Own well: Our top tips for how to Christmas in your foreign property
So you are looking forward to the holiday season in your home away from home. But how do you go about setting up a Christmas house totally from scratch?
From an owner’s perspective, Alliance Editor Claire Robinson, shares with us her experiences of the festive period with a young family in Spain – including what to do and more importantly what not to do…
How to set up a house for Christmas - from scratch!
This was something I faced 10 years ago when I hosted my whole family in our holiday home in Spain for the first time. Putting up friends and family is expensive to start with, no matter how generous your guests are. The cost of Christmas with all the paraphernalia that goes with it on top can make the cost (and task) seem overwhelming. I also had my two small daughters with me, having flown out ahead of my husband to lay the ground work and get the place both guest and Christmas ready.
We rented out our holiday home during the summer and so although we had possessions locked up in cupboards, I certainly was nowhere near equipped for the full British Christmas experience. Here is what I learnt (the hard way) and what work-arounds I have found since!
Don’t get too hooked up on providing the full traditional experience. You may have (sensibly) decided that with the weather possibly being much warmer where you are going, an alternative Christmas meal such as a BBQ or barbacoa is desirable anyway.
I tried to roast a huge turkey this particular Christmas, but with the unreliable Spanish electricity supply it took literally hours to cook and was not successful for it! Much better to embrace the Spanish tradition of a delicious Jambon Serrano (ham).
Or in France try a goose or a duck (although turkey is also commonly eaten). In Italy a baked pasta dish is often served alongside smaller plates of cheese and olives, and then chicken or beef make the festive main course.
If you are in an Alpine resort then perhaps you could spice up a fondue with cinnamon to add a seasonal touch. If you want more traditional tastes, then perhaps take out some cranberry sauce and sage and onion stuffing mix and also mulling spice for wine – easy to transport and very indicative of a festive meal.
My aunt brought a Christmas cake and my mum brought a Christmas pud so I had those bases covered. Note: you can carry cakes, fruit and solid food in your hand luggage but as they can obstruct images on x-ray machines they may need to manually search your bags. Put them in the hold to avoid unnecessary delays and avoid glass bowls.
Alternatively save yourself the shopping, cooking and cleaning up and go out for a super feast instead!
Another mistake I made was to pay a huge amount of money for a Christmas tree and then spent way too long choosing decorations (when I should have been preparing the house for my guests!). In later years I realised that actually the Christmas experience was more about the ‘lights’. These days you can buy strings of lights very cheaply from shops such as Primark or online and literally anything can be made to look festive when draped in fairy lights – even a book shelf!
Those with young children will probably still want a tree of some sort for Santa to put presents under. If you aren’t somewhere you can easily buy a real/fake tree don’t despair. Elle Decor have come up with this imaginative list of alternative tree ideas, including using fairy lights pinned to a wall in the shape of a tree or decorating a large cactus!
A total new set of decorations doesn’t have to cost a fortune however. Take a leaf from the very artistic French who traditionally decorate their trees with feathers, flowers, fruit and pine cones – which may be in abundance around your own property! Hang edible decorations and chocolates or make biscuits like Lebkuchen (traditional German style biscuits – great recipe from the Hairy Bikers here).
Wreaths are also simple to make (just search Pinterest for ideas) and again can be made from material readily available. A couple of rolls of ribbon in festive colours is also easy to transport and can dress up anything from the tree to presents. Why not decorate your outside area also as you may well spend more time on your terrace or balcony? Lights and a few baubles on the palm tree or around a plant may be all you need to create the holiday sparkle!
Don’t forget your Christmas tunes – these days with wifi and our smartphones we can pretty much stream anything we desire, including the radio which will lend a touch of home if you are missing the dulcet tones of Ken Bruce in the morning. A wireless blue tooth speaker is relatively cheap – check out Amazon or Argos – and will provide enough of a boost for a party atmosphere.
If you are more rural and signal is an issue though, ensure you have a small wallet of CD’s with some cracking Christmas classics to get you in the mood. The charity shop is full of unwanted treasures if you are lacking a collection. While you are there why not look for some Christmas movies on DVD which will also get you in the festive spirit, not matter what the temperature outside!
Tricky one this – especially if you have little ones. We told ours that Father Christmas had left their main presents at our house in England because they would be too hard to bring back ourselves on the plane but they would still have little pressies to open.
Fortunately they were at that lovely Disney Princess age so Barbie dolls and dressing up dresses were perfect. For other family members, books and CD’s are transportable choices, as is jewellery, make up or experience vouchers (if you want to travel really light!). Scarves, ties and socks can all be squished into suitcases without fear of being spoilt and travel games may provide a dual purposes of both present and activity.
Avoid at all costs anything fragile, breakable or bulky. No matter how high up on the Christmas wish list it is leave it at home and it will be something to look forward to when you finally have to leave your Christmas holiday home.
Above all be prepared to go with the flow. Christmas in a different environment without all your ready essentials on hand could be a recipe for stress on a new level, but it really doesn’t have to be. Christmas after all is mainly about being together with precious family and friends and all the additional ‘extras’ that we worry so much about can often distract us from this.
Although back in 2008 I served up my roast turkey 2 hours after it was promised, no-one cared. True, my Dad and Uncle were well down the wine bottle by then, the kids had started on their chocolate selection boxes and my Mum and Aunt were giving my cousin a grilling about his ‘casual’ dress sense.
However, when the crackers were finally pulled and we tucked into our dinner, it didn’t matter that we were all a bit out of sync with a normal Christmas agenda. We had the day we wanted, all together, enjoying a bit of ‘gorilla time’ which was an expression of my late father-in-laws. For what does a gorilla do? Exactly what it wants, whenever it wants to!
Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas, wherever you may be.
A little glimpse below of our Feliz Navidad back in 2008. Send your Christmas Overseas stories, pics and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
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