Have yourself a very merry Summermas! Fretting about seeing loved ones on the 25th? MARY ANN SIEGHART shares her family’s ingenious tradition
- UK households will be allowed to get together for five days over Christmas
- Advisers have suggested replacing Xmas with a family get-together in summer
- Mary Ann Sieghart who lives in Wiltshire, reveals her ‘Summermas’ traditions
How are we going to keep Granny safe at Christmas?’ It’s a question families are asking themselves all over the land.
We may be allowed by law to bring our households together for five days over Christmas, but should we? What if one of the children gave Granny the virus? How would we ever forgive ourselves if she fell seriously ill?
There’s a radical, and perhaps heretical, solution, which has worked brilliantly for my family. You don’t have to hold Christmas in December. You can celebrate it in mid-summer if you like. You can wait until every vulnerable member of the family has had a vaccine and then have a wonderful extended family Christmas in June or July instead.
In fact, just last month government scientific advisers backed this plan, suggesting that ministers should encourage the public to arrange ‘a summer family get-together to replace meeting at Christmas’.
Mary Ann Sieghart who lives in Wiltshire, revealed her family have been enjoying a ‘Summermas’ for around five years. Pictured: The extended Sieghart family
We stumbled across this formula by chance about five years ago. My mother, by then in her late 80s, declared she was too old to stay in our ‘freezing’ house in Wiltshire during the winter. Somehow, however much we cranked up the heating, it was never enough for her.
Instead, she decided she would prefer to stay at home in Suffolk, pop over to my brother’s for the day on Christmas Day itself and come to stay with us in the summer, when she could comfortably — and warmly — celebrate Christmas with her extended family.
So now all my siblings, in-laws, nephews, nieces, and their children descend on us, not to mention their boyfriends and girlfriends — more than 20 in all, ranging in age from one to 87 — for a fabulous day of sunshine, presents and an alfresco barbecue lunch. It’s as if we’re living in Australia.
This is the life! Instead of all being crammed into one room while the world freezes outside, we can spread ourselves around, with many spilling out into the garden.
We have no indoor table big enough to seat 20-odd people, but we can get them round two garden ones. And there’s plenty of scope for outdoor games after lunch.
Ah, lunch. Does the prospect of cooking a huge turkey and all its trimmings fill you with dread? How about bunging a butterflied leg of lamb onto the barbecue, delegating your husband to cook it and just knocking up a few salads?
Catering for Summer Christmas or ‘Summermas’ is so much less stressful than the winter variety. As for pudding, you can buy loads of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, put them in a big bowl, crumble some meringue nests over them and serve with double cream. Job done.
We’ve done our religious duty in December, so Summermas can be all about family, fun and games. It’s just a good excuse to get together and celebrate. I think it’s funny to spread the outdoor table with Christmas napkins, party poppers and little red and gold stars.
Mary Ann Sieghart revealed her family have a Secret Santa system because they agreed shopping for many recipients is onerous. Pictured: The extended Sieghart family
I love the way they look so incongruous. But it’s also delightful to be able to have a vase or two of roses from the garden, and to be able to deck the hall with boughs of lilac or jasmine.
We don’t bother with a Christmas tree or baubles: we save that for December. Spreading the present-buying over two seasons is a great de-stresser too. One of the worst aspects of December, for a mother, at least, is the strain of Christmas shopping for so many recipients, competing with everyone else for parking, pavements and space.
If you only have to buy presents for immediate family in December, that makes life much easier.
In fact, we all used to arrive armed with presents for each other at Summermas, but after a few years of it, we agreed even that was onerous.
Now we have a Secret Santa system, so each of us has to buy only one present for one, randomly allocated other member of the extended family. That makes matters simpler (and cheaper) still: we are only allowed to spend a maximum of £15.
With such a large gathering, the combination of good cheer and good weather is the clincher. Our relatives come for the whole day (and the ones who live far away stay the weekend), but they only spend a small part of it all in one place.
Mary Ann Sieghart explained her family’s ‘summermas’ begins with congregating for present-giving and lunch (file image)
We congregate for present-giving and for lunch, but otherwise, people spill out into different rooms and into the garden, generations mingling, catching up with each other’s lives in pairs and small groups.
Some lie in the sun next to each other and gossip. Others might go for a walk or organise a game. As long as it’s not raining, which luckily it never has been, there is just so much more space. And that makes all the difference.
No one has ever turned on the TV. (No TV? At Christmas?) There’s no need. On a lovely summer’s day, there is so much else to do.
If we are bored, we can get a game started in the garden. The small children can race around outside without bothering the adults. There is absolutely none of the normal Christmas claustrophobia.
Nor is there any of the normal Christmas pressure. The food is easy and doesn’t send everyone into a post-prandial slump. People arrive in a relaxed, summer spirit: it’s called a ‘sunny disposition’ for a reason.
Everyone feels more laid-back in a T-shirt, shorts or sundress than in jumpers and jackets, so it’s a more informal vibe.
Mary Ann Sieghart said December 25 is usually spent with her husband and their two daughters. Pictured: The extended Sieghart family
And the weekend we choose, usually in July, coincides with the end of the academic year, so those who are at school or university are already feeling cheerful: they’ve celebrated the end of term and are anticipating a lazy summer ahead.
Finally, the day is so much longer. We are not forced to hunker down inside and draw the curtains at 4pm. We can still be soaking up the sun at 7pm.
When summer Christmas draws to an end, we may feel exhausted after so much social interaction, but we’re also sun-kissed and smiling.
What a contrast with December 25. These days, there are just four of us for Christmas Day: me, my husband and our two daughters.
My husband’s sister, who lives nearby, might come over for lunch with her sons on Boxing Day or the 27th, but otherwise it’s a delightfully intimate celebration. Of course, I call my brothers on the day itself (sadly my mother died last year), interrupting their own single-household festivities. This year, we might even Zoom.
We still love getting a big tree and decorating it together while listening to Christmas carols in the background. (Both our girls are currently living abroad, so we’re not allowed to put the baubles on until they come home.)
Mary Ann Sieghart said everyone in her household agrees Christmas is more fun when it’s warm outside and the sun is shining
And we still have Christmas stockings, which our daughters — now in their 20s — put out the night before.
After church in the morning, we go to a neighbour’s for schnapps and sloe gin (sadly not this year, though) and I don’t have to worry about racing back home to cater for dozens of people at Christmas lunch. It’s blissfully unstressful.
And even though my mother is no longer with us, we’ve decided to continue the tradition of summer Christmas with all the siblings and cousins.
It may not matter now whether our house is ‘freezing’ in December, but everyone agrees that Christmas is more fun when it’s warm outside and the sun is shining.
So don’t despair if Christmas doesn’t work out as planned this year. It doesn’t have to be cancelled altogether, just postponed until the weather gets warmer and the world gets safer.
I don’t know about you, but I’m dreaming of a summer Christmas with my 23 relatives. You won’t regret it — in fact, you may find it becomes an annual event.
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