WRITTEN BY LISA ALLEN
This particular family tradition means that when she makes her wish, it comes true every single year!
The day is finally here!
A wave of excitement whisks around my tummy as the doorbell jingles in the background.
“I’ll get it,” I call to my husband, Malcolm, who is relaxing in his lounge recliner absorbed in a festive TV magazine crossword.
I can see their colourful shapes through the front door’s bobbled glass – my daughter Alice, son-in-law Jon, and my two elf-sized grandchildren, Mia and Oliver.
I swing open the door and the brightly dressed elves launch themselves at my penguin apron, their Christmas gift to me last year.
“Nanna!” they squeal, squeezing my waist with their little arms and hands.
I lean into their hugs, my cheeks rosy. “Have you brought your wishes with you?” I say quietly and seriously. This is very important business.
“Yes! Mine is –”
Alice places an authoritative hand on Oliver’s shoulder. “Don’t tell anyone Ollie,” she says, face solemn. She knows all about this stuff. “You have to wait until it is time.”
Jon and I exchange a smile.
Jon was rather bemused by our family tradition when he and Alice married eight years ago. I think he still is, but he enjoys it all the same. Who doesn’t love a bit of Christmas magic?
Nanna, we should get started straight away.
Mia is the eldest, and rather bossy. I’m sure she’d be pleased to hear me say that. She takes her role of big sister very seriously indeed, grabbing Oliver’s mitten-covered hands and leading him down our hallway.
“Aha! What have we here? Santa has sent helpers from the North Pole, I see.”
The children giggle as he waltzes them around on the spot like a giant dancing Father Christmas.
“That’s what we need,” says Alice, taking her scarf from her neck, “Over-excited children on a lazy afternoon.”
“Ah,” says Jon, heading past her towards the kitchen. “But it’s not just any old day, is it?”
“He is quite right,” I say, ushering the elves behind him. “If children can’t be over-excited today, when can they?”
Alice raises her brow. “Err… on Christmas Day?”
“Right,” says Jon, whipping the bright festive coats off the backs of the elves. “Who remembers what to do first?”
“Taste the mix,” says Mia, her big blue eyes peering at the brimming bowls, jugs, and jars laid out on the kitchen table.
“Guess again,” says Jon.
“Wash hands!” shouts Oliver, triumphantly. He knows he has definitely got this right.
“But take your mittens off first,” says Jon, lifting the little boy so he can reach the sink.
“I think he’s earned a chocolate coin already,” says Malcolm, holding up a shiny gold treat.
“For later, Dad,” says Alice, swiping the coin from his fingers as Oliver’s boots land back on the floor. “I don’t think a sugar rush is in order just yet.”
“Spoilsport,” says Malcolm, with a twinkle in his eye. He shoots Oliver a look that says don’t worry, I’ll sneak you another coin when she’s not looking.
“And I saw that look,” scolds Alice. She glances at Malcolm, a wry smile softening her face. “You used to do the same for me when Mum told you not to.”
Gazing around my family, my smile is as wide and sparkling as the tinsel on the tree. I know Christmas day is usually the one that everybody else looks forward to at this time of year, but for me, you can’t beat this.
You can’t. We’re all together. Doing something so simple, but so very special: The Making of our Christmas Pudding.
I can’t quite remember when we first started doing this. It must have been when Alice was about Mia’s age, I think. I’d found a recipe in my favourite magazine, and I’d just thought, yes, we’ll have a go at that.
I must admit, our first attempt wasn’t a great success. We must have got the ingredient weights a bit wrong. The texture was a bit funny, and the taste wasn’t brilliant either. In fact, after waiting so long – weeks – from making it, steaming it, to eating it, just to discover it was a complete flop, initially was rather disappointing.
However, Alice had started giggling, and that started Malcolm off, and then they got me too. Festive hysteria descended upon our dining room that year. It really was funny.
We decided there and then that it absolutely had to be done every year from then on in our house, until we could get the Christmas pudding just right.
We still haven’t. And I can’t say I’m disappointed.
So, here we are. About to make Christmas Pudding Number Thirty-something. This one will be alcohol free, mind, so the grandchildren can have some too. It also means we get to eat it a lot sooner too, as it won’t store for long.
Mia picks a single currant out of a bowl and pops it in her mouth. “Can I mix the fruit up, please?”
“As long as you don’t eat half the currants,” I say, making her grin.
Malcolm appears with a bottle of brandy. I shake my head. “I told you we’re using juice and syrup for this one.”
“I know,” says Malcolm, a twinkle in his eye again. “I thought the adults might like a festive tipple though.”
Jon’s face lights up – and then he glances at Alice.
“Yes, go on. I’ll drive home,” she says. “I’ve never liked brandy anyway.”
Oliver tugs at my apron strings. “Nanna, I can’t see what Mia’s doing.”
I nod, pulling out a chair for him to stand on right next to me. He puts his little hand on my shoulder and beams in my face. “Can I help too, Nanna?”
