Category Archives: Christmas

How to plan an absolutely effortless Christmas Dinner

In a couple of weeks time families will be sitting down to enjoy Christmas dinner together. Christmas dinner is a real culinary highlight, it’s essentially the best roast dinner ever. Every family has their own favourites, some have beef or goose, most have turkey; I like Yorkshire puddings and several different types of stuffing. But one thing everyone has in common is Christmas dinner cooking nerves.

I take it in turns to host Christmas Day with my brother, this year is his turn, last year it was mine. I’ve been cooking Christmas dinner by myself since I was about 16. The two things that make it tricky are juggling everything for oven and hob space and getting everything cooked and ready at the same time.

How to plan an absolutely effortless Christmas Dinner

Each year there are typically around 8 people sat around our table for Christmas dinner. Out of this number, two are vegetarians and one of those has a number of intolerances to take into account. The meat eaters are very traditional, but whatever number of chipolatas your family eats, we have to double it. There’s a lot to juggle.

Typically our Christmas dinner includes –
  • Turkey
  • Veggie alternative, often a pie of some sort
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Roast potatoes
  • Roast parsnips or sweet potatoes
  • Sprouts (obviously)
  • Carrots
  • Red cabbage
  • Stuffing – two kinds
  • Meat gravy
  • Veggie Gravy
  • Bread sauce

That’s just for the main course. We usually have a starter of soup and bread rolls and pudding is a selection of options (because each one of us is fussy) including Christmas pudding, mince pies, chocolate pudding, ice cream, and a selection of boozy creams and sauces. We also offer a cheese board and mints. It’s a huge meal!

Last Christmas I sat down and thought about it. I didn’t want to spend my Christmas Day stuck in the kitchen peeling sprouts and being a skivvy for everyone. I wanted to enjoy Christmas morning with my family and not have too much stress. With a bit of forward planning and prep the day before I managed to pull off my most relaxed Christmas in years.

Here’s what I did. I looked at what food I would be serving and planned what I could cook the day before and what would be better cooked on the day. Most of the food could be cooked ahead of time and warmed through before serving, even the roast potatoes. So this is what I did.

Turkey

This had to be cooked on the day, but that’s fine. Getting ahead of myself meant there was plenty of oven space for it. We also got a turkey crown from the butchers which cut down the cooking time by quite some margin.

How to plan an absolutely effortless Christmas Dinner

Veggie alternative

Last year I served a nut roast, because I love nut roast. I found a nice ready made one and cooked that on Christmas Day.

Yorkshire Puddings

Yorkshires really need to be made just before serving, there are no cheats here. Also, there’s no shame in buying the ready-made ones. Yorkshires can be tricky and who needs the added pressure on Christmas Day?

Roast Potatoes

I’ve been cooking my roast potatoes on Christmas Eve for years. Everyone has their own way of doing them, I like fluffy potatoes cooked in groundnut oil, but cook them however you prefer. Take them out of the oven when they’re starting to colour, remove them from the roasting tin and put them on a cooling rack with some kitchen towel underneath. Leave them to cool, once they’re cool, put them as they are on a plain baking tray with no extra oil. They’ll take an extra 20-30 minutes to warm through and crisp up on Christmas Day, but they’re really crisp, fluffy inside and because they’ve not sat in oil for too long they’re not as oily as they could be.

Roast parsnips or sweet potatoes

Just like the roast potatoes, you can pre-cook your parsnips or sweet potatoes ahead of time. They come out just as good as freshly cooked ones, just do what I did with the roast potatoes.

Sprouts

If you’ve not put these on to boil at the end of summer, you might as well cancel Christmas. Not really, but it’s the old joke. Sprouts aren’t great re-heated, so I leave them to cook on the hob on Christmas Day. It’s worth allowing a bit of extra time for them to cook because somehow vegetables always take much longer to cook when you’ve got guests waiting.

Carrots

Carrots really lend themselves to re-heating. I did almost all of my veg prep on the morning of Christmas Eve, all the peeling and chopping and par boiling and roasting. I boiled up my carrots with a bay leaf and once they were almost cooked through, I drained them, put them in a microwavable dish with a knob of butter and covered them with cling-film. Just before serving, I gave them a 5 minute blast in the microwave, a stir to coat everything in the little knob of butter and we had perfect carrots.

