My Christmas starts in September. Let’s face it: women do all the hard graft. In general the only gift a man has to buy is for his partner. Not only have we women got to think of presents for everybody but all the food and the decorations. And if you’re working and running kids around the place, there’s only so much time you have to do dedicate to the issue.
So I believe it’s best to do a little, often. In September I write a list of whom I’m going to have to buy for. Even if that then sits in my diary innocuously it’s an aide memoire. You should be in a good enough state when the big day arrives to welcome people with a genuine smile rather than feeling like you have to drag yourself through the next 24 hours!
Add sparkle to your tree
I like to invest in a few nice baubles each year to add to the collection. (I’ll also pick them up amazingly cheaply in the sales for next Christmas.) But infinitely more important than baubles are lots of fairy lights that must be white: white is the only colour for lights.
Deck the halls
No tinsel. Again, the secret is lighting: more than you could possibly think you need. In December, the nights are so long and the days are so short. We need everything we can as a bulwark against the encroaching darkness. As well as fairy lights, I’m a big fan of twinkly white tealights. I gather mistletoe, twigs – whatever greenery I can lay my hands on – whenever we’re out for a stroll. And I always have a huge bowl of tangerines because it looks charming.
Customise your crackers
Crackers look lovely but the stuff in them is usually awful. So open up one end, take out what’s in there, put in a better present and close it back up. Better still, personalise them. This year mine are doubling as place settings.
Tart up your table
I love secondhand shops so I have a collection of old hotel-ware for festive occasions: stainless steel silver-plated chargers and things, which are all too scratched and mismatched to be used in a hotel any more. You can pick them up so cheaply.
Presents – the rules
Good hotels have a present for every guest: men, women and children. When I was manager we’d put it in a little stocking with some chocolate and a couple of tangerines, and hang it on the guest’s door. At home I always have a couple of extra male or female presents because you never know who’s going to give you an unexpected gift. It’s also essential to establish the rules: my mother has banned adult presents this year and we often set price limits of £30 or whatever.
Buy it, wrap it, label it
I’m a great believer in brown paper. It’s cheap and looks incredibly smart when teamed with a pretty ribbon. My presents are wrapped already. Buy it, wrap it, label it: that’s my mantra. Then on Christmas Eve you can lie back on the sofa and sip a glass of champagne. My mother always used to wrap at the very last minute and really suffered on Christmas Day as a result.