However much I like travelling to different places, I still love to be at home in England for Christmas. This year we’re hosting Christmas for 17 people at our house, and I’m really looking forward to it. Besides our family of four, we’re with my parents, my sister and her family, my husband’s dad, sister and husband, brother and family. The age range this year is six months to 86 years, with a mixture of English and Italian relatives. We’ve been hosting Christmas for a few years now, with more or less the same gang, and it works really well. People often say things to me like: ‘Isn’t it really hard work having so many for Christmas?’ or ‘How do you fit everyone in?’ I tell them that no, it’s not, and that we all just squash in and that’s part of the fun.
In fact, I find it’s a lot less work and a lot more enjoyable having the extended family over for Christmas than the time when there were just six of us – our family of four plus my lovely father-in-law and brother-in-law. That Christmas our two guests spent the day playing with the kids whilst my husband and I rushed around cooking, serving and clearing up.
So, how do we make a big family Christmas work for everybody? It just takes some planning. Here are my tips:
Invite anyone who you know will be on their own at Christmas to join you for the day. Your brother in-law’s aunt, your Dad’s cousin, your sister’s godfather – just invite them. Even if they don’t come, they’ll be pleased to be invited, and if they do come, that’s great.
Get everyone to help with the food. So, my Mum cooks the turkey overnight in her oven and arrives with it on Christmas morning, complete with homemade stuffing. She also makes a Christmas pudding and brandy butter. My sister brings a starter and a load of homemade mince pies. My brother-in-law comes with a vast and legendary trifle. My father-in-law carves the turkey. And so on. When it comes to the day, it works best if one person (my husband in our case) is in charge of cooking timings so that everything is ready at the right time.
Be flexible with your dining furniture and location. We push back our sofas to the walls of the sitting room and move our kitchen table and dining table in there so that everyone can sit down and eat together. We bring our garden table into the kitchen and cover it with a table cloth to use as a preparation surface in there. We gather things to sit on (including an old piano stool which belonged to my Grandma and was pressed into service for my childhood Christmasses) from all over the house to put around the table.
4: Table setting
Prepare the table on Christmas Eve. Lay the table with crockery, cutlery, glasses, napkins, tablecloths, candles, decorations, serving dishes, crackers and anything else that you need, to minimise the work on Christmas Day. Get everyone to help.
5: Seating plan
Think about where’s best for everyone to sit and make a seating plan. Get one of the children to make place names for everyone. Put these names in place on the table before your guests arrive.
6: Food preparation
Prepare as much food as you can on Christmas Eve. Peel the potatoes and prepare the vegetables and leave them in water. Get everyone to help.
Let everyone know when you’re planning to eat, exchange gifts etc so that people know what’s happening and when to arrive.
If you have pets, remember that not everyone loves them as you do. We often have guests who are allergic to our cat, so we’re careful to keep him closed in a room when they visit.
Stock up with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for everybody. Serve your guests with their first drink when they arrive, then tell them to help themselves so that you don’t spend all day sorting drinks out.
If you can find them, have crackers which contain a game. For the last few years we’ve had Race to The Pole crackers from Morrisons, and they’re great. Each cracker contains a wind up toy – one year they were penguins, another year reindeer and so on. After dinner we have races with these toys and everyone joins in.
Play traditional games after dinner, all together. Charades and bingo are the most popular in our house.
12: Clearing up
Get everybody to help with the clearing up. If there’s a bunch of you clearing the table, stacking and emptying the dishwasher, washing up and putting things away the chores are done in no time and you barely notice that you’re doing them.
13: Nap time
Babies and older guests (I’m thinking of my youngest nephew, my dad and my father-in-law here) might need a nap and some peace at some point, so keep a quiet room for that, maybe an upstairs bedroom.
Invite all of your guests to stay over on Christmas night, if they want to – but tell them to bring their own bedding and, if they have them, air beds, and to be prepared to squish in with everybody else.
Relax and enjoy it!
Over to you
How many people do you spend Christmas with? Have you ever hosted a big group for Christmas? Do you have any tips to add, or anything that you’d like to ask me?
More Christmas posts
Check out some more of my Christmas posts: