In Search of a Proper Christmas Dinner

It seemed this Christmas was slipping away. Both boys had travelled; my wife and I were home alone. No Christmas tree. No Christmas decorations. No plans – except to finish off a basket of work before the end of the year.

I am quite cynical about the way Christmas has been commercialised. I am old enough to remember when Mother’s Days was Mothering Sunday, a time when people went to church to honour their mothers – but not for loading them with cards and buying gifts.

Father’s Day didn’t exist. (It still doesn’t in my house!). Valentine’s Day was a time for youngsters to send cards to someone they fancied – but the cards were never signed. It was not a time for openly giving flowers, chocolates and such.

And Christmas was a time for Midnight Mass with your family or friends; after breakfast, opening the presents stacked around the Christmas tree; a walk in the crisp morning air to work up an appetite for the one o’clock Christmas dinner of turkey, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts and lashings of gravy; followed by a rich Christmas pudding with brandy sauce – and sixpenny pieces hidden in it for the children to find.

The meal was finished in time to listen to the Queen’s Speech at three o’clock. And the rest of the day was given over to watching TV, with their Christmas specials of ‘Morecambe and Wise’ or ‘Only Fools and Horses’ – and stuffing yourself with Christmas cake, mince pies and chocolates, until it was time to go to bed.

OK, for most people it wasn’t so much a religious festival, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of shopping bonanza it has becomes today.

Am I sounding like Scrooge of ‘Christmas Carol’? I’m sorry, if so. But there’s much I like about Christmas. I think, though, that the pattern of the celebration (established back in the days of Charles Dickens in the mid-19th century England), really fits a European winter scenario of cold outsides (preferably with snow on the evergreen holly trees) and insides made snug with log fires, Stilton cheese, and mulled wine.

So this Christmas I reckoned we should treat ourselves to a real English feast. However, my wife, Lut, is not a proper Fox carnivore, so it had to be a feast with attractive vegetarian options. Since it was the season for spending, the obvious choice was the brunch on the Lord Delamere Terrace of the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, where they must have been serving turkey on Christmas Day ever since its opening back in 1904.

It proved to be an excellent choice. OK, I still regret what Fairmont has done to the famous Terrace. It used to be a favourite meeting place in the late 1960s when I was teaching at Nairobi University across the road. Now, it is barricaded from the street; in the main, it belongs to the residents of the hotel and not to the people of the city. But you can understand why it has happened.

Nevertheless, the brunch there on Sundays is very special – and this Festive Brunch was more so. The turkey was still plump on its carving board, so I made straight for that. The small sausages were neatly wrapped with bacon and, sure enough, there were green Brussels sprouts and the brownest of gravies. All just what I was looking for.

Lut went exploring – passing the seafood and Indian corners on her way to the lavish salad table.

There was an amazing selection of desserts, also, but I had to have the fruity Christmas pudding drenched in yellow custard. The wines were good, too.

By two o’clock the tables were all occupied, and most of the patrons were Kenyans with young children. It was as if the city had taken back its Terrace.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation