Mode of Transport: Sunday Roast
As a child, there was this old hardcover book my family always displayed out on the coffee table during Christmas. I remember to this day how the cover looked. It had very regal Saint Nicholas trekking through the snow with a smile on his face while carrying a big white sack on his back. The book went into detail about how other countries celebrated Christmas. I read the book for hours every year and immersed myself with the thought of how it would be like to spend the Holiday in all the countries mentioned.
Later in life, though I never spent Christmas away from home, I implemented some of the cultural celebrations into how I did my Holiday. Some of the ceremonies mentioned in the book were dated, so for years, I was a walking anachronism. For example, in keeping with tradition, Brenda and I were one of the few, if not the only ones, that still put up a tree on Christmas Eve.
I have many fond memories of basically getting the tree for free, as nobody was buying a tree on Christmas Eve; then hauling it to our walk-up apartment. We would trim it all evening as part of our celebration. There were a few years in which we had guests over to decorate the tree with us, and that became an annual event for a few years after. Of course, this too had to be modified when Bailey grew older, as she couldn’t wait that long to put one up.
Still, my family and I do our best to celebrate and elongate the Season. We continue to observe the 12 Days of Christmas. When everyone else seems to have already discarded their trees and moved on, we keep going until January 6th (The Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day). We would buy a galette de rois, put on our crowns, and try to get the slice that has the prize in it.
Of the days celebrated in between, which includes New Years, one of my favorite days is the 26th of December, the second day of Christmas. As in the old carol, “Good King Wenceslas”, this is the Feast of Stephen, but to many, it’s Boxing Day. Though there isn’t a Boxing Day tradition in the States, I was, however, lucky enough to grow up in New York City , where there were enough migrants from countries that do observe the day.
I’m not going to bore you with too much historical detail, other than to say, that in Victorian times the aristocracy used to show their appreciation to the working class and the impoverished in a form of a gift in a “box” and/or a Christmas Feast, which was traditionally a rib roast and plum pudding. At least, that’s what I read in my old trusty book and what I have seen on television shows I’ve been watching on BBC 1, 2, 3, 4…
Why do I mention the BBC? Well, it’s because my family and I are fortunate enough to finally celebrate Christmas abroad. England for that matter, where Boxing Day is a big deal. First, there was just as much, if not more, Christmas programming on the television as Christmas Day. Most of the shops were still closed, and there was still a smattering of Holiday tunes to be heard.
There were teams of friends and families, especially families, roaming the streets visiting pub to pub. We also spent a good part of the day walking around the village, which seemed to be the custom around here. The English love their walks.
We found little nooks to walk about, and on a specific one, that was nothing short of Dickensian, we stumbled upon a well-known street where people like to meander called, Flask.
It’s a beautiful street with Victorian architecture, and at the bottom is a pub appropriately named after the street it sits on, The Flask. Established in 1874 and a favorite to locals, it was a perfect place to enjoy a few pints from esteemed British Brewery, Young’s. Without the disturbance of loud music or sporting events on a television screen, people just sat with each other and talked.
Bailey, 11-years of age, loved being able to hang out at a pub and not made to feel out of place. Furthermore, she was made to feel welcome and was not the only child in the premises. It was here that we celebrated our first proper Boxing Day. It was a true family event. A Holiday event. It was everything we had imagined it to be.
Feeling very much in the spirit, that evening I made a Christmas plum pudding. Not from scratch mind you, but somewhere in between. It wasn’t the microwavable type, I still had to steam the lovely thing in the basin it came in. The finished product was delectable. I gave it a bit of a drenching of brandy and lit it up, then topped it with brandy cream. It was a good way to finish the day.The following day, Catholic me took my Episcopalian wife and daughter for Sunday Service at Westminster Abbey. Souls cleansed, we were all a bit hungry after. In England, what would a Sunday be without a roast. Yet, another tradition, though not exclusive to Christmas, needing to be done.
Walking down Whitehall, past the Horse Guard Parade, we decided to have our Sunday Roast at The Clarence. Looking every bit the place that was established in 1862 from the outside, with a sign that reads, “Welcome all visitors to London”, the inside was very tastefully designed in a modern way. A dichotomy that worked. The food offered was very traditional, but done in very high quality.
Bailey had a burger with a slab of English Bacon and beautiful cheddar. Brenda, keeping with roast tradition, but wanting to keep it healthy, ordered the roasted vegetables. I, of course, had the rib roast. I figured, having it, though a day late, still qualifies it as keeping with the Boxing Day tradition.
The beef was sliced beautifully and the cook a perfect medium rare. It was accompanied by roasted vegetables and Yorkshire Pudding. I drenched it with the gravy that it came with and being a lover of horseradish, dressed it with a big dose. Absolutely perfect.
We ended our weekend by joining the crowds at Covent Garden. The tree looked especially bright that evening and there was still that feeling of excitement. In one of the shop windows was a figurine of Father Christmas which resembled that regal St. Nicholas that was on the cover of that Christmas Book I had as a child. The book that inspired me, and my family after, to celebrate the Season and to celebrate it well.
Short travel guide to Hampstead, London.
We flew one way into Heathrow Airport from Bangkok via KLM at $300 per person.
Getting to Hampstead:
We took the Heathrow Express from Heathrow to Paddington Station. The price for adults was £21.50 one-way and takes about 15 minutes. It would cheaper to purchase the round-trip ticket at £35.00 but the return must be used within a month. Bailey was free (Children under 15 are free to ride) We are staying longer.
From Paddington Station, we took a black taxi cab to Hampstead, which cost us £20.00. Do check online for discounts on 7, 30 and 90-day advance tickets (which we will be doing on our return).
Where to Stay:
We were so blessed to have stayed with a friend in Hampstead. It is only a few stops from Central London on the tube and it was great to come home to a very beautiful and quiet village. We recommend staying in an Airbnb, which we’ve had a great experience with all throughout Southeast Asia.
To help you save some money here is a $20 credit.
Books we read to help us tour London:
NOTE: We also downloaded Rick Steves’ Audio Europe App, there’s a playlist just for London which is chock full of fantastic information and includes several guided walking tours. All for free!
The Clarence Pub
53 Whitehall, London SW1A 2HP
020 7930 4808
Mon-Sat – 11am-10pm
Sun – 12pm-10pm
The Flask Pub
14 Flask Walk Hampstead
London NW3 1HE
T: 020 7435 4580
Mon – Thurs: 11am – 11pm (Food till 10pm)
Fri – Sat: 11am – 12am (Food till 10pm)
Sun: 12noon – 10.30pm (Food till 9pm)