Now I want a fairy tale Christmas
Thirty small people sit on the rug by the fire in a magnificent library, packed full of antique chairs and comfortable sofas. Their faces are pink with anticipation as they wait for their fireside story. Fairy lights line the mantelpiece and plump wreaths dangle silver and white baubles down the spines of some of the three thousand books that line the walls. The weather is cold; just right for snow. There is a hushed atmosphere. Soon Santa will be here.
The fire is stoked. The children are too…
It’s exactly like the movies say it is. It’s exactly like the adverts and magazine features say it should be. It’s nothing like it is normally. This is a family Christmas Holker Hall style; a little different to family Christmas in our crumbly home.
Christmas comes early in Grizedale…
Initially I wasn’t sure about doing Christmas three weeks early. It seemed a little weird. But our weekend in Grizedale is working out rather well. We have the party games on Friday night. We stomp up to High Dam to clear our hangovers, then reconvene for presents and cake at the hostel.
Twenty two people, all gathered to celebrate Christmas on the 3rd December, because my sister in law is taking her family to Nepal for the winter. For my nephew and niece, aged two and three, this weekend is ‘Christmas.’ They open their presents with relish. All of the presents are for them. The rest of us have to wait a few weeks. But everyone is involved in preparing and eating Christmas dinner.
By the time we’ve polished off four courses, and consumed the Thornton’s chocolates that tumbled out of the centre of the ‘adult’ pass the parcel, we’ve all put on a few pounds. Then, after a good night sleeping it all off, it’s time for our ‘Christmas at Holker Hall’ treat. But what with the dinner, the dishes and the debris of the morning after the night before, we haven’t really given it much thought until we arrive.
Holker Hall changed my view of Christmas
At Holker Hall we gather in the School Room ready for the children’s craft sessions. Two adults are permitted to accompany each paying child, and everyone has made the most of that offer; there are parents and grannies at every table, sticking and gluing and crafting calendars and birdfeeders. When all the balding men have glittered foreheads it is time to proceed into the stately home for the main event.
Pushing open the heavy wooden doors, the first thing that greets us is a tree. But comparing this to a normal tree would be like comparing a Redwood in California to a twig on a Kendal market stall. This is a towering giant of a pine, with fir cones still attached. It is decorated with white icicles, fluffy birds, delicatedly painted white baubles and white lights that send pinpricks up my spine. The fairy lights vie for attention with the fire, warming the cold halls of this 16th century home.
An expectant hush in the library
In the library it is time for Santa, but apparently his reindeers have been held up in the fields. By the time the guide finishes reading the story, the children’s faces are even pinker. The adults are well settled into their sofas, like it’s Christmas afternoon and one of our own grannies has fallen asleep, her mouth lolling open. The guide fills time in the absence of Santa, asking the children if they are excited about Christmas day coming soon.
“It’s Christmas day now!” shouts my nephew.
“What would you like for Christmas?” the guide asks the children. From Fijit friends to Pokemon Diamonds, she is bombarded with requests that only make sense to those under the age of ten.
“Doesn’t anyone want a train or a dolly for Christmas?” she pleads. Blank faces all around.
“I got a mouse in a box and a book. And my sister got bunk beds and a pram.” shouts my nephew.
Santa’s in the building
The main man arrives, a vision of Christmas in red velvet and the dreamiest cotton wool beard. While he looks like he’s been made in Lapland, he sounds like he’s been made in Lancashire. He cheerfully hands presents around and departs for a quiet Sunday evening in with the elves. The children clutch their gifts and the room empties, leaving just a few families interested in exploring the house.
I have been around several stately homes and most of them fill me with a sense of the past mixed with a sense of boredom. But, perhaps because it is Christmas, or perhaps because this family keep this home alive, it feels like it has at least one foot in the present. There are as many cosy family pictures as there are portraits, and if you ignore the portraits and the picture of Princess Grace of Monaco, you could be looking at photos of any regular family. Of course it is grand and far removed from my experience of what a house actually looks like at Christmas, but it feels like a home.
Holker Hall remains a family home
And the owners Lord and Lady Cavendish while not in the house this afternoon are here in spirit. Lady Cavendish personally oversees the construction and hanging of all the elaborate decorations in the house, a project which takes two weeks to complete. I can imagine her directing the proceedings, supervising the meticulous detail and festive lighting in every room. Even an old milk churn has been commandeered and placed on the stairs for a ‘maids a milking’ tableaux. I can’t imagine how big her attic is to store all this stuff. Stuart takes a picture and one of the guides asks him to refrain. “Lady Cavendish would prefer it if you didn’t,” she advises. We both look round to see if the Lady of the house is watching.
Stuart points to my niece, having the time of her life riding back and forth in an antique rocker that cost three pounds when it was purchased and is now probably worth more than my house. “Wee! Wee!”she cries but it’s unclear whether it’s an appeal to go to the toilet or a request to go faster.
Taking home a piece of Holker Hall Christmas
“I don’t want to go home,” says my nephew, disappointed that his third Christmas is drawing to a close.
“I do,” I say. “We need to get the tree up.”
In the shop I buy a single decoration. It also costs three pounds. In my head this decoration will be the key to transforming my family home into Holker Hall. This warm, joyful, peaceful fairy lit vision of homely Christmas will be my inspiration. This decoration will be the anchor. It will be like the magazines. It will be like the movies. It will be a happy Christmas.
What’s your vision of a perfect Christmas home? We’d love to hear your comments below.