Red cabbage

I generally cook my red cabbage in the slow cooker, but I follow this recipe. Instead of cooking it on the hob I use the slow cooker, yes it takes a few hours more, but it frees some precious kitchen space and it’s the kind of thing which can happily sit and more or less look after itself. Last year I made this on Christmas Eve, then turned my slow cooker on low on Christmas morning, by the time Christmas dinner was being served it was heated through and delicious.

Stuffing

I love a good stuffing and as a vegetarian they are a good filling addition to my plate. I have traditionally used packet bought stuffings and pimped them up by stirring a spoon or two of cranberry sauce though before baking, but last year I made two different stuffings from scratch. Yes, it did take a bit more time, but they were so much tastier and the texture was lighter and less gluey. I’d urge you to find some time to make your own if you can. It was remarkably simple, especially if you’ve got a food processor to do the chopping for you. I made my stuffings on Christmas Eve and they just needed baking in the oven on the day. I’m converted to homemade stuffing now.

Meat & Veggie Gravy

I am a big old cheat when it comes to gravy. Sometimes I make my own, but even with my plan-ahead precision, Christmas Day is too hectic for me to be faffing about too much. You can either make your gravy ahead of time and freeze it, or go to your local shop and buy a tub of fresh ready-made gravy and heat it up on the day.

Bread Sauce

Bread sauce is one of my favourite things about Christmas Dinner. Weirdly only my husband and me really like it, so it’s not something I devote too much time to. I’m happy to cheat, cheat, cheat with bread sauce. Buy a fresh tub of it from a good shop, bang it in the microwave and serve. Half the table will pull their face at it anyway, whether you’ve spent an hour stirring a pan or 2 minutes waiting for the mircowave to ping.

I think Christmas Dinner is all about picking your battles. For me, freshly made stuffing is really worth it, but I don’t need to stress of flat as a pancake Yorkshire puddings on Christmas Day. My stress-free Christmas dinner planning was noticed, gone were fraught scenes in the kitchen with me looking hot and bothered, instead I served a very good dinner with all the cool control of a northern Nigella.

Next year it’s my turn to cook Christmas Dinner and I know that I’ll do exactly the same again. Maybe I’ll cook my gravies from scratch and freeze them, but spending Christmas Eve morning doing all the prep and most of the cooking is time very well spent.

Do you have any top tops for an effortless Christmas dinner?

How to plan an absolutely effortless Christmas Dinner

Our Real Christmas Tree from Christmas Forest

December is upon us, but regardless of whether you’re a put a tree up at the start of the month, or a leave it until the last minute tree putter-upper; if you’re going for a real Christmas tree, then at some point you’ll have to find one and buy one.

For us, December is always incredibly busy. It’s harder than you’d think for us to find a couple of hours where we are all free to be able to go and buy a tree together. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to go and choose a tree; but the real magic is always in decorating the tree and seeing it all lit up.

Our Real Christmas Tree from Christmas Forest

This year we’ve dispensed with the stress and had our tree delivered instead. Our Scottish grown tree has come from The Christmas Forest which has 10 pop-up Christmas stores in London where families can go and pick their own tree in London, or they can deliver it nationwide.  

Our tree is a 6ft Nordmann Fir, which is non-drop and exactly the kind of tree we normally go for. They have trees in all sizes up to 8ft  (12ft on request) with a range of different pine trees to choose from. I was a little worried that we might get a tree which wasn’t the perfect Christmas Tree shape we all dream of, but I had no need to worry. The trees are trimmed into shape as they grow and ours was just perfect.

You can choose optional extras, like a Christmas Tree stand, lights and wreaths too. We went for a new Christmas Tree stand, this holds water and helps keep your tree fresh.

Our Real Christmas Tree from Christmas Forest

Our tree arrived bright and early on the day we’d chosen for delivery. It was well wrapped in netting and plastic with a stick attached to the top to stop the top part from getting damaged in transit. All we had to do was cut a bit off the bottom, pop it in the stand and decorate it.

They also offer a tree collection service at the end of the season, with recycling option in London area. The Christmas Forest support the charity Tree Aid, who plant one tree in Africa for every one they sell. Through Tree Aid they have planted over 230,000 trees in the drylands of Africa.

