How to have a continental Christmas without leaving north London
PUBLISHED: 17:34 10 December 2015 | UPDATED: 18:53 10 December 2015
If you're spending Christmas in north London but fancy ringing the changes a bit, why not introduce one of these European traditions to your festive routine (and treat yourself to a new item for your home while you're at it)
So many of our Christmas traditions come from Germany it’s hard to pick out one thing in particular that will seem foreign in a London Christmas. Stollen, the dense, icing sugar-dusted marzipan and dried fruit loaf cake is available in most supermarkets nowadays – taste tests dictate a different brand each year but Lidl is at least guaranteed to provide some solid German authenticity. And if those sweet and spiced flavours weren’t redolent enough of Christmas, then up the ante and serve cut into bites and heaped on this gold star cake stand from Graham & Greene.
St Nicholas (Sinterklaas in Dutch) is the patron saint of Amsterdam and travels around the country on his white horse, Amigo, doling out presents to Dutch children and leaving them in their shoes overnight on December 5, his birthday and the official start of festivities in the Netherlands. Speculaas spiced biscuits are the snack of choice at this time of year, although you can make the foreign word feel slightly more accessible by cutting in gingerbread man shapes. This copper cutter is so on trend it practically makes an ornament in its own right.
Traditionally a day of fasting precedes the main Christmas feast, known as Wigilia (the vigil), on Christmas Eve. There are 12 dishes served at the dinner, one for each apostle and hay is spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. In many homes an additional place setting offers a symbolic welcome to a lonely wanderer, an angel or the Holy Spirit. You can make your place settings (including the extra one) ultra festive using plain white linen napkins, wrapped in twine, with a sprig of seasonal greenery attached. This is equally Christmassy as a novelty decorated item but even better, as the plain table linens can be used again and again.
The main French festivities take place on the evening of Christmas Eve at the Réveillon dinner. This can last for up to six hours and was traditionally held after Midnight Mass. Now that fewer people attend church, it’s often just a more family and stomach-friendly evening affair. The French favour goose over the British turkey with oysters and other shellfish and smoked salmon to start, washed down with une coupe de Champagne – bien sur. To add a French touch to your own north London victuals, try these engraved Champagne flutes from The French House for stylish sip.
For a taste of Nordic Christmas, make your own gløgg (or glögg, or glögi, depending on what country you’re in), which is a Scandinavian take on mulled wine that is more or less ubiquitous in December. This recipe is from Scandinavian Christmas by Trina Hahnemann (Quadrille: £16.99, photography: Lars Ranek), which is full of seasonal Scandi inspiration. Serve in gløgg mugs with matching spoons to catch the fruit and nuts from Finnish brand Marimekko from Skandium in London’s ‘little Sweden’ around Marylebone, for further Nordic charm.
How to make gløgg
750ml bottle of red wine
250ml gløgg extract* (simmer 100mil blackcurrant juice, 35ml lemon juice, 10 cloves, 5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed; 1 cinnamon stick and 100g caster sugar for 30 minutes, strain through a nylon sieve and store in sterilised bottles)
150g blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
Combine the wine, gløgg extract, almonds and raisins in a saucepan. Heat for 10 minutes over a low heat, without boiling.
Serve in glasses, with teaspoons for catching the raisins and almonds.