Christmas at Barky Manor


The festive Yuletide table with flowers, bayberry candles, and crackers


It was Sister Dear who christened our house “Barky Manor,” because we nearly always had a dog or two running  about. In the early 2000s my mother and I decided that she would do Thanksgiving and I would do Christmas: partly because two holiday feasts so close together were too much work for her, and partly because our family was bored with two turkey dinners a month apart.

Three-quarters of the family had dual citizenship, British and American, so roast beef and Yorkshire pudding seemed the logical choice. However, one year Darling Niece informed me that her little family of three were vegetarians. Oho, I thought, and began looking up vegetarian recipes. I found that a chef named Nora had come up with an entire vegetarian Christmas menu—roast beets with walnut sauce, butternut squash risotto, roasted onions with balsamic vinegar, and apple crumble.

That Christmas Day the family blew in, rosy-cheeked from the cold and smiling. Confronted by the sight and aroma of the roast beef and gravy, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and English peas, the little family forgot they were vegetarians and began eating the traditional dishes with enthusiasm. The omnivores, meanwhile, enchanted by the butternut squash risotto, roasted onions, and roasted beets, also switched gears. Good thing, too, as otherwise we’d have wound up short.

However, the Christmas pudding, encircled by blue flames and borne into the darkened dining room, was a hit with both vegetarians and omnivores. Sadly, I couldn’t use the traditional pudding charms of a sixpence, a ring, and a thimble because one guest objected to them. She’d nearly broken a tooth at age seven when she bit into a serving of pudding and encountered a sixpence.

The first year that our daughter-in-law’s parents attended our Christmas dinner was a revelation to them. Being Jewish, they’d never been to a Yuletide dinner before—they’d always planned a nice vacation in a warm country for that time of year. However, they were so enraptured by the omnivores’ menu, the children and dogs running around, and the paper crowns, prizes, and idiotic jokes that popped out of the Christmas crackers, that thereafter they planned their winter vacation for early December.

One peculiar feature of our last few years at Barky Manor was that we invariably forgot to serve the yellow vegetable, a mixture of diced carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga, tossed with olive oil and baked. My husband and I were then faced with glumly eating it until New Year’s.

I miss the craziness of Christmas Day at Barky Manor. There was so much noise from the children, dogs, and grownups who’d imbibed rather too much wine that we sometimes mixed up the Christmas presents, with the result that grown-ups were surprised at receiving beanbags and children equally surprised at receiving presents intended for grownups.

Christmas isn’t nearly as much fun now, but at least we have the memories and the photographs of Christmases past.

About Diana in NoVa 29 Articles
I'm quite literally an old Witch. In my spare time I follow politics, write fiction about those who follow the Pagan path, keep house (not terribly successfully), and hang out on the Moose, Facebook, and sometimes the Great Orange Satan. I'm a nanny-granny to three adorable grandchildren and the granny of two who are quite grown up. Sisterhood is powerful!


  1. What lovely memories; thank you for sharing! SIL, who has gained dramatically in skill and confidence in the kitchen, has handled the holiday meal since we’ve known him, for which I’m very grateful. We, in turn, have brought our exuberance, irreverence, and general sense of fun to the holiday gathering…something his family only expresses in small, measured doses for reasons that elude me. We’re very child-like (and even childish!); they’re very adult. He’s learned well and can now be counted on to contribute to the laughter as much as the rest of us.

  2. {{{Diana}}} Time has that sometimes unpleasant habit of marching on. But memories carefully kept are evergreen. I’m glad you have so many good ones. My own holidays have been hit-and-miss for decades. But the “decorate the tree at grandma’s” Yule that we held on whichever Sunday in December everybody was free for 18 years (from when eldest grandson was 6 until COVID) was always full of good food and laughter. So I guess that counts.

    • Thanks for reading, bfitz! Yes, it does count. I think Miss Pink Cheeks may be coming over on Saturday to decorate our tree! I hope so. She’s so much fun to have around.

  3. Thank you Diana. I was reviewing Christmas photo’s last night, trying to remember what I did in previous years, hoping to spark some creativity for this year. We’ve got 3 family gatherings planned so my list is long but my hope is we will all have fun being together.

    • Princesspat, you will have a ball! If yours is the kind of family that actually likes each other (and that seems to be very much the case), you’ll have fun and possibly forget to serve one of the vegetables and everyone will eat too much dessert. Bon appetit!

  4. Thank you for this delightful story! I have never hosted a Christmas dinner but I have seen many and the work seems daunting. My holiday meal preparations involve hunting and gathering – going to the store and purchasing an already cooked chicken and some side dishes from the deli. I do make a squash dish because it needs to be fresh (reheating won’t do) but that is it.

    • Jan, thanks for reading! Yes, it’s a lot of work but there’s always the week between Christmas and New Year in which to recover.

      In previous years we hosted a Christmas Eve supper (that’s now Elder Son’s forte), Christmas dinner, and a New Year’s Open House. I can’t believe I had that much energy! Younger Son did Thanksgiving but no one wants to host Christmas dinner because it’s too. Much. Work.

      We’re all atheists, so believe me, it was the Pagan aspects of the holidays that we celebrated. I would turn bright red if I told you how old Elder Son was before he stopped expecting an Easter basket.

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