Our Christmas Tree decorations are mostly a selection of things we’ve bought and made over the years; babies first Christmas; things I’ve made with Ben; precious baubles from my own childhood Christmas Tree and things we’ve been given by special people. It’s never a stylish tree, but it’s always one full of happy memories and love, which to us is just right.

Our Real Christmas Tree from Christmas Forest

If you want to take some of the stress out of Christmas, getting a real Christmas Tree delivered is a real godsend. It’s been such a help to have it delivered and it’s one very big thing off my festive to do list.

For more information about The Christmas Forest, or to order your Christmas Tree from them, visit their website.

Disclaimer: We were sent our Christmas Tree for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

20 easy ideas for Christmas Day Starters

Christmas dinner is one of the foodie highlights of the year. For me, it’s not necessarily the food which makes it special, it’s sitting down with the family, sharing a meal and enjoying the occasion. Whilst the main course on Christmas Day is more or less fixed, the Christmas Day Starters are a movable feast.

It can be difficult to decide what to make for your Christmas Day starter, but ideally it should be something you can make ahead of time, or something you can quickly cook before serving.

Our family always has soup as a Christmas Day starter. This year I’ll be serving my luxurious cauliflower and chestnut soup which is a grand way to start off the festive feasting. Plus, it’s so easy to make ahead and freeze. All you need to do is warm it through and serve with some crusty bread. Happy families!

20 easy ideas for Christmas Day Starters

Christmas Day Starters

Pâté, meat or veggie – served with melba toast. It’s a Christmas Day classic!

Goats cheese caramelised onion tarts

Mini Yorkshire puddings with creamy smoked trout and horseradish pâté

Crab and avocado tian with lovely thin Melba toast and good butter

Soup – make your own or jazz up a tub of shop bought. It’s a simple starter and a crowd pleaser!

20 easy ideas for Christmas Day Starters

Stuffed mushrooms wrapped in Parma ham

Prawn cocktail – a 70’s classic which will never go out of fashion.

Scallops, pea puree and black pudding

Parma Ham and melon

Smoked salmon blinies with cream cheese

Pâté stuffed Mushrooms

20 easy ideas for Christmas Day Starters

Pan fried mushrooms on ciabatta with a Stilton sauce

Antipasti – Olives, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella balls and cured meats

Oysters –  a simple classic

Pear and mozzarella wrapped in Parma ham

Mini baked Camemberts with bread and celery to dip – super quick and easy

Baked brie or Camembert to share

20 easy ideas for Christmas Day Starters

Figs with mozzarella

Filo baked figs with goats cheese

Potted shrimp and crusty bread

What are your favourite Christmas Day starters? Let me know in the comments below.

20 easy ideas for Christmas Day Starters

What to do on Christmas Eve

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the flurry of shopping for presents and food is all but over for another year. It’s a day we try to pause the chaos a little and spend some time together as a family. We will have some preparation and thing to do, but being together is a priority for us. If you’re wondering what to do on Christmas Eve, then here are our suggestions.

Family Things To Do

We put together a Christmas Eve box which arrives on Christmas Eve. It’s packed full of lovely things including new PJs, a Christmas DVD, some Christmas books and nice nibbles. We curl up on the sofa for an hour or two and watch the DVD and just chill out. It’s lovely and a great way to change gear on the Christmas chaos and just wind down.

Crosby Beach

Go for a nice long walk. On Christmas Day we are mostly busy busy and stuck in the house. If the weather is reasonable, a good long walk on Christmas Eve is a great way to tire the kids out. It’s good to get some fresh air and burn off a few calories in anticipation of the feast to come.

More organised people will have bought tickets to a panto or a Christmas show like Elf The Musical. Going to a show together can be a really special way to spend Christmas Eve as a family.

Christmas Eve is a time for singing carols and feeling festive. Every Christmas Eve we trot off to our local church to take part in the Christingle Service. The service is so popular at our local church that they now have three services to accommodate the hundreds of children and families to come along on Christmas Eve.

