Guide to organising a large family staycation
When it comes to organising a large family Christmas, the sticking point is always a big one: space. Who has a dining table for seating over 12 people, or an oven big enough for a million roast potatoes? And do you rotate the host or will one person be stuck organising this festive shindig every year?
Fear not; this is where we come in. We may not be experts in Christmas, but we’re serious experts in big cottages. We know our larders from our pantries and our orchards from our orangeries. We have gardens galore and bathrooms with all the ensuite you could imagine. We know how important a big space is to arranging a Christmas celebration so we’ve put together a whole host of tips to turn this daunting event into a festive success.
1. Go self-catered
Could there be a more joyful sight than that of your Christmas table? Red and gold crackers laid out with perfect symmetry, sprigs of holly splashed around delicately and a twinkling runway of candles dotted between heaving platters of your favourite Christmas dishes. Cap it all off with a floral centrepiece and you’re onto a winner.
While the preparation that goes into this gorgeous view can bring a little pressure, the family atmosphere of a home-cooked Christmas meal can’t be replicated in a hotel. Choosing to go self-catered means doing things at your speed, and sharing the celebration together with your loved ones, rather than shutting yourselves up in separate rooms.
2. Location, Location, Location
Once you’ve chosen to spend your Christmas around the dining table of a self-catering cottage, you’ll need to decide on exactly where. It helps to know where your family members are all coming from. A location in the middle may be mutually convenient - there’s no point in Christmasing in Cornwall if your cousins are in Carlisle. Consider the method of travel too; if you have family arriving without a car, then proximity to a train station will be essential. Take a look at these destination ideas for a little festive inspiration:
- The Peak District: Conveniently located in the centre of England but still off the beaten path
- Surrey: Ideal for people in the South East, and the Surrey Hills are full of gorgeous villages and walks to explore
- Brecon Beacons: A South Wales beauty spot with some fantastic Christmas markets in quaint market towns
- Cornwall: The small village of Mousehole has one of the most famous Christmas light displays in the UK
- Cairngorms: See Santa and his reindeer with a high chance of snow, in this Christmassy corner of Scotland
3. Know your audience
What’s the make-up of your family? Different groups will have very unique requirements of their self-catering cottage. Planning for your group before your arrival will avoid any unforeseen problems and guarantee a festive success. Use these three handy hints in your consideration: - Houses with games rooms or pool tables are ideal for tearing teenagers away from their phones and encouraging them to interact with each other - You may need accessible bathrooms if you have older relatives - Bringing pets? A dog-friendly cottage with an enclosed garden will allow Fido to run around if you don’t have time to take him on a long walk
4. Check your kitchen equipment
Your Christmas triumph will be made or broken on the strength of your kitchen. There’s nothing worse than going into the unknown with such an important meal to prepare, so make sure that you ask all the questions that you need of your hosts in advance. Got a 7kg turkey to cook? The oven needs to fit this all in, with enough roasting tins in the cupboard for all the trimmings. Need a specific item, such as a whisk, potato peeler or rolling pin? The owners should be happy to give you an inventory so that you don’t have to pack the kitchen sink.
5. Open-plan is your friend
As every amateur chef knows, cooking alone on Christmas is at once stressful and lonely. The closed door of a kitchen sucks the fun out of the day for one person, while sounds of laughter come from the next room. Open-plan cottages are a game changer, making your celebration much more sociable. Here are some more ideas to help relieve the pressure from your Christmas feast:
- Share out tasks, from cocktail-shaking and potato peeling to turkey basting.
- Set the dining table in advance - your most creative family members will make this a work of art.
- Lunch prep can be started the day before. You can refrigerate starters, prepare stuffing and vegetables, and you can even parboil potatoes in advance. Making things simple is the key here.
- Get everyone to contribute to a family playlist to crank up while you’re cooking, and set a festive tone.
- If you’re looking for a really special day, why not go one step further and bring in local caterers to come in and cook your meal for you?
6. Don’t economise on the decorations
Now, you may think that a holiday cottage at Christmas will not have quite the festive look you’re hoping for. But self-catering homes can be just as cosy as the real thing. Whether you like your house to look like a tinsel bomb has exploded or you prefer a certain elegance in your Christmas decorations, like a twinkling chandelier hanging from the ceiling; with a shared cottage you can get the whole family involved in setting the scene. Making it a group activity, with each family bringing along a decoration for the tree, will be the perfect start to the holiday.
7. Spend time in the great outdoors
No matter what the weather, a crisp Christmas walk is the perfect morning activity, before you settle down in front of the log burning fire. When you’ve chosen a broad location for your festivities, you can start narrowing down the research.
Are there beauty spots nearby for a morning stroll? You could plump for one of the iconic national parks here in the UK - think the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales or the New Forest. But don’t discount the gorgeous off-the-beaten-track scenic spots in countryside haunts like Surrey or the Kent coast.
8. Plan family activities
Although the comfy sofa of a holiday home is usually super appealing, a large family Christmas doesn’t just revolve around the big day itself. You’ll no doubt want to check out the local area during your holiday and planning ahead will reveal a whole host of fun activities. We’ve researched a few ideas for you to get the juices flowing.
- Find out about Christmas markets in local villages. These can be particularly lovely for perusing before the big day and buying some last minute decorations.
- National Trust properties often have fantastic family-friendly events over the festive period. It’s well worth taking a look at what’s on in your holiday area.
- Go ice-skating! Outdoor rinks pop-up in wintertime throughout the UK but even an indoor rink will give you those festive feels.
- Book a family evening out at the local pantomime.
- Is there a cinema nearby? There is often a blockbuster released over Christmas that fit for the whole family
- If you’re in a family of teenagers, get active with dry-slope skiing, go-karting or trampolining.
- Mix a winter walk with some competitive family fun and try your hand at geocaching - an outdoor treasure hunt that you can play with the help of your mobile phone.
9. Everyone needs space
Christmas is, of course, about spending real, quality time with the ones you love. But with the best will in the world, too much time spent in close quarters isn’t always a good thing. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries, and designating some downtime in your schedule will make the time spent together even more special. You could consider specific areas where the kids can hang out without adults, or book a cottage with cosy reading corners for the different generations.
10. Be flexible
Above all, wherever you spend Christmas, remember that it’s supposed to be FUN! Striving for perfection will only heap pressure on the day and create stress for the organiser. You could do a pre-departure check for shops or markets nearby to pick things up quickly if you forget something (make sure to look at their opening hours too). But if something goes wrong, just take a deep breath and see the funny side. You can guarantee that the rest of your family will, too.
So whether you’re at the beginning of your Christmas cottage search or you already have something particular in mind, this guide should help you turn the spotlight onto your festive ideas. WIth just a little bit of preparation, you’ll be free to spend the holiday in a panic-free mode and share these quality moments with the ones you love.
Play our spot the difference between these cottages perfect for a Christmas staycation here