Seasonal advice from David Cameron, Jilly Cooper, John Rutter and more

Favourite Christmas rituals – and what to avoid for a successful Christmas. With Clare Balding, Alexander McCall Smith and Tim Rice

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

Clare Balding

I love a good walk on Boxing Day followed by watching the racing at Kempton. Avoid the internet. Be present in the moment, enjoying time with family rather than being distracted by online conversations.

Alain de Botton

My favourite ritual is reminding everyone involved that we will, of course, be having a sad and tense Christmas; there will be arguments, frustration, bitterness and barely suppressed longings to be elsewhere with other (better, more interesting) people. The food will be mediocre or, if tasty, will exact such passive-aggressive retribution from those who made it that it would have been better to have a sandwich. The children’s presents will be a sickening reminder of materialism and everyone’s inability to be happy without a screen. With expectations thus reduced, the chances of spending a really quite pleasant time will increase markedly. For a successful Christmas (or life), avoid hope.

David Cameron

On Christmas morning, we all open Santa’s offerings together. So all three children and two adults are in bed together, opening our stockings.

I would avoid family arguments. You’ve got to get outside at some stage on Christmas Day and go for a walk, which helps to defuse any tensions.

Jilly Cooper

My husband Leo and I used to dream up our own Christmas cards, and I still do. One year we had three black labradors in turbans in the middle of the desert. The caption was: ‘There came three wise dogs from the East, bearing bones, and being wise they ate them.’

The thing that I can dispense with at Christmas are those ghastly round-robin letters — four pages of people telling you what they have been doing during the past 12 months. That darling bird the robin should not have his name attached to such a horror.

Niall Ferguson

Every Christmas — or, to be precise, every Hogmanay — all the members of the jazz band I played in at university gather together with their families at our place in Wales. We eat and drink gargantuan amounts and play music with steadily deteriorating precision. It is a wonderful way to see in the new year.

Susan Hill

A friend always has a pork pie for breakfast on Christmas Day, but I have nothing so original to offer. We do, however, always have smoked salmon for lunch and eat a turkey – with all the trimmings, naturally – in the evening.

At Christmas, never ever ever tell the truth. To the cook: ‘Well, I don’t think it was cooked right through.’ To the child: ‘You’re a bit too old to believe in him still.’ To the aged aunt: ‘We are all sick to death of hearing about Christmas 1939…’ Just lie your way through until Boxing Day.

Helen Lederer

I enjoy the annual eating of chocolate money on Christmas Eve — it has been bought to be stuffed in the toe of each stocking — and then having to do a search of all the sweet shops for replacements, by which time everyone has sold out of chocolate coins. Sometimes two trips are required if the second lot also gets eaten before the stocking is handed over.

Playing a board game that has not been road-tested is always a bad idea. My worst one was a charity-shop purchase for wine snobs, which was not only complicated beyond belief, but also had bits missing.

Alexander McCall Smith

Lining up, in order of height, to go into the drawing room to see what presents are waiting, is one of my favourite Christmas rituals. One thing one should definitely avoid at Christmas is any political discussion, also any uncharitable thoughts.

Annie Nightingale

My favourite ritual is visiting people, and I have some rules. A bottle of bubbly to each. Be charming, be fun, but be brief. Quit while you’re still popular. Then you can book a cab home to watch Some Like It Hot and High Society. Now that’s what I call Christmas.

The worst thing is being stuck in the same room with other people’s Farage-fan relatives, especially if they are pissed.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

The three highlights of my Christmas are Midnight Mass at Downside Abbey, children tearing open their presents and the Queen’s Speech. For a successful Christmas, avoid tiresome, Cromwellian stuffiness.

Tim Rice

‘Once In Royal David’s City’ (all six verses, please) is the thing I love most. For a successful Christmas, avoid prosecco and prawns. Prosecco is not my favourite taste and prawns can play havoc with your stomach.

John Rutter

I conduct Christmas concerts around the country in the weeks before Christmas, so by the time the day comes, I’m ready to veg out, going to Christmas morning service in King’s College Chapel (sitting back while someone else does all the hard work), and enjoying food, drink and family at home.

The only thing I avoid is looking at next year’s calendar — a reminder that I will soon be walking the treadmill all over again.

Dan Snow

My favourite thing is being allowed to ignore my phone and email for days on end, re-engaging with that vaguely remembered place, the now.

However, avoid overindulgence the night before Christmas. The kids will wake up on the happy morn earlier than seems possible. Even by their own nocturnal standards.

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  • King Zog

    Two comments:

    1. Oh to be present at a Jacob Rees-Mogg Christmas!
    2. ‘Tenth Juror’ is an anagram of John Rutter.