December 2009 | Welcome to the Ask our Butler special Christmas column.
This month we run headlong into surviving the Christmas Holidays … or in butler speak “employer harm reduction strategies!”.

What’s the butlers’ secret to surviving the holiday? Apart from a good stiff scotch, it is list making. Yes, make a list of every task that needs to be done and schedule a time to have it happen. When Mrs. looks at my lists she is known to shake her head in amazement as I will have included putting out the condiments, to ironing the linen table cloth, to bringing out the “lovely” watercoloured landscape painted by Aunty Barbara which is only seen once a year (you get the picture?).

And the tricks of the trade? … early planning. I actually start planning the Christmas holiday immediately after the spring school break. I may not know how many guests will be visiting but I have a fair idea, can draft an outline, and then adjust it as needed.   A typical plan includes...

- The number of house guests
- Gifts to be purchased
- Christmas decorations to be placed inside and out … and who to do it (I’m not good on ladders!)
- Creating menus for entertaining, cocktail parties, buffet, Christmas dinner, & boxing day leftovers
- Buying the Christmas Tree
- Decorating the tree after the children have “finished” having their way with things
- Planning airport arrivals and departures
- Parties given by others and not scheduling conflicts
- etc ...

Your requirements and plans may be different, put the message is still the same ... good planning.

Now, for the most feared event … the Christmas dinner. If Mr. and Mrs. have a butler, they have not a care in the world. I, on the other hand, can sometimes be close to my wits end and ready to strangle the Christmas turkey before its even on the oven platter ready for the oven. But, as I’ve said, my butlers’ secret and tricks of the trade will save my own sanity, and reduce the sly nips of the cooking sherry!

Plan your menu down to the last herb, including when and where to buy ingredients, and prepare as many menu items in advance wherever possible. Potatoes for mash can be peeled a day in advance and stored in the fridge; other vegetables can be cleaned and prepared a day or two in advance; pie crusts made a week in advance can be frozen in the pie tin; vegetable and other stocks can be made and frozen for 3 weeks or more; make some canapés a day or two in advance; check all wine stock and have ready for chilling; bake Christmas biscuits can be baked a week or two in advance and frozen (saving a few to nibble in advance) and cakes can be baked a couple of days ahead.

To prepare the dining room, set the table the day before Christmas. Polish the silver a week in advance (a butlers’ tip – if you have sterling cutlery stored in its own drawer, place 2 or 3 pieces of white chalk as used in school, in the drawer and this will stop the tarnishing dead in its tracks. Don’t ask me how it works just take my word that it does.

When one really thinks about it, nearly everything to do with the Christmas dinner can be done in advance, except for the goose, ham or turkey depending on where you live, and you too can enjoy the holiday instead of slaving in the kitchen, deep up to your elbows stuffing the bird whilst everyone else is unwrapping their gifts.

But, the biggest salvation for any butler is the schedule. I keep a copy posted in my pantry, in the kitchen, and in the office so I can always find it – though even I admit to forgetting to update each calendar with a completed activity once in a while, and to going a bit mad for a bit until I realise with relief … ah, its already done!

This Christmas you too can relax and enjoy your family and holiday time without having a butler to do it for you. But who knows, maybe someone will give you a butler for a day for your Christmas gift!

So, there you have it – the Christmas rescue.  If you are having a last minute crisis, send us a note and I’ll be happy to answer any questions I can (except for neck-wringing techniques!).

From all of us at Edward Stripe, we wish you the most wonderful Christmas Holiday Season and a delightful and prosperous new year.

Yours in gracious service,

The Butler

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