What to do on Christmas Eve

For older children and adults, the Midnight Mass service is a beautiful way to start off the Christmas celebrations. It’s a little moment of stillness and calm, and the perfect place to belt out some Christmas carols. I love it.

You can find information on services local to you here.

Christmas Wrapping

Sensible people will have done this days ago, but *waves* I still have piles of unwrapped presents taunting me from the wardrobe. I know this will be done in dribs and drabs throughout the day but SODS LAW dictates that I will either run out of wrapping paper or sellotape. This has happened before, mostly because my husband always insists we’ve got too much wrapping paper already and then it turns out we have none. This is always discovered at 4pm on Christmas Eve. This will not happen to me this year. I have bulk bought both of these items, so much so that we may well never need to buy them ever again.

Preparation Preparation Preparation

I know some people cook their whole Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve; plate it up and just re-heat it on the day. There’s a lot of sense in that, but Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same to me without juggling for space in the oven, carving the turkey at the table and steaming the pudding.

I do however like to do some prep the day before. I will be roasting the potatoes and parsnips in advance, then on Christmas Day I can just put them on trays in the oven for half an hour and they crisp up beautifully.

This year I’m making stuffing from scratch (a departure for me as I’ve always been a packet stuffing kind of girl). I’ll also peel and prep the veg ready to be cooked on Christmas Day. There is lots to do; but if you’re methodical and you do as much as you can beforehand then it’s very doable!

Treats For Father Christmas

The last thing we do before bedtime is leave a mince pie, a small dram of whisky and a sprinkling of oats for Father Christmas and the reindeer. We make sure our stockings are hung up and we hurry upstairs to bed, hopefully for an early night.

What to do on Christmas Eve

It’s a busy day and a busy night, but spending time together is what Christmas is all about isn’t it. Merry Christmas to you and thank you for reading my blog.

What to do on Christmas Eve

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Christmas is a time for crafting and creating with the kids. We love doing Christmas crafts and we were excited when we heard that ex Blue Peter presenter and craft queen Konnie Huq, had partnered with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to create a selection of homemade STEM toys for Christmas.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Konnie Huq has put her Blue Peter powers to practice for a good cause, making Britain’s most popular Christmas toys at home for a fraction of the cost. The Christmas STEM toys she has created include –

  • Dissolving egg
  • Magnetic slime
  • Icosahedron bauble
  • Marble run
  • Balloon boat
  • Bouncy balls
  • Smartphone projector
  • Living gingerbread house
  • Kaleidoscope

Konnie has put together a set of free to download how-to instructions for all of the above crafts.

Konnie, who spent over ten years craft-making on Blue Peter, is supporting a campaign by the Institution of Engineering and Technology to inspire more children to consider careers in engineering. The toys are designed to make learning about science, tech, engineering and mathematics (STEM) more accessible and affordable. These handmade STEM toys – which include a dissolving egg, magnetic slime, a kaleidoscope and even a smartphone projector – are educational, as well as fun.

Making your own slime is so popular right now, but we thought we would try something a little different. We really liked the idea of building our own living gingerbread house.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Make your own living gingerbread house

You will need:
A number of plain sponges
Scissors
Toothpicks
Small plate
Seeds
Spray bottle (clean)

How to make a living gingerbread house
Choose one or two sponges to be your base. Fix them together with a cocktail stick, remember these are sharp so be careful of your fingers.

Choose more sponges to be the walls. Cut one sponge in half across the longest
side (i.e. make two regular rectangles, not two long strips) and fix those onto the shorter sides of your base with cocktail sticks. Fix two sponges onto the longer sides of the base.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Take two sponges and cut them down their long side on an angle so that they fit together to form the apex of a roof. Fix them together with cocktail sticks, put on the top of your structure and fix into place with more cocktail sticks. You should now have a house shape made of sponges. Put your house onto a plate.

If your house is a bit wobbly, you can secure it using a glue gun or some craft glue. If you have used glue, allow time for the glue to dry and set before you move on to the next stage.

Next, you need to cover the house with seeds. You can use mustard or cress but
there are many fast sprouting seeds, so the choice is yours. We chose cress.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Dab some water onto the roof of your house and spread the seeds onto the roof.
Pour a little water onto the plate so the sponge base can soak it up. Check the
sponge is nice and moist. Then sprinkle the seeds onto the base.

