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London Christmas at home illustration
Photo by Dan Evans

A Zoom call with Santa, three festive food kits and a virtual office party: we tried doing Christmas online

In 2020, you could have all your festive fun at home via a computer screen. But should you? Good news: we’ve tested it out for you

By
Andrzej Lukowski
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The virtual office Christmas party

Of all the things definitely not happening this Christmas, the traditional office Christmas party is the one definitely not happening the most. However, there would now appear to be an almost endless number of Zoom-based digital alternatives. I rope Phil our Film editor into a guided chocolate-tasting courtesy of Notting Hill chocolatier Melt (£45 per person). You get nine slabs of extremely fancy chocolate delivered, then a gloriously sardonic 45-minute masterclass from company CEO Andrew Nason, who frames the story of chocolate as a sort of tragic descent from Aztec Eden to Swiss milk-chocolate hell. These sessions have been doing a brisk trade: as Nason points out, there is something a little depressing – not to mention impractical – about a bunch of workmates just getting tanked up over Zoom, so many companies have been opting for something a little more wholesome of late.

That said, a booze component was clearly necessary, so we followed up with an (unguided) whisky-tasting courtesy of Milroy’s of Soho, whose Drams to Your Door service dispatches a truly wonderful flight of interesting miniatures to you in the post, generally at around the £30 mark for a box of three-to-five. Doing two flights of three each, we were not sober by the end, but we for whatever reason we took the tasting slowly and seriously: ten pints of lager followed by a vom on the N3 it was not. 
How Christmassy is it?
There are some lairier alternatives, but really a digi-Christmas party is always going to be closer to a team-bonding session than the full seasonal monty. But it was fun, and I had no regrets the next day, which is a significant step up on every actual Time Out Christmas shindig.

The Christmas craft kits

Poster Bakes mince pie
Photograph: Poster Bakes

There is a 100 percent accurate argument that says I could have just ordered a pre-made wreath and mince pies, rather than make-your-own kits. But a key point of Christmas 2020 is that we are all going to have a horrifying amount of time on our hands. So kits it is. Exmouth Market’s Botanique Workshop does a wreath-making set (from £40) that requires relatively little skill, but quite a lot of time and patience: it’s mindful, baby. But we make a genuinely gorgeous-looking wreath. Hurrah! And the mince-pie kit sold by Poster Bakes (£12) is ultra-unintimidating (the instructions suggest using a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin), makes a very fancy pie and raises money for a good cause, with all profits going to The Connection at St Martin’s.
How Christmassy is it?
Spending five hours assembling a wreath certainly reminds you that Christmas is around the corner, yes.

The digital pantomime

The London pantomime season, such as it is, will limp on, but it’s limited in scale and won’t be for all. So why not try a digital alternative? Comedy troupe Sleeping Trees have become a fringe fixture at Theatre 503 and BAC with their zany DIY pantos. This year they’ve gone digital with the pre-recorded ‘The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington’ (£5), an inspired hour-long mash-up of, well, ‘Dick Whittington’ and ‘Moby Dick’.
How Christmassy is it?
It’s really good fun – but without any audience or interaction it feels more like a sketch show than a panto.

The tree in the post 

Even knowing that London-based Pines and Needles was going to deliver me a decorated tree didn’t prepare me for the gloriousness of the reality. The company does everything, and the tree is about a trillion times classier than the manky old artificial number that lurks threateningly in my garage. Yeah, it’s a touch spenny (about £200 for a six-footer, though less than half that if undecorated), but given that I work in the same room as the tree and am now essentially flat-bound until I can get that sweet, sweet Oxford vaccine into my veins, I would call it a sensational investment.
How Christmassy is it?
This is the most Christmassy my flat has ever looked, and probably ever will look.

A Zoom call from Santa

I’m actually unclear what Tier 2 restrictions mean for grottos. But clearly there’s going to be no sitting on Santa’s lap (if that sort of thing is still allowed in 2020, idk). However, there is now a burgeoning trade in Zoom calls from Father Christmas. I plump for Underbelly’s Santa at Home (£42 for up to six kids), which raises money for charities, and a jolly Scottish Saint Nick duly dials in to chat with my wide-eyed two-year-old and five-year-old about Minecraft and dinosaurs for ten minutes, which is more substantial than the usual grotto bants.
How Christmassy is it?
If you believe in Santa, very. Obviously you don’t get a present, but it’s worth remembering that all grotto presents are terrible.

The booze, delivered

signature brewery pub in a box
Photograph: Signature Brewery

Mulled wine is one of those things I’ve always had down as a bit of a faff, but Shop Cuvée sends me a cracking, punchy bottle (£16.99) that requires zero faffing around with bits: just heat until it’s hot enough, and boom! East London brewery Signature Brew is doing something called a Pub in a Box (£25) – it’s basically some beers, but they’re very nice beers, and it comes with an endearingly crappily photographed music quiz to do on Zoom. Finally I attempted to make a hot toddy using Powers Gold Label Distiller’s Cut (£30), an Irish whiskey that’s only come back on the market in the UK this year – it’s a poor excuse for a toddy (my fault) but an excellent whiskey.
How Christmassy is it?
I’d probably file this all under ‘winter drinks’ rather than say it embodies the magic of Christmas per se.

The Christmas lunch DIY box

To this Pole, it would seem that a lot of the truisms about Christmas Day being stressful stem from the English insistence on cooking an enormous, esoteric kind of poultry for lunch, for no obvious symbolic or religious reason. But can the new generation of meal kits take the stress out of lunch? The short answer is ‘yes’. Jun Tanaka’s Fitzrovia restaurant The Ninth does a fine example (£100 for two), with a turkey ballotine forming the heart of a box that puts a classy new spin on the trad lunch, eg belle de fontenay potatoes instead of roasties.

Because I panicked about my deadline and asked for too many meal kits, I basically ended up with four: up there with The Ninth was a not totally dissimilar (ie a posher spin) from Noble House (£69.50 for two), which has the massive USP of being intended to store and cook from frozen, with much of it simply possible to microwave. The turkey needs to defrost for 24 hours, but you could basically have your whole Christmas lunch in your freezer now. We also had a simpler but very pleasant vegan lunch from Gousto, which is a bit closer to actual cooking, while Le Marché des Chefs sent me a food hamper (£70) that wasn’t overtly Christmassy, but contained enough fish, meat and veg to keep us going for a week beyond the big day – I'd highly recommend it as a way of topping up your Christmas larder without needing to over-plan a week’s cooking. It’ll also bung a turkey into the post for you, if that’s the way you’re playing it.

It would be a slight exaggeration to call these kits ‘stress-free’ but I fundamentally cook three damn good Christmas dinners in about an hour a go. If you don’t have a masochistic desire to pit yourself against a two-stone goose, it’s a terrific shout.

Naturally, I need a Christmas pud: St John delivers its gorgeously rich, intense number, and it comes with a ceramic bowl and fancy tea towel so people will know that you are somebody who will throw down £30 for a dessert. It almost laughably takes more than twice as long to cook as any of the lunches, but it’s low-maintenance and worth it.
How Christmassy is it?
If you subscribe to the idea Christmas lunch is ‘supposed’ to be hard then it’s not very Christmassy at all – and that’s a good thing.

THE WINNERS

Fun as it all is, a lot of this stuff has some pretty heavy ‘let’s make the best of this horrible year’ vibes. However, the tree and the lunch boxes feel like actual game-changers. God bless them, every one!

Get a Christmas tree delivered from one of these top London suppliers.

Check out even more banquet-worthy meal kits from these ace London restaurants

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