slower between Christmas and New Year. This is a special time when it seems to shrink in size. Suddenly a walk in Holland Park or an evening wander down Piccadilly is a breeze.

My first-born arrived in late December 22 years ago. She was asleep wrapped in a blanket on the dining table while we ate our Christmas lunch. Her sister is now 18 so we no longer open presents Christmas Day at 6am. Now it is relaxed and still exciting especially with the fun of Secret Santa with the extended family. My wife initiated our grown-up pre-Christmas lunch at The Delauney. It's perfect; grand, elegant and serves the best cheesecake in London. Another firm fixture is the Horse Show at Olympia. The horse jumping and Russian Cossacks are spectacular but really it's all about the Dog Agility competition because we all laugh together, uncontrollably.

David Coggins, Writer

Growing up in Minneapolis, snow was a vital part of Christmas. These days I still go to the house where I grew up and I sit by the fire and listen to a recording of Dylan Thomas read his wonderful “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in his amazing accent. I used to have to get lucky and hear it on public radio, which they usually did on Christmas afternoon. Now it’s easily available online. I think one reason it’s so effective is because it understands how Christmas is so much a part of memory and childhood. It begins, “I could never remember if it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” I know what he meant.

Now this might sound good but actually to the outside world it probably just registers as me staring into space, which I do a lot. Staring into my coffee, staring into my unconscious; staring into the imagined life of the person sitting opposite me on the train. It’s all just practice.

Kristin Texeira, Artist

I listen to the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack year-round – there is such a sweet sadness to it that sometimes matches my mood. I usually watch the movie once November comes. Something about the dialogue combined with the colours of the short film triggers a deep sense of nostalgia. The video sounds are the backdrop of my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve. Her small home fills with people, uncles joking, the smell of apple cider that - once we are old enough - she sneaks brandy into. All the cousins take their same spots on the couch, sleepy from the warmth of her home. 

For the New Year I have a superstition that where I am, who I’m with and what I’m doing will set the pace for the rest of the year. This year I want to make sure I’m learning something new on that day. Another tradition I learned from an older Japanese woman is to put a small box outside the front door with money in it to set an intention for a successful new year.

Fei Wang, Illustrator

As I’m Chinese, Christmas has no religious significance for me but rather is the beginning of a three-month long "Spending" season. Besides Christmas and New Year, we also celebrate the Chinese New Year afterwards, which is a one month programme leading all the way up to Valentine's day. No wonder everyone is broke during that period, simply because we need to buy presents for each of the festivities! Therefore, the art of gifting is quite essential, "cost-effective" is one thing but “avoiding miscommunication" is another. 10 years ago, my wife and I had just started our long distance relationship where she was in London and I was in Beijing. I quietly ordered a knitted Paul Smith teapot cover with dual fluffy balls from their online store as a Christmas present to surprise her. I received a call from her on Christmas Eve in an uncertain tone: "I really love your gift...but it seems like it’s a bit too small for my head."

Toby Bateman, Managing Director, Mr Porter

This year the whole family will be at my parents' on the Isle of Wight – myself and my family and my two brothers and theirs. For anyone who hasn’t been there, the Isle of Wight is a bit like Cornwall, but much easier to get to and about 15 years back in time – the ferry is like a time machine. Our Christmas Day begins with Bloody Marys and a full English breakfast, whilst watching the kids frantically open presents. One of my childhood friends has coincidentally just launched a delicious Virgin Mary mixer business called Longbottom so we will be using this For many years the Bateman’s go-to festive meal was a rib of beef but recently we’ve gone back to the traditional turkey, but done the non-traditional Nigella way – a large crown stuffed with Italian sausage and Marsala soaked cranberries. We are right by the sea, so once the turkey is en route we take a brisk midday walk along the beach to the pub where drinks are literally free on Christmas Day. Sufficiently imbibed, we return home and get the lunch table set. We start the meal with smoked salmon which we get from Frank Hederman in Ireland, sliced thick and straight and served with chopped capers, cornichons, parsley and shallots, which I got from Hawksmoor but who in turn I believe got from Delmonico’s in NYC. My dad has always liked good wine, so we raid his special burgundy store on Christmas Day – probably a St Aubin 1er Cru with the salmon and a Chambolle Musigny or Morey St Denis with the turkey. These are his favourites and hence they are mine too! In the evening we generally fall asleep in front of the TV whilst drinking port or sloe gin – old Wallace and Gromit programmes are favourites. Reading that back it seems our day is quite boozy…

Michael Hill, Creative Director, Drake’s

Christmas is very exciting now, with a three-year-old and a six-year-old in the house, particularly given that we have a working chimney. My wife and I put out the mince pie, the carrot, and the glass of sherry the night before, and of course in the morning we take the kids to see that Father Christmas has been.

I’ll cook a ham and we’ll have that with marmalade and our own sourdough bread in the morning to tide us over until lunch. We’ll either be having turkey or a goose – that remains to be seen – which we’ll get from the little farm shop down the road from us in Devon. I’ll be cooking lunch this year, which I have done several times before, so I’m feeling quietly confident. My parents will be joining us, too, so it will be a few of us around the table, which is lovely. I’ve made my son Rufus a little short tie for him to wear, so he can dress like his granddad (who’s also a tie-maker).

As for drinks, Berry Bros. & Rudd do a beautiful vintage champagne, which I like to buy a few magnums of – something about it just feels so festive. We’ll have a couple of glasses of that before lunch, then with the big meal we’ll be having a wine my friend Roberto makes at his own vineyard, just for friends and family. He even puts a little Drake’s label on it!

Then after lunch it’s usually time for a sleep, followed by a walk in the countryside to blow away the cobwebs. We’re right by the sea, so it’s the perfect place for a stroll.

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