Family traditions, home-made creations, lots of festive greenery and a riot of fairy lights is how to do Christmas Pandora’s way. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Gary Longbottom.For those who are creative and love nothing more than restyling a room, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. It is also an excuse to max out on fairy lights, hunt down new decorations, forage for festive foliage and, most exhilarating of all, to make things.
Instagram influencer Pandora Maxton loves to do all of the above, much to the delight of her 46,000-plus followers on Instagram.We showcased her home earlier this year after it won BBC1’s Best House in Town title and invited ourselves back to see how she trims up, hear about her family’s festive traditions and to gather some Yuletide decor tips.“I love Christmas. It’s definitely my most favourite time of year,” says Pandora, who has just finished a series of workshops at her home, including wreath-making.
“That started when I made my own door wreath after watching YouTube videos and getting some ideas from the local plant nursery. It’s mostly made from the greenery you can find in the garden or woodland,” she says.“I use leylandii as the backdrop with poppy seed heads, pine cones, dried oranges and dried gypsophila. It’s simple but effective.”You can watch Pandora’s wreath-making video on her Instagram, which is pandora.maxton, to see how it’s done.
The new pergola where Pandora hosts her wreath making events. The tables are covered with oilcloth from The Range
The need for space for her workshops prompted a new addition to her 1960s detached house in Dunnington, near York, this year.She has invested in a pergola, which is topped with a waterproof covering, along with some outdoor heaters for the terrace. It overlooks a large parcel of land, which is home to the family’s chickens, sheep and horses.Underneath the new shelter is a series of old tables unified with a large oilcloth cover printed with distressed wood boards.“It’s been great for the workshops and for parties and family gatherings,” says Pandora, who studied art and is adept at style on a budget.
For Christmas, she uses upcycled glass jars as tea lights and forages for everything from pine cones to holly and festive greenery.“My key ingredients are ivy, holly, berries, spruce and leylandii. I love eucalyptus but it is very expensive to buy so I use it sparingly,” she adds.“For the mantelpiece garland, I added dried hydrangeas, pussy willow and pots of heather from B&Q. I’ve also mixed in faux greenery, including ivy garlands from Country Baskets in East Ardsley.”Pandora’s other go-to shops for decoration are The Range, supermarkets, Poundland and online store www.werchristmas.co.uk. Talkingtables.co.uk is her favourite for Christmas joke packs. She also loves Patricia May Flowers in York and for lights it has to be Harrogate-based online business Lights4Fun.co.uk
Branches from the garden were painted white and roped together to create a hanging space for the advent calendar buckets
Fairy lights have always figured in Pandora’s schemes but at Christmas she “goes large” and every room twinkles. “I love it but my husband, James, isn’t as keen as his job is to shut everything down before we go to bed and there are a lot of plugs and battery packs to turn off. It takes him ages.”Her piece de resistance this year is a rattan hanging wreath from the Garden Trading Company. It is suspended over the dining table and, with James’ help, she managed to add four rope garlands entwined with lights and ivy that stretch out into the four corners of the room.It almost trumps the Christmas tree, which is one of two from local supplier Gary Kay, of Undergate Farm in Dunnington.“I had six real trees last year but I had to admit it was a bit much so I’ve limited myself to one in the dining room and one in the sitting room,” says Pandora.“I’m really fussy about the trees. There has to be enough room underneath to sit under and open presents and the top has to touch the ceiling.”
Her dining room tree has a red theme with gingham ribbon and a variety of little crackers, baubles and decorations. Some are new and some have sentimental value, like those made by the children and the 100-year-old bauble that belonged to Pandora’s grandmother.The tree looks fabulous but wasn’t the number one priority. That was the Advent calendar. The little buckets numbered one to 25 are a staple but every year they have a different location. This year, they are above the doorway to the sitting room and suspended on two branches from the garden, which Pandora painted white.Finding three small presents for each of her children, Finlay, Cameron and Ellen, was a challenge but well worth it.“I wrap up chocolate, chewing gum, hair clips and Lottery tickets to put in the buckets and sometimes there’s a clue as to where to find a bigger present that I’ve hidden in the house somewhere.
Every room in the house is decorated, including the kitchen
“The tradition is we always play It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas and the children take turns opening a present.”Other traditions include creating a home-made whisky cream liqueur to a recipe that belonged to Pandora’s late mother, Susie.“On Christmas Eve, I always lay the table for a Christmas ‘party’ breakfast before I go to bed and then we all get up at 6am on Christmas Day for a glass of champagne, freshly-cooked ham ontoast and present opening,” adds Pandora.Not surprisingly, the gifts are beautifully wrapped in brown paper, tied with string and labelled with homemade tags featuring a pressed ivy leaf.Pandora’s Instagram is pandora.maxton
Pandora’s mum’s whisky cream liqueur recipeIngredients1 tablespoon of coffeeA few drops of almond essenceWine glass of whisky1 carton of single cream (300ml)3 medium eggs1 tin/can of condensed milkMethodBlend all the ingredients in a liquidiser until nice and smooth – you may want to add some more whisky or coffee depending how strong you like it. Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.Serve chilled with or without ice.