Christmas – as far as the Castle is concerned – is nearly upon us and Sally in the gift shop has co-opted everyone she can to help prepare and decorate for our Christmas events in December. It does not matter if you normally work in an office, in the gardens, with the horses, or in the tearooms – Sally will be looking for you. You can, however, tell who is and is not helping when they sparkle and glitter as they reappear back at their desks. If you sit where any of them has been working, then you too will glitter from behind as you walk away.
We are also literally “away in a manger” as Maggie has lent Sally a stable in between Ollie (a very large grey Connemara pony) and Muffet (the Shetland pony) who are looking on with interest, enjoying themselves and the comings and goings, although also likely to acquire glittery coats and manes.
Amongst her seasonal statistics with which Sally likes to entertain her “Christmas elves” she relays that there are over 8,500 baubles and tree decorations, each one wired up, and 250 metres of garlands, all with a very Victorian theme of red, green and gold.
Along with helpers, she is also co-opting space. Any empty shelf, cupboard or corner of a room has mini reindeer, trees of various sizes and floristry arrangements put into it. Boxes of baubles being looped onto wire garlands are laid out before being wound around marquees and staircases and robins, pine cones and berries are balanced out of the way. Luis and the banqueting team have prepared the tables for afternoon tea, and the table decorations are nearly complete.
Large black buckets are being covered with hessian and David the estate joiner is creating wooden blocks to stabilize the trees which will soon go into them. In fact, trees of all sizes are on the move. Abbie and Sally think there are seventy nine trees in total, varying from 12 inches to 24 foot.
Meanwhile, Paul the gardener is checking that Santa’s Grotto is clear and ready and that there is a little bit of warmth and light to help Santa choose the presents from his sack for each child.
Writing a book is a process and a journey and ‘Christmas at Highclere’ is about several journeys in the time that there has been a home here, in the traditions that have developed over the centuries, in my family’s memories and of course in the food that is so central to this time of year. At its heart, however, is the extraordinary contribution of Charles Dickens to our view of Christmas today. As a result of Dickens’ works, and because we are essentially a high Victorian building, we are reflecting that time and those details in the decorations this year.
Today is ‘Operation Christmas Tree’ for which the dress code is your best Christmas jumper. The betting is always on Paul Mac or Luis to find the most eccentric jumper but there may be some late entrants this year.
Update: Here is a picture of the finished tree – only 78 more to go!