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A Sense of Christmas

Posted by Sue Gascoyne on

Think of Christmas without its sights, sounds, smells and tastes and the magical festivities would certainly lack lustre. Christmas is all about the senses, from the spectacle of presents under a scented tree, the sound of ripping paper and carols playing in the background to the heady aromas of chocolate, spices and zesty fruit. All these sensations and more help give it its sense of occasion, which if repeated year on year; become treasured family traditions for generations to come. Think back to a childhood Christmas and try to put your finger on what made it so memorable? Take stocking opening. As well as the thrill of receiving a yearned for present, I wonder if snuggling up in dressing gowns and slippers on a cold dark morning, delving in the stocking, exclamations of surprise and delight and the feast for the eyes of a present strewn bed helped imprint the memory?

Christmas does not have to be a time of excesses, in fact nearly forty years on I can still vividly recall my best ever present, a carrier bag of second hand Sindy clothes that would have had Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s wastebusters smiling. Even children too young to understand what Christmas is about can appreciate the anticipation of the occasion and be enthralled by the excitement of others. If you feel that Christmas has become too focussed on presents with not enough memory-making traditions and fun, here’s some no and low cost sensory ideas to try.


The sense of sight is our most stimulated sense. If 80% of all input is visual just imagine what it’s like at Christmas time with sparkly lights, tinsel, baubles and beautifully wrapped presents? When it comes to decorations often less is more, so why not use holly and ivy to add cheer without bombarding the senses? Making wreaths and displays can be a great excuse for venturing outdoors in search of holly berries and vines. Christmas wreaths don’t come cheap but handmade ones are there for the picking. What better way of seeing young creators bristle with pride than their creation decorating the front door or mantelpiece? Go equipped with secateurs and a bin bag (for collecting the prickly branches in) then warm up inside with a lovely hot chocolate while having fun shaping them into cool decorations. And if you’re tree decorations have been nibbled by mice (as ours were) you can try your hand at simple homemade creations, from felt stocks to clay leaves, clove studded oranges to lego sleighs, toilet roll santas to cotton wool snowmen and wherever else your imagination takes you.


For me Christmas would not be the same without the smell of pine needles, satsumas, mulled wine and brandy flamed plum pudding. Why not limber up your nose with a spiced scented candle or better still the gentle aroma of whole dried oranges, great for getting in the mood? To add to the festive aromas and create gorgeous decorations, score the sides of whole oranges and dry them slowly in the oven – an Aga is perfect. Once dried they look amazing, and will release their zesty aromas infusing the air with the scent of Christmas.


Children love the opportunity to get creative in the kitchen so why not make mince pies, Christmas cookies, sweets or sausage rolls together? As well as being cheaper and nicer than most shop bought options it gives children great satisfaction knowing they’ve made something as well as teaching them about food. Try this fun variation on the humble 

mince pie. Use readymade puff pastry to make mince pie bases and fill with mincemeat. Decorate with pastry stars, holly leaves, bells and trees (either free hand or cut with cookie cutters) to form the lids. Brush with beaten egg and bake. The puffed up creations will really wow visitors, and if my children are anything to go by, they’ll get great satisfaction from being hands-on. As well as being fun and a great way of saving money, you’ll be creating traditions and memories for the future. Our retro repertoire includes a Yuletide log, marzipan fruits and huge stocking shaped mince pie! Which recipe will you choose to become your family favourite?


In our house Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without festive music. From Bing Crosby to choral pieces and popular carols, Christmassy music offers a change to the norm and makes the occasion all the more special. Not all traditions need to cost the earth. With a crackling open fire we always sort through the box of decorations (homemade and bought) and dress the freshly dug tree to the sound of White Christmas. But music doesn’t have to be traditional why not invite older children to create their own Christmas playlist and get ready for some embarrassing dad dancing!

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