Leave your house in a warm, bright spot for the seeds to germinate. Spray the house with water using a spray bottle each day, and pour a little water over the house if it feels dry. In a few days the seeds should start to sprout, in a week they should be thriving.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

It’s so easy and lots of fun to make too!

 Disclosure: We were sent a shopping voucher to buy the materials for this craft.

Christmas: Make your own Candy Cane Hearts

I love a bit of Christmas crafting and I’ve found a really simple, festive and delicious craft which will delight the whole family this Christmas. I’ve been making candy cane hearts to hang on my tree.

Christmas: Make your own Candy Cane Hearts

Candy canes have long been a symbol of Christmas. They were originally white sugar candy sticks made in Germany around 250 years ago. No one really knows how they ended up with a stripe and in the distinctive J shape, but some say they were shaped to look like a shepherd’s crook, to remind us of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus on the first Christmas. Whatever the real story, all I know if they’re delicious and we always have a candy canes hanging from our Christmas tree.

You can get candy canes in all sizes, but I picked up a box of Swizzels Mini Candy Canes from B&M Stores for £1.99 and I knew exactly what I was going to make with them.

Make your own Candy Cane Hearts

You will need – 
Candy canes
A baking sheet
Baking paper
Ribbon

Method –
Place your baking paper on your baking sheet and arrange the candy canes into heart shapes. The mini candy canes are the right size for this, but if you’re using larger ones you can trim them down if you need to.

Christmas: Make your own Candy Cane Hearts

Making sure the two candy canes in each heart are touching; put them into a warm oven and watch very carefully. It should take about 5 minutes for the candy canes to warm up and start melting a little at the ends. At this point remove them from the oven and carefully push the ends and the joins together on the heart. Remember this is hot sugar and you don’t want to burn yourself.

Once the joins have been pushed together, leave them to cool for 15 minutes. Once they are cool, tie ribbon around them and hang them on your tree.

They’re so simple to make and they do look super-cute on the tree. I think I’m going to make a batch for the table on Christmas Day too.

How would you use your candy cane hearts?

Christmas: Make your own Candy Cane Hearts

Check out my other craft tutorials here!

18 ideas for filling your Christmas Eve Box

A Christmas Eve box is a relatively new tradition for us. I’m not even really sure where it came from. We’ve always done the Elf on a Shelf thing and for the last few years the Elf has delivered a Christmas Eve box to our house from Father Christmas.

I think the idea of the Christmas Eve box is to give little ones something to tide them over until Christmas Day. Something that will help to calm their excitement and enthusiasm for not going to sleep or for waking up incredibly early. We’ve usually been quite lucky with the early morning wake ups, but the going to sleep on Christmas Eve is always a bit tricky.

To us, our Christmas Eve box should be filled with nice things we can do together as a family, things that’ll keep us cosy and things we will just enjoy. We have a small personalised sack we use for ours, but in previous years we’ve used boxes we’ve decorated. You can buy special boxes, but if you have the time and inclination, it’s nice to decorate your own.

18 ideas for filling your Christmas Eve Box

Your Christmas Eve box can be as simple or as complicated as you want. If you’re struggling to think of what to put in yours, here are some of my suggestions.

18 ideas for filling your Christmas Eve Box

  1. New Christmas pyjamas
  2. New Christmas slippers
  3. A Christmas book to read at bedtime
  4. A DVD to watch together on Christmas Eve
  5. A Christmas mug, hot chocolate and marshmallows
  6. Family snacks – popcorn, chocolate, candy canes, whatever you like!
  7. A special Christmas decoration to hang on the tree
  8. The Santa plate to leave a snack out for Santa
  9. Reindeer food
  10. Christmas crafts to make together
  11. A magic key if you need one
  12. Christmas cookie baking kit
  13. Christmas colouring or activity books
  14. Cuddly toy
  15. Letter from Santa
  16. Novelty Christmas socks
  17. Christmas bubbly bath, for Christmas Eve bath-time
  18. Christmas stockings to hang up for Santa

Obviously you don’t need all 18 of these ideas, pick and choose what works for you and create a box which suits your family. What will be in your Christmas Eve box this year?

