Dan Walker: How to fill the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve

My favourite slice of the festive season is my wife’s family panto

The gap between Christmas and New Year is always a busy one.  I don’t know about you, but even though there seems to be plenty of time to fill, it goes in a heartbeat.

Working in sport for many years, Boxing Day was always one of the biggest days of the year and I’ve worked about 20 of them back-to-back.  There was one year that I drove from Crawley (near Gatwick Airport) to Sunderland and back again! There were some serious car snacks involved in that journey.

This year I am doing some work over Christmas, and I am back on the football on Boxing Day covering Burnley against Liverpool. It’s a 5.30 kick off so thankfully doesn’t involve too early a start, and I can still loosen up with a roast-dinner-leftover-sandwich for breakfast. Is there anything better? It is the king of sandwiches.

The week between Christmas and New Year is essentially a time when all the family traditions come out and it’s a balancing act between honouring as many as you can without standing on too many toes.

My wife’s family have always done a Boxing Day run. When I say that, I should clarify that neither my wife, her sister nor her parents have ever donned any Lycra and pounded the lanes around a local reservoir. Their role has always been to stay in the warmth of the pub near the finish line and prepare the post-effort mince pies.

I have never been a runner myself but in the early years of our relationship, I tried to impress with my enthusiasm and pulled out five or six appearances.  Those days were simple; there weren’t that many participants, a few were in their 60s and no one really paid much attention to the stopwatch.  The Park Run Generation have now arrived, and the start line is awash with all sorts of technical running gear, serious faces and far too much stretching.  My knees are not what they are used to be but the last time I did it the front runners were already teeth-deep into their mincemeat while I was plodding on the far side of the reservoir.

My favourite slice of the festive season is my wife’s family panto. They have been doing it for years. The script – Cinderella – has remained untouched, there is a dressing up box and each year has a different theme with the characters being spread around the family. Almost everybody has played the ugly sisters and we still laugh about the time that Uncle Terry put a dress on and took part in an “illegal lift” with my father-in-law. Grandad Henry was laughing for about 10 minutes. The entire family knows virtually every word and shouts quite a few of the lines out together. It can be a daunting event for newbies and anyone who marries into the family is given an early warning that first-timers either have to play Prince Charming or Cinders.

My side of the family tend to be a bit more “walky” than “runny” but because they come from all parts of the country and there are loads of them, it’s a huge logistical operation to get everyone in one place.  My mum and dad have reached that point in their lives when they are mildly obsessed with travel arrangements so Mumma Walker has already told me what time she will be arriving and when she will be leaving.  As any child knows, all those timings are subject to subtle changes in the weather and the next door neighbour’s cat.  One flake of snow, or even the whiff of it, can alter everything.

Our three kids have got seven cousins, so when they were a bit younger, they would all put on a little show for those who were unable to move, having consumed their own weight in pigs-in-blankets. Christmas isn’t Christmas without a bit of “London’s Burning” on the recorder, a little dance routine and 10 minutes of screechy violin.

Our dog, Winnie, is always a big part of life and she loves having loads of people round. My family are all softies when it comes to feeding her scraps, so she is normally about double her fighting weight by the time everyone goes home.

I always like to try and pop to the shops at some stage. I don’t really know why because it’s always so mad and I only ever come back with some reduced Christmas wrapping paper for the following year.

The final thing we do is some sort of gathering for friends around New Year. Last year we played that game where you split everyone into teams, and you all do a circuit of the room with a potato wedged between your thighs and then drop it in a saucepan. It was highly entertaining but like many things at parties, it’s probably best that all the videos remain off social media for life.

Whatever you’re up to, I hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas and are looking forward to a brilliant 2024.

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