“I have a very important job for you,” I say. “But it’s not until right at the end.”
He stands a little taller, his eyes all sparkly with anticipation.
“Very good, Mia,” I say, ignoring her stuffing more currants in her mouth. “Now, a squeeze of lemon and a bit of zest to give it some oomph.”
Alice’s long arms appear over Mia’s shoulders. “Allow me.”
She performs it like a cartoon chef, the juice trickling through the air like a waterfall, making everyone laugh.
Splat! Everyone looks round to find a broken egg dripping off the counter top down the side of the washing machine. Malcolm’s face crinkles with embarrassment.
“Give him one job,” I say. “One job.”
“That’ll be the brandy,” says Jon, with a good-natured smile.
“Perhaps you should make yourself useful and do your stirring over there, young man,” replies Malcolm, trying hard not to grin.
Things are sprinkled and poured and with much ado the rest of the ingredients are chucked into the main mixing bowl.
“Now,” I say, pulling a shiny sixpence out of my apron pocket. I hold it up level with Oliver’s eyes. It hypnotises him. “Oliver. You have the great responsibility this year of throwing the lucky sixpence into the pudding mix.”
His little mouth gapes as I carefully place the coin in his hand.
I glance round at the rest of the family.
On the count of three, make a wish.
“Three… two… one!”
Six sets of eyes squeeze shut, each of us making our silent and magical Christmas wishes.
I open my eyes and whisper solemnly, “Now, Oliver.”
His tiny fingers flip the sixpence into the bowl, and right on cue Mia gives the mixture a good stir-up.
“Splendid!” I give my elves a big hug. “Couldn’t have done it without you both.”
“What did you wish for Nanna?” Oliver’s big brown eyes widen with curiosity.
“Nanna can’t tell you that, or it might not come true,” says Alice, smiling. She’s a bit of a pro at this by now.
“Does your wish always come true, Mummy?” Mia concentrates on Alice’s face. She does this a lot recently, Alice tells me. Her intelligent sharp eyes always trying to read her mum’s thoughts.
Alice smiles. “Not always, Mia, but sometimes – and the ones that have come true have been really special.”
“Like what?” Mia always wants to know more.
Alice glances at Jon, who raises his glass in return, and then she looks back at her two beautiful, clever children. “Like meeting your daddy, and having you two cheeky little elves.” She tickles Mia and Oliver’s tummies making them wriggle with giggles.
“What about you, Grandad?” Mia turns her attention to her adoring grandfather. “Have any of your wishes come true?”
Malcolm considers this. “I wish for a convertible sports car every year, but Nanna always puts her foot down – and not on any accelerators.”
I roll my eyes. Malcolm loves me to be bad cop, but he also does love me, very dearly indeed.
“Malcolm,” I say, “If you want some flash sports car parked on the drive, you are quite at liberty to go and buy one.” But I know he won’t. And I know that’s not really what he wishes for.
His wish is always the same as mine.
“When do we get to eat it?” Oliver stares at the pudding bowl currently being squished full with spoonfuls of sticky mixture by Jon.
I give Jon a look, and he gives me the official nod that he has surreptitiously removed the sixpence and slipped it into his pocket.
I expect it would make you chuckle if I told you Jon’s actual day job is in Health and Safety – or as we like to call it here, Elf Safety.
“Well,” I reply, fixing my gaze on my grandson who is still head and shoulders above me standing on my kitchen chair, “We need to let it set for a while, but as this recipe is a bit different to the old one, we can steam it in a couple of hours.”
Oliver and Mia fist bump the air.
We’ve made some toffee sauce to drizzle over the Christmas pudding. I’m not sure that’s entirely traditional, but if these telly chefs can make up their own unusual creations, then why shouldn’t we? Mia had insisted upon toffee sauce, so who am I to argue?
We’re all squashed around our dining table, a bowl each brimming with stodgy fruity steam and fusion of toffee.
“Has anyone found the sixpence?” asks Alice, who likes to pretend not to know about mine and Jon’s Elf Safety arrangement.
Spoons clink against earthenware, all eyes searching for the prize.
“It’s me!” cries Malcolm, fishing it out with his fingertips. We agreed he’s a much better actor than me.
Well I never – looks like I will be getting that sports car next year after all!
Everyone bursts out laughing – except for little Oliver, whose wide eyes are filled with concern.
“Will our wishes not come true if Grandad’s got the sixpence?”
I place my hand over his. “Oh, no,” I assure him. “If you wish hard enough, there’s every chance your wish will come true, Oliver.”
Crisis averted. He is satisfied with this and digs into his Christmas pudding, smearing toffee sauce around his mouth as part of the process.
Everything is just as it should be.
As my family wave goodbye a few days later, heading to their car, Alice hangs back for a moment.
“Are you ever going to tell me what you wish for, Mum?”
“Certainly not,” I say. “A girl has to have at least one secret. But I can tell you, my wish does come true every year.” On the day we make our Christmas pudding, I add silently, smiling.