‘Twas the feast before Christmas

One of the earliest food-orientated pleasures of childhood can be traced back to leaving out snacks for Santa and Rudolph.

For one night only, he becomes the most well-fed man in the world. Arguably, it is tonight he tops up his fat stores for the long winter ahead. The rules for drink driving and working on a full stomach are forgotten; it’s Christmas Eve, and this is Santa’s feast.

Millions of excited children the world over follow mum and dad into the kitchen the night before Christmas to watch them assemble one of the most exciting parts of the eve before it’s finally time to go to bed – Santa and Rudolph’s midnight snack. It’s a Christmas ritual I look back on fondly. That utter excitement of finding actual evidence of Santa’s presence in our house was, apart from tearing open presents, worthy of running down the stairs for.

Pre-present tearing, Christmas morning was the rare occasion you’d sit bolt upright earlier than ever, jump out of bed and hang around your parent’s room waiting for them to go downstairs and unlock the front door. Then I’d go straight to the source – the doorstep – where footprints in the snow, a missing mince pie and a gulped glass of milk meant that he had been, he had eaten and he was satisfied. It’s a moment that undoubtedly shaped my love of feeding people.

Choosing what to leave was usually an exercise in generosity. I always wanted to put out a delectable spread of mince pies, milk AND a glass of tipple (much to my dad’s delight), but the glint in mum’s eye and her reasoned tone of “he mustn’t overeat before he gets to the other houses!” meant she got to save several of the specially-bought mince pies for Christmas Day (but dad still got to go to bed on a glass of milk and a one-pie minimum).

Optimists might argue a child comes over all selfless when devising the midnight menu for the jolly man and his reindeer entourage. But there’s a lot at stake here – in a young mind where gifts rule, the better the snack could in fact equal the bigger the presents. There’s really no harm in penning a brief note for beside the mince pie permitting him to use the microwave and pointing out the fact there’s a brand new tub of fresh custard in the fridge – it will almost certainly guarantee you a top spot on the ‘Very very good’ list.

So when choosing your feast with a milk or a sherry, add in a mince pie for a Santa that’s merry.

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