Sunday, January 20, 2008

Christmas in England--Part 3, Boxing Day and Lowerfield Farm


As many of you know, the day after Christmas is called "Boxing Day" in England. Long ago, pre-children, Mike and I celebrated Boxing Day by hosting an annual Boxing Day tea party. Alas, we have not done that since Chris was very young! Someday we will have to revive our tradition.

Boxing Day is a national holiday in the UK, and its origins are from the middle ages, when the upper classes gave presents and food to the "lower" classes. According to wikipedia:

"Apprentices, masters, visitors, customers, and others would put donations of money into the box, like a piggy bank, then, after Christmas, the box would be shattered and all the contents shared among the workers of the shop. Thus, masters and customers could donate bonuses to the workers without anything direct, and the employees could average their wages. The habit of breaking the Christmas box lent its name to Boxing Day. The term "Christmas box" now refers generally to a gift or pay bonus given to workers.

Because the staff had to work on such an important day as Christmas by serving the master of the house and his family, they were given the following day off. As servants were kept away from their own families to work on a traditional religious holiday and were not able to celebrate Christmas dinner, the customary benefit was to "box" up the leftover food from Christmas Day and send it away with the servants and their families."

It is tradition in most families to spend the day with other family members as a sort of 'second' Christmas Day, where presents are exchanged, the left-overs of the previous day are eaten or another family meal is prepared in celebration. Boxing Day in the UK is a day when stores launch one of the year's biggest sales periods. Boxing Day has become so important for retailers that they often extend it into a "Boxing Week."

We celebrated Boxing Day with Dave's (brother-in-law) traditional turkey curry, which was very yummy indeed! On the 27th, we hit the big sales in town. When Mike and I first got married, it was highly unusual for any British shops to have any sales whatsoever. Now I believe the UK sales might surpass the American sales! Nearly every shop in town had loads of merchandise marked 50% off.

I found the British fashions not really to my liking, but I did find a lot of great clothing (and shoes, in a few cases) for Mike and the boys.

On the 27th, Kath and Dave had arranged for a professional photographer to come to the house to take photos of the extended family. Here are a couple of shots taken after the photographer had finished with the formal photos:

Mike and Nicholas

Olga with her grandchildren (minus Nicholas)

Jessie and Nicholas looking out the window

On the 29th, Mike's brother and his family flew back to Australia, and we headed to the Cotswolds. On previous visits to the UK, we have always gone for 3 weeks. This was our first 2-week visit ever, and it was very difficult because being the holidays, we didn't have time to connect with most of our British friends. Our entire visit was spent with family, and we were only able to meet up with two families.

Lowerfield Farm in the Cotswolds

One of the families were our friends from Japan, Sue and Gareth. I met Sue when she got a job at the Tokyo branch of the school I taught at in Osaka. She came to Osaka for some training, and we immediately hit it off. She and Gareth met while they were working in Sudan a few years before Japan. They lived in Japan for a few years, and then returned to England and actually lived in Reading, where Mike's mum used to live. The last time we had seen them was 10 years ago, when we attended their leaving party before they returned to Japan. They have been in Japan for the past 10 years, working for the Japanese school, Nova, which recently went bankrupt and left tons of English teachers stranded in Japan without any salaries.

During the past 10 years, we went on to have two more children, and Sue and Gareth acquired two of their own: they had a daughter, Meredith, and they adopted a boy, Darius, in Japan. Since returning to the UK last year, they have opened up a guesthouse business in the Cotswolds called Lowerfield Farm.

We visited them for 2 nights and had a wonderful time catching up. We also realized that it had been 20 years--to the month--since we had first met, and we toasted those 20 years with champagne one evening. They are incredible hosts and are perfectly suited to the guesthouse business. Mike and I agreed that we two are so NOT suited to the guesthouse business. I think we would find it extremely hard to put up with impolite or disrespectful guests.

The children had a good time playing together, and it was fantastic to catch up with them. They are truly friends with whom it seems like no time has passed at all since we last saw them. I also realized one evening that they are our oldest "couple" friends...a couple that we've known for the amount of time we've been together (and are still together)! And what a kick to suddenly have all these children!

We spent a wonderful few days in their company. If you are planning a trip to England, I highly recommend Lowerfield Farm near Broadway in the Cotswolds and the wonderful hospitality of the Atkinson family.

The Cotswolds feel like the real "Old England." Mike and I spent a few days there years ago, right after his dad died in 1992, but we hadn't been back since. I look forward to spending more time there in the spring or summer, when the gardens are in bloom. As it was, I enjoyed taking photos of the Cotswolds architecture and the wonderful English doors (I love English doors!).

Even though Sue and Gareth were ambivalent after leaving Japan after 10 years, they are really enjoying owning a guesthouse. Sue is a vegetarian, though, and I don't know how she manages to cook all that bacon, sausage, and blood pudding every morning for the full English breakfasts! She said that it has more firmly made her a vegetarian!

The boys up on top of Broadway Tower, a viewpoint from which you are supposed to be able to see 13 counties (but not on a cloudy winter day!)

What the tower looks like in nice weather...

And the cloudy day we were there!

Sue, Gareth, and Nicholas watching the others in the tower (Nicholas took to Sue in the same way that Christopher took to her as a baby, not surprising given her warm, welcoming personality!)

Walking down the streets of Broadway, a well-known, picturesque Cotswolds village

Kieran & Nicholas in front of a posh hotel

Meredith, Chris, and Kieran

The friendly doorman offered to take a photo of our whole group! (From left: Gareth, Sue's mum Mary, Sue, Darius, Meredith, Chris, Mike, Kieran, me, and Nicholas)

Nicholas enjoying the walk

Another group shot of the walk

Sweet Darius in Gareth's hat

The view from our room at the guesthouse

The boys at the kitchen table with Meredith by the Aga in the background

Sue and Gareth in the kitchen

Everyone minus Kieran (who was being anti-social at the time!)

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