18 ideas for filling your Christmas Eve Box

 

Nine Great Budget Ideas for Christmas Stocking Fillers

For me, Christmas is more about the little touches and small details. I love buying thoughtful little gifts for friends and family. My favourite part of present buying is putting a Christmas stocking together for boys. I fill them with little things I know they will enjoy and use over the year.

Our Christmas stockings tend to be a mixture of fun stuff and practical stuff. I’m not beyond padding out a stocking with a new toothbrush (because Santa really  cares about dental hygiene) and some new toiletries, but my Christmas stockings always have lots of fun stuff, chocolate and the obligatory satsuma in them.

Obviously shops like B&M are the perfect place to shop for Christmas stocking fillers, with everything or almost everything you need in one shop, it’s an easy win to cross off your list at this incredibly busy time of the year. I went to my local B&M store and picked up some great stocking fillers for my son. I tend to try to buy packs of things which can be broken down and individually wrapped to bulk out the stocking.

Nine Great Budget Ideas for Christmas Stocking Fillers

Here’s what’s in his Christmas stocking this year –

Chocolate Coins – it’s the law to have a bag of chocolate coins in your stocking. We’ve gone for these colourful emoji coins (£1). They make a bit of a change (pun intended) from your standard gold or silver coins.

Marvel Avengers Assemble Collectible Capsules – these little figures come in a surprise egg (not really an egg, more of a capsule). Kids love the surprise egg thing, so I know this will be very popular. I’ve seen them in other shops for £3.99, but these are a bargain £1.99 and I’m wishing I’d picked up a couple more now.

Hot Wheels Cars – toy cars are a regular feature in our Christmas stockings, they’re small, easy to wrap and popular. They’re also a pocket friendly £1.49 each, so I got two new ones for his collection.

Mini Block Tech Figures – These are Lego style mini figures, but they’re much cheaper than Lego. These figures come in a “blind bag” and there are three in the bag. At £1 per pack, these three mini figures come with their own accessories and they’re much cheaper than the brand leader!

Marvel Avengers Bath & Shower Gel – this pack of four shower gels (£3.99) is ripe for breaking up and wrapping individually. Each bottle is shaped and styled like one of your favourite Avengers heroes – Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Thor and Iron Man. I know these might even encourage him to spend a bit more time in the bathroom (maybe).

Marvel Comics Stationery Set – you can never have too much stationery and this five piece stationery set featuring his favourite Marvel characters will be a winner. The ruler, pen and pencil are all covered in comic book versions of Spider-Man; Iron Man; Thor; the Incredible Hulk and Captain America. At just £1.29 this set contains everything he will need to write a superhero story of his own!

Voice Changer – this is a silly little stocking filler. Speak into the microphone and it will change your voice so you sound like a boy, a girl or a robot. I know he will love this (and the dog will hate it, probably). At £2.99 this is a bit of silliness you need in a Christmas stocking.

Swizzels Mini Candy Canes – this giant box of mini candy canes (£1.99 for 240g) will be put to good use. I’ll slip a few into presents for other people, use a handful in some festive bakes and tip the rest into his stocking. The box contains four iconic Swizzels flavours – Drumstick lolly flavour; blue Refreshers; pink Refreshers and of course Parma Violet (I’ll be keeping those just for me).

Socks –  Christmas tradition dictates that every stocking must contain a pair of Christmas socks to be worn that day. I need to pop back to B&M and see what they’ve got in store.

That’s my Christmas stocking shopping almost finished and it’s only cost me £18.72, a bit of a bargain yes? All I need to do now is wrap everything up and throw a satsuma in the night before. I’m feeling uncommonly organised and that’s a great feeling!

What are you stuffing your Christmas stockings with this year?

I am a B&M stores ambassador and I was given a voucher to cover the cost of my stocking fillers in return for this blog post. All images and opinions are our own.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Our nearest National Trust property is Dunham Massey. We are regular visitors to Dunham, we love the long (but flat and well-paved) walks they have. The gardens are lovely whatever time of year you visit and the house is full of upstairs-downstairs history. On 1st December we went along to the launch of ‘Christmas at Dunham Massey’ a magical, after-dark, illuminated trail which was jam-packed with Christmas magic.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

This year, for the first time ever, Dunham Massey has transformed into a winter wonderland. It’s taken six months of planning and hard work (and probably millions of light-bulbs) to create a wonderful Christmas experience for families to enjoy.

