Christmas is one of my favourite times of year, and I’ve learned that the secret to squeezing maximum enjoyment out of the festive season and ensuring it lives up to expectation is preparation. After one hellish year when I was felled by a vicious bout of the ‘flu early in December and ended up sending everyone vouchers as gifts, I’ve learned never to leave everything until the last minute. Since then I’ve become one of those annoying people who buy Christmas gifts all year round. I crow with delight when I find the perfect gift in the summer

Moonlight Over Manhattan

Moonlight Over Manhattan

I’ve even been known to buy gifts for the following Christmas in January. Being a writer sometimes requires me to travel to the US (it’s a tough job but someone has to do it), and whenever I’m there part of my brain is always switched to ‘original gift buying mode’. I search for gifts that are unique and special, that I couldn't buy in the UK. Gradually the present pile accumulates and by the beginning of December my answer to the question ‘have you started your Christmas shopping?’ is almost always ‘I’ve finished,’. It might not win me friends, but knowing I have the gift buying all done and tied up in a big red bow means I can focus on other things (and my friends always forgive me when they see what I’ve bought for them).

Every year for more years than I care to count I’ve written a novel set around the festive season, and surrounding myself with all things Christmas helps to provide the atmosphere and inspiration I need. Work aside, it’s a time to gather together with family and friends and I turn the house into a festive cocoon of cinnamon scented warmth. A trip to the forest to choose our tree is something of a family tradition, as are the lively arguments about the size. I like to buy the tree early in December, but not so early that we’re opening presents on a bed of fallen pine needles by Christmas Day. When decorating, we ignore elegance in favour of sentiment. Our decorations are an odd assortment and each has its own history. Instead of smooth, uniform silver baubles we have the slightly wonky angel made by my son when he was little and a star that was overbaked in the oven. The occasional elaborate bauble hangs with lofty superiority next to a simple wooden ornament that caught someone’s eye on a trip to Ikea.  We heap wrapped gifts under the tree, along with cushions and books because who doesn’t love to read accompanied by the smell of the forest?

No preparation for Christmas would be complete without food and certain scents and flavors take me right back to my childhood. I love to cook, and for me Christmas is all about cinnamon and mixed spice, the sharp tang of cranberry sauce, a generous squeeze of Clementine juice added to your favourite muffin recipe, mince pies, brandy butter and the spicy simmer of mulled wine.

In frosty winter months, Christmas is everything warming. It’s a time for gatherings, laughter, celebration, and family traditions passed down like heirlooms. With enough preparation it can also be a time of relaxation.

Mulled wine anyone?