Thursday, 26 November 2015

Guest Post - The 12 Signs of Christmas by Sophie Pembroke - #CarinaChristmas

As a lover of all things festive, I like to keep an eye out, starting around late October, for signs that it is almost time to get excited about Christmas again. Over the years, I’ve refined my list of signposts to festive-ness, leading all the way up to the big day itself, and I thought I’d share them with you all.

1: Christmas magazines appear in the shops
This is definitely the moment I feel that first little bubble of excitement. Every year I buy each and every Christmas magazine that appears on the shelves, and every year I complain that it’s exactly the same as last year’s. It’s practically a tradition at this point. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is little I enjoy more as the weather turns colder than curling up on a lazy afternoon with a cup of hot chocolate and a Christmas magazine. It’s just the way to get into the festive spirit!

2: Christmas books begin to be released
Of course, once I’ve passed the ‘anticipating Christmas’ threshold, I want to share that festive feeling. Since my husband refuses to hear the ‘C’ word before December 1st, I often find festive companionship in Christmas books. This year, I had an eagerly anticipated list of Christmas books I was waiting to be released. 

Once they’re downloaded to my kindle, they’re usually devoured in a day (or night, depending on how many times the baby needs feeding between bedtime and sunrise).  

3: The Christmas barn opens! (Also, Mince Pie Cravings)
As soon as Halloween is out of the way, the shops start loading up the aisles with Christmas cards, wrap, chocolates and other goodies. Traditionally, people walking past shake their heads and complain about it being too early. I nod along while trying to scope out the advent calendars. 

Also around this time, my favourite shop of all time opens: The Christmas Barn. It is packed to the gills with decorations, table accessories, lights, wreaths, stockings and other festive goodness. As soon as it opens I’m plan a trip with friends. This has resulted in us all showing up at the school gates in Christmas jumpers in October, in the past. 

(They also serve excellent hot chocolate and mince pies, which tends to get the cravings going. From here on in, it’s mince pie time straight through until January.)

4: Shops start playing Christmas music
Once they’ve got the decorations in it’s only a matter of time before the music starts too. At the first sign of Wham! singing Last Christmas I am transported to my happy Christmas place. I start scowling at any shop not playing carols or Now That’s What I Call Christmas at top volume. (My husband tends to have the exact opposite response.) 

5: Mum sends out the Secret Santa email
I have a ridiculously large family, and we’re all very fond of each other. However, to make things easier (and less financially crippling) we decided some years ago to do a Secret Santa between all the adults for gifts. The children (all ten of them as of writing, might be eleven by Christmas…) all get presents from everyone, however, because none of us can resist buying prezzies for little people. 

Mum is currently in charge of the Secret Santa system, and will normally send out her first email requesting sign ups and wish lists in mid November. 

It is also around this time that I realise I haven’t actually thought about buying any presents as I was too busy eating mince pies and reading Christmas magazines. 

6: Holly starts singing Christmas songs. Over and over and over. 
It’s always briefly exciting when my daughter (the very festively named Holly) arrives home from school humming the first of the songs they’re learning for their Christmas play. The excitement tends to fade a little around the seventy fifth repeat of the same three lines, though. 

7: Christmas Tree Saturday
This is another family specific tradition, with its roots (literally, I suppose, in the case of the trees) in the hills of Llan Degla, Wales. 

When I was younger (well, a teenager), we used to drive up into the hills to choose the perfect tree. I’d flirt with the young guy playing Santa, and we’d all pray the tree wouldn’t fall off the roof of the car on the way home.

Now I’ve relocated down south, I try to recreate this as best as I can. 

What this actually means is, the first weekend in December, I make my parents and a sibling or two show up to buy a tree at the local garden centre, then feed them mince pies and wine while they help me decorate it. Then we go out for dinner! 

8: Amazon Overload
Having failed to be organised and start early, as I always swear I’m going to every year, mid to late December is usually the point at which the postman starts glaring at me as parcel after parcel arrives from Amazon. Everyone likes books, right?

9: Christingle Service
I took Holly to her first Christingle service last year; somehow, we’ve always had something else on every other year. Anyway, she loved it. Mostly because it involved getting sweets in church and playing with fire. It was like Bonfire Night and Easter all rolled in to one. 

10: Driving Home For Christmas
The minute the schools break up for the holidays, I load up the car ready for the long drive home. 

It’s about a three and a half hour journey to Wales, if you don’t include stops. This is, I’ve found, almost the perfect length to listen to the entire of The Best Christmas Album In The World… Ever AND all three CDs of Now That’s What I Call Christmas. 
Holly loves this. My husband does not. 

11: Boat Sunday
The Sunday before Christmas is always Boat Sunday in my family. It’s the day where we all go out for a fancy Christmas lunch at a local hotel, since we might not all be together on the day itself. There’s usually about 32 of us, including children. We eat, drink, then make merry by getting the guitars out and having a good old Christmas sing song. It is, I think, my favourite day of the whole year. 

12: Christmas Eve 
Come Christmas Eve I’m vibrating with excitement - far more than the children. I make a point of always wearing red on Christmas Eve, and it’s usually a day of last minute wrapping, more mince pies, visiting friends and hanging stockings. In years gone by I’d have been down the pub that evening with friends, staggering back up the hill for the midnight mass service. These days, I’m usually in bed half an hour after the children are asleep, conserving my energy for the big day ahead. 

After all, I want to be up at 5am to open my stocking!


Sophie Pembroke writes very British romance for Mills & Boon / Harlequin Romance, Carina UK and Harper Impulse. She’s been nominated for a number of awards, and is starting to get an ‘always the bridesmaid’ feeling about them, so plans to be the bridesmaid who runs off the with the best man. 

Born in Abu Dhabi, Sophie grew up in Wales and now lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two children. She blogs about books, writing, and her home and family at

Sophie believes in happy ever afters, taking tea at three and always having time for one more page. 

Room for Love:

When wedding planner Carrie Archer inherits the crumbling Avalon Inn where she spent her childhood summers, she knows she’ll do whatever it takes to make it home. With no money for renovations, that means finding investors if she ever hopes to turn the Avalon into a dream wedding venue. But Carrie has been left more than the inn—she’s also inherited its occupants, including three senior citizens, a single-father chef with childcare issues, a panicky receptionist, and one very gorgeous gardener. So when her cousin Ruth declares her intention to get married at the Avalon on Christmas Eve, Carrie finds herself juggling decorating with dance nights, budgeting with bridge games…and sabotage with seduction.

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