7 of the best Devon family traditions and games this Christmas

Happy grandmother with memo stickers on forehead playing in game with her family.

Family games are at the centre of many people's festive fun. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Every family has them – those little traditions and rituals that make Christmas special. CHRISSY HARRIS asked a few Devon locals to share theirs. Here are 7 of the best.

A man with his daughter leaning on his shoulder.

Christmas is a magical time for the Everett-Lyons family. - Credit: Philip Everett-Lyons

1. Philip Everett-Lyons is the founder of award-winning Hattiers Rum, named after his eldest daughter, Henrietta. The distillery is based in the South Hams, where Philip lives with his wife Corinna and their daughters, Henrietta (Hettie), six, and Beatrice (Bea), four. 

Philip says: “Father Christmas sends a cardboard and tin foil rocket to the children on Christmas Eve, filled with extra stocking presents. This involves an almighty racket of dustbin lids and lighting of firelighters on the lawn to stage a crashed rocket scene.  

“On Christmas Day we play silly parlour games, such as ‘Are you there Moriarty?’” (see panel below for how to play). 

Devon sailor Nick Hutton.

Devon sailor Nick Hutton will enjoy being back in the UK with his family this Christmas. - Credit: C. Gregory/Ineos Team UK

2. Devon sailor Nick Hutton is part of the UK team that took on the challenge of a lifetime to try to win sport's oldest international trophy, the America's Cup. When he’s not travelling the world, Nick lives with wife Philippa and their two sons aged five and two in South Devon. Philippa says: 

“Christmas Eve is our niece Olivia’s birthday. She will be ten this year and ever since she was four years old, we have always got together as a family for lunch at The Rugglestone Inn on Dartmoor. “Once suitably stuffed with baked brie, pie and birthday cake, we check on the turkeys – who live next to the pub car park – to ensure they’ve survived another Christmas, before heading up to Bonehill Rocks to walk it all off.  

“Abandoning our (often wet and muddy) gear in the boot of the car, we do a quick outdoor change into our Christmas finery and drive back to our local parish for the annual crib service. Once they have hidden some model animals and generally ransacked Littlehempston church, we haul the extremely over-excited children home and attempt to persuade them into bed.” 

A couple holding a sheep while wearing Christmas elf outfits.

Cathy and Stuart Woolley have the same workload as very other day on Christmas Day. - Credit: Woolley Animals

3. Cathy and Stuart Woolley run Woolley Animals in Winkleigh, North Devon. The couple organise regular alpaca walks through their farmland – and beyond. 

Cathy says: “In the build up to Christmas, Woolley Animals visit care homes and events with alpacas dressed as reindeer.  Christmas markets are great fun for us because people love to get into the spirit and animals are great for relieving the stress of shopping. 

Christmas morning is very special to us because even though it’s the same as every other day in terms of workload, we have the radio playing Christmas songs and the animals get special treats. It’s one of our favourite times of the year.” 

Man dressed as a circus ringmaster.

Flea circus ringmaster Uncle Tacko!, AKA Tony Lidington. - Credit: Steven Haywood

4. Tony Lidington, AKA Uncle Tacko! is the ringmaster of a very special flea circus and a proud ambassador of good old-fashioned seaside entertainment. Tony is the founder of Promenade Promotions (Prom-Prom) and lives in Dawlish. 

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He says: “As a family, we always ‘bring in the green’ and go up to Chudleigh woods to collect holly, ivy and fallen cones to decorate the house and make a wreath for the front door (although one year we made a wreath out of seaweed from Coryton Cove, which was lovely, but stank after 12 days!) and a branch from which to hang the Christmas cards. 

 “I order our Christmas dinner joint from the local Dawlish butcher (Lloyd Maunder). I carve the duck, dressed as ‘The Bishop of Brighton’, which for some reason I have done each year since becoming a dad! 

 “Perhaps most special of all is that I read my children the whole of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol over the preceding week. They are all teenagers and older now, but it is a family tradition handed down from my great grandfather to my grandfather and to my father, who read it to me each year. He died this year, so it is more important to me than ever, as it will be my first Christmas without both of my parents…“God Bless Us, Every One!” 

A couple and their four grandchildren sitting on a bench.

Andrew Parkinson with his wife Jacqui and their grandchildren. - Credit: Andrew Parkinson

5. Andrew Parkinson wrote the Grandad Manual, part of the Haynes Publishing series. He lives in Chudleigh and has four grandchildren. 

He says: “Since my grandchildren were old enough to be angels, for years we’ve gone to Pennywell Farm for their lovely nativity play. You can’t beat a family event that has carols in a real barn with real sheep, kids dressed as shepherds seated all around on real bales of straw!  

“At home, we have little competitions making Christmas tree decorations. Any materials, any shapes – the only condition is that the decorations must be hangable – and the end result can be hilarious!” 

Two young girls decorating a Christmas tree.

Photographer Steven Haywood’s daughters Tilly (l) and Evie (r) decorate their tree. - Credit: Steven Haywood

6. Steven Haywood is a Devon Life photographer. He lives in the South Hams with this wife Rebecca and daughters Evie, eight, Tilly, five. Like many families, Steve says the tree is a vital part of the Christmas build-up. 

"It's Evie's birthday in early December so we always put the tree up afterwards to mark when Christmas starts in the Haywood household. We put the lights on first to and look at the tree with blurry eyes to make sure we've got the lights spread out correctly. Then we put the star on and work our way down. We've done it since the girls were very little and they really love that part of Christmas." 

Lindsay Lucas, managing director of Software Solved.

For Lindsay Lucas, Christmas is all about family, good food and the Christmas Monkey! - Credit: Steven Haywood

7. Lindsay Lucas is managing director of Software Solved, one of Exeter’s most well-established tech firms. She lives outside Exeter with her husband Mark and their three-year-old son, Daniel. 

Lindsay says: “Christmas in our house is all about family, good food and the Christmas Monkey, which is our alternative to the tree top fairy. He’s adorned our Christmas tree ever since Mark (my husband) and I first got together (ahem – many years ago!) and now he’s sort of become a tradition. 

“Visiting Santa has also become a must since we had Daniel and Christmas jumpers are compulsory. It’s a great excuse to get into the spirit and have some fun as a family. Otter Nurseries is great and this year we’re going on the Santa Express, but shhh don’t tell Daniel yet, it’s a surprise! Happy Christmas, one and all!” 

How to play "Are you there Moriarty?”
In case you were wondering, here are the rules of "Are you there Moriarty?”, the parlour game played by Philip Everett-Lyons and family: 

A game for two players (and several amused spectators) 

The players are blindfolded and given a rolled-up newspaper. They then lie on their fronts, head to head with a metre or so gap between them. The starting player says: “Are you there, Moriarty?”. The other player, when ready, says “Yes”. The starting player then tries to hit the other player with their newspaper, by swinging it over his head – after their attempt, it’s the other player’s turn. Once hit, you’re out and someone else takes your place.