Lisa Byrne on enjoying a fun-filled Yorkshire Christmas

Lisa Byrne

Lisa Byrne - Credit: Archant

Columnist Lisa Byrne is hoping to exorcise the ghosts of Christmasses past with a wholesome festive season – and no drunken reality TV ‘stars’

Carolling under the Christmas tree at the Castle Museum in York

Carolling under the Christmas tree at the Castle Museum in York - Credit: Archant

Last December was the first Christmas I’d spent in Yorkshire for over 15 years. Our previous family festive celebrations had taken place in Highgate Village, London, a gorgeous part of the capital, rather like a miniature York with its imposing Georgian houses, timber pubs and Dickensian-style shops. While I always loved the build up to the season in the village – collecting the turkey from our local butcher, watching the moving nativity scene heading through the narrow passageways twinkling with fairy lights and post Christmas Day Mass drinks in our local, the part I wasn’t crazy about was the huge number of events I had to attend in my capacity as editor-in-chief of OK! I know I sound spoilt but I will explain.

When I first joined the magazine, I relished every embossed invitation I received, especially enjoying the charitable pre-Christmas soirees taking place across the city. However, towards the end of my tenure I saw a huge change in the focus and feel of these drinks parties. Gone were the great and good of London society, including writers, actors and artists, to be replaced by a host of botox obsessed reality TV stars, whose sole ambition was to get featured in The Mail Online’s sidebar of shame.

My last ‘celebrity’ Christmas party ended with an inebriated female TV personality falling head first into the chocolate fountain and a Big Brother contestant throwing her top off and placing a couple of cupcakes on her ample bosoms. There were certainly many spirits present that night but not of the Christmas cheer variety. No wonder poor Mary Berry looked shell shocked while attending the recent National Reality TV Awards where semi-clad guests appeared to be paralytic.

Thankfully, my celebrations this year are going to be much more sedate than seedy. I was lucky enough to be among a select few invited to sample a number of Christmas afternoon teas in the county (yes, it’s a woeful life!). As I always do, I begun humming the theme tune to Brideshead Revisited as I drove up the magnificent sweeping driveway to Castle Howard in Yorkshire’s Howardian Hills. Head chef David Haynes produced an array of delicious treats beside a crackling fire, including roast turkey with sage, cranberry and chestnut sandwiches.

Christmas at Castle Howard

Christmas at Castle Howard - Credit: Archant

More recently, I enjoyed the perfect ending to a frantic day’s Christmas shopping with my eight-year-old daughter in tow by visiting the Royal York Hotel, now called The Principal York. We went to its baroque-style Garden Room for a restorative afternoon tea created by the talented pastry chef Martyn Edmonds (oh my goodness, his chocolate orange eclair is heavenly).

This Christmas, I’m determined to only buy produce from local Yorkshire businesses. Last year, I spotted a recommendation for Leeds based Swillington Organic Farm in Yorkshire Life, and all I can say is that it was a nightmare trying to get our Irish relations to stop picking at the poor bird’s carcass. It was the most delicious turkey we’ve ever eaten. Being back in the north means it will also be a joy not to battle with other Christmas shoppers in Regent or Oxford Street. Instead we will be sipping mulled wine while perusing unique gifts in the snug chalets of St Nicholas Fayre in York as well as making a visit to Leeds’ famous Christkindlmarkt. I’m also planning to invest in a new winter coat (any excuse) to keep me cosy while singing Christmas carols in the spectacular ruins of Rievaulx Abbey.

We are also going to immerse ourselves in the annual traditions of seeing the Vienna Festival Ballet perform The Nutcracker at York Grand Opera House and, of course, watching the most recognised panto dame in the world, Berwick Kaler in Cinderella at the newly restored York Theatre Royal. We might even repeat one of our greatest experiences from last year, Victorian Christmas at the Castle, where we strolled around the cobbled streets of Kirkgate in York’s Castle Museum, immersed in the sights and sounds of days gone by.

But for us, and many Yorkshire Life readers, the highlight of the season will be the Christmas Carol Concert at York Minster. Singing carols in full voice, helped along by the Minster Choir, is such a joyful experience and just what Christmas is all about.

For many it’s just an excuse to drink too much, spend a fortune on presents and make holy shows of themselves at the office Christmas party. But at least this year my Yorkshire Christmas will be a far more charming, soulful and cosy family affair, devoid of strategically placed cupcakes, chocolate fountains and, most importantly, reality TV stars.

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