What Christmas Means to Me - Bridget MacKinnon
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Slightly over excitable American-born mother of some little people, Charlie 7, Eva 5, Georgie 2 and Maggie 54 (dog years). My husband, Peter and I live in beautiful Harrogate, North Yorkshire and Christmas is our most favourite time of the year!
As soon as the elves clapped eyes on your Instagram we sensed we’d met a Christmas kindred spirit… what is it that makes this time of year so special to you?
I love every single part of it! Growing up with my mum, dad, sister and little brother, having grandparents down the road, then aunts and uncles in for the holiday, it was always such a flurry of excitement! My mother and Grandma were always cooking something amazing, there was always (American) football on the tv and snow forts for my sister and I to build! For me, now being so far away from my family at Christmas can be a bit hard, so I like to stay busy and distracted!
I met Peter when I was just 19, living in the U.K. We had only been together for a few months when my family moved back to the US and I stayed here with him. We had visited at Thanksgiving so another trip at Christmas was just not feasible and I was gutted, but, actually, part of what made me fall even more in love with Peter was his family. His parents live in a little village 10 min drive from us and are amazingly kind and supportive. Sally, my mother in law, took me in as one of her own, included me in everything, spoilt me with kindness, roped me into kitchen duties and introduced me into the MacKinnon Mania that is their Christmas prep! They literally spend two whole days decorating the house, trees (normally three!) and outside illuminations. As extreme as it sounds- it is so wonderfully celebratory. After spending the first Christmas away from my family, with his, I realised ‘I’m going to marry this man!’ After all, they say you don’t just marry a man, you marry his whole family too! So for me, a full house of family and friends, the kids running riot, all the dogs, makes it the most magical time of year.
Where do you normally spend Christmas Day?
We wake up here at our home in Harrogate, (way too early!) though we have a family rule that we all go downstairs together (as, rather selfishly, I want to see all their faces!) they get their main present from Santa and open their stockings. While they’re busy and distracted with those I nip into the kitchen and get breakfast going. A few hours later Peter’s parents and brothers and sisters and cousins turn up still in jammies and we have breakfast and more presents. I make a big breakfast strata, fruit platter with dip and we all drink coffee out of Starbucks’ Christmas paper cups! Then they go off home, get showered and ready. I love this little lull of the day, the kids happily play with their new toys and sometimes Peter and I even sneak in a little sofa nap before a quick tidy up! We then go to his parents house for the best Christmas Roast and more presents and all the Christmas television with an enormous cheese board! We tend to spend the night there on Christmas Day so we can put the kids to bed and have a little drink and relax with the family.
How has having children changed Christmas for you?
Like with most things, it’s made it better. We get so enthralled with all the Christmas activities, writing lists, baking cookies, decorating the tree... seeing the wonder and excitement through their eyes is intoxicating. The more kids you add to it, yes, the more chaotic, but also the more magical!
How do you generally decorate at Christmas?
I’d love to say, simply and elegantly with a few sprigs of eucalyptus and glass baubles... but the reality is I’m far too sentimental for any of that! Every year there is more and I adore pulling out the children’s ‘first Christmas’ baubles and the homemade hand reindeer decorations. When we travel we tend to pick up little bits and bobs, no matter the season, so fun ones from all over the world adorn the tree and make us recount those adventures. One of my favourites is a little wooden carved tree ornament from the breath-taking Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, I visited 10 years ago with my dad and remember standing in awe and telling him ‘When I have children I’ll bring them back here!’ I can still see his proud smile. Homemade paper chains hang from picture rails, green garlands on the staircase, snuggly Christmas bedding, red tartan throws and candles everywhere!
What traditions do you share with your three children?