The walk from the visitors centre to the courtyard gives you a little taste of what’s to come, but as soon as you walk into the courtyard you know you’re in for a real treat. The courtyard is filled with Christmas market style sheds selling hog roast, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and those big sausages you only really see at Christmas markets. There’s also a colourful vintage carousel to enjoy.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

We picked up some snacks and some cups of hot mulled wine and headed off towards the lights, pausing to watch an Elf and Father Christmas welcome us to Christmas at Dunham Massey. Then on to the winter wonderland of the garden.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

The trail is a one mile sparkling path through the gardens. It winds through the historic woodland and has surprises around almost every corner. From a giant (and I mean giant) reindeer, to huge baubles lit in flickering flames in the scented fire garden; not to mention twinkling tunnels, stunning reflections of light on the water and the wonder of Pealight Heaven (named for the 100,000 pealights it’s made from.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

There are lights, there’s beautiful music and there are mulled wine stands at very regular intervals (try the mulled cider, it kept me warm on a cold night). Stop by Pealight Heaven and buy a marshmallow to toast over the fire – an absolute must!

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

It’s such a beautiful, magical way to spend an evening with your family. It’s well thought out and incredibly well stewarded. There are helpful, smiley faces around every corner. Even though the paths are flat and well-made, you can never be too careful walking in the darkness. It felt reassuring to know there were helpful people around if you got stuck.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

It’s an after-dark event, so if you do go, make sure you’re well wrapped up against the cold and you’re wearing good, sensible footwear. You might also want to slip a torch into your pocket just in case. We took a torch but didn’t use it, everywhere was so well lit.

Christmas as Dunham Massey is utterly gorgeous. Our highlights were the giant reindeer, the huge lawn absolutely covered in lights and the scented fire garden. The small Christmas market was excellent too and the food and drink were really good quality. I hope they run this again next year. I can see a visit to Christmas at Dunham Massey turning into a festive tradition!

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Christmas at Dunham Massey runs until 30th December 2017, 4.45pm – 10pm with 9 timeslots each night. You will need to pre-book tickets on the website here.

We were invited guests of Christmas at Dunham Massey. All images and opinions are our own.

Christmas Book Review: The Christmas Snowflake

One of our family traditions is a Christmas Eve box. We pack up a box full of lovely things for Christmas Eve, new pyjamas, some nice treats to nibble on and a Christmassy book to read together at bedtime. This year we’ve chosen The Christmas Snowflake from Wonderbly, a wonderful personalised Christmas story.

Christmas Book Review: The Christmas Snowflake

The Christmas Snowflake tells the tale of a lonely snowflake who is looking for a place to call home this Christmas – but only you and your family can help! Like with other personalised books from Wonderbly, The Christmas Snowflake is beautifully illustrated and full of wonderfully festive images.

Christmas Book Review: The Christmas Snowflake

This heartwarming story includes personalisation for up to 9 family members, friends or loved ones and as the final page is turned, you’ll find a charming pull-out-and-keep ornament – something that you can hang on your Christmas tree!

The Christmas Snowflake is written in a lovely rhythmic style, which reads well. The personalisation within the book is very smoothly done and children will enjoy spotting familiar names throughout the story.

Christmas Book Review: The Christmas Snowflake

The book comes in a hardback format and contains 34 colourfully illustrated pages. The style of the illustrations is almost vintage, and of course it’s wonderfully festive. The pull out snowflake on the last page is inspired and a lovely surprise at the end of the story.

Christmas Book Review: The Christmas Snowflake

The Christmas Snowflake is a wonderful keepsake book which you can bring out and read year after year. I can’t wait to read this special story with my son, personalised stories are such a treat.

Personalising your book with Wonderbly is really easy, just visit their website, choose your story and add the names of up to 9 of your child’s favourite people. You can also add a personalised dedication to be printed on the first page.

The Christmas Snowflake costs £19.99 and makes a wonderful gift for any child or family this Christmas; or you could put it in your Christmas Eve box like me.

We were sent The Christmas Snowflake from Wonderbly for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.