So many! My family is Italian/Irish/American and Peter’s Scottish roots mixed with English upbringing means there are an abundance. One from my childhood that is a favourite is Christmas cookie decorating. We use the same recipe my Grandmother used that was passed down from her mother! The smell transports me back to her house, sat around a table with family decorating competitively and my Grandpa sneaking bites with a cheeky wink, while Grandma’s back was turned. I sometimes get a little emotional mixing the dough, thinking of all the generations baking and eating the same recipe. On Christmas Eve we leave these cookies with milk, as per my family tradition, and a mince pie and sherry, as per Peter’s!
One tradition we’ve created especially for our little family is the Christmas box! Santa sends us the most wonderful delivery, full of beautiful Christmas jammies and treats on on December 1st. Growing up I always got them on Christmas Eve, but I love it this way, then the kids get to wear their jammies for tree decorating, movie mornings and all the other festive activities! Last year our box got a much needed upgrade with the Polar Post hamper, and the most beautiful handwritten letter from Santa himself! This year will include the usuals: our old copy of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas', jars of marshmallows and hot chocolate as well as some new additions, like ornaments, cookie cutters and our new personalised Christmas books, like ‘Christmas on Exeter St.’
What one food (or drink!) means Christmas for you?
Oooh just one!? I love a mulled wine, particularly at Betty’s.... but Christmas Eve’s roast ham has got to be in there for a mention. And canapés! Tiny food is so festive!
Favourite Christmas book?
This is such a tricky one! We have upwards of 40 at last count. An old childhood copy of ‘Alfie’s Christmas’ from my husband is definitely one of the kid’s favourites... but can you beat the buzz in the air on Christmas Eve reading ‘Twas the Night before Christmas'?
Must-haves on you our Christmas play-list?
Sooo many... Frank Sinatra’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song, I’m also a sucker for belting out a bit of Mariah! Peter learned how to play Fairytale of New York on the piano last year... listening to a few, shall we say ‘merry’ adults, try to recall the words to that is truly an experience not to be missed! O Holy Night on Christmas Eve Mass gets me misty too!
What do you tend to do on Christmas Eve?
Christmas Eve is always a pack-too-much-in kind a day! In the morning I’ll start making my glazed Christmas ham while still in my jammies. We go to Children’s Mass at our Catholic Church and Peter’s family clambers back here for ham, mac n cheese, and all the trimmings! Everyone leaves rosy cheeked from the fire and wine. Then I get Christmas breakfast prepped and in the fridge (an overnight breakfast strata that I just have to plonk in the oven the next morning). Then to try to get to sleep and wait for the big man to show up and perform his magic!
Favourite Christmas film?
Hands down, The Polar Express! We even have a yearly party to celebrate the first viewing! The first weekend in December we all get together at our house, buy all the M&S party food, the house and tree are decorated, Christmas jammies are on and you can feel the excitement as the loud train thunders into our living room, speakers shaking! It really is the official kick-off Christmas for us! A lazy pyjama morning with Elf is also an essential, as is a wrapping day with a binge on Christmas cookies and ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and a bit of ‘Love Actually’.
What would be the greatest present Santa could get you this Christmas?
As cheesy as it sounds, honestly, having all my family around me, happy and joyful really leaves me all warm inside! However, if Santa was reading this and wanted something to put a bow on... a heritage Bobbin Bike complete with market basket would render an enormous smile...
How would you sum up your Christmas in three words?
Family, Feasting and Love
You grew up in the States, what do you miss about your childhood Christmases?
SNOW!! I grew up in central NY and the cold snowy days really made waking up with frosty windows and crackling fires seem ever so Christmassy. Oh and of course my family!
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without…?
What have you got on your eye this year from Polar Post?
Everything! Such an amazing selection! I already started a bit of early shopping and got a four leaf clover tree ornament for Peter, (we met on St Patrick’s Day!) which I’m so pleased with - I know it will be a favourite for years to come! Still on my list is the beautiful hard cover copy of ‘Peter Pan’, ‘A Christmas Wish’ and some cookie cutters... and of course some letters from Santa!