Santa has only just climbed back up the chimney when Alexandra Stead creeps out of bed before dawn on Christmas Day.
She pulls on her wellies and her waterproof onesie and then heads down to the stables, where she keeps her horses.
“The first thing I do is go to the stables to muck out. I listen to the religious programme on Radio 2 while I am there and it makes me think of the real spirit of Christmas.
“It’s a lovely way to start the day and I always give the horses a stocking and decorate the stable,” says Alexandra, who loves trimming up.
Her home, near Harrogate, is full of festive touches, starting with the entrance. The original 1930s front door reflects the property’s heritage and features a stunning wreath, made by her friend, Sue Sproat, a garden designer.
It is decorated with holly, ivy, berries and tangerines tied on with florist’s wire. The hallway has also been given the yuletide treatment. The staircase is adorned with a simple garland, while the sideboard has a wreath, flowers and tealights that bring a cosy glow.
“I love this time of year and I try to make the house as Christmassy as possible,” says Alexandra, who puts most of her creative effort into the dining room. The walls are painted a deep red, which is the perfect base colour for a festive theme. The Mouseman table is a family heirloom and extends to accommodate everyone, while the serving hatch into the kitchen helps with Christmas dinner logistics.
The “talking hat” is on a side table and was inspired by the sorting hat in the Harry Potter books. “We bought it because everyone talks at once during dinner and it gets noisy, so the person wearing the hat gets to speak while everyone else listens. That’s the idea anyway,” says Alexandra.
The dining table is covered with a white cloth and the centrepiece is another wreath made by Sue. It sits on a wet oasis and is decorated with sprigs of rosemary, sage, ivy, holly and hydrangea flowers and has been lightly sprayed with gold glitter. The final touch is a battery-operated candle in the middle, which is safer than the real thing.
The chairs are all beautifully dressed thanks to the slip covers and bows that Alexandra specialises in. She runs the Harrogate branch of Simply Bows and Chair Covers, which supplies weddings and events at the county’s top venues, including Swinton Park and Allerton Castle.
“I love what I do. The chair covers and bows can transform an ordinary looking table into something really special. But it’s really important that the fabric and the fit is right,” she says.
She was asked to run the Harrogate operation after the company founder saw how beautifully she groomed her horses.
“I used to show the horses and she was impressed with my attention to detail. I used to make them look like models with plaited manes and shiny coats. I used to cover my white horse in baby powder so he looked extra white for the judges.
“I am a perfectionist and I am obsessed with symmetry, which is important in this business. It upsets me when I see poorly fitted covers, with chair legs showing and creased fabric,” she says.
Her love of animals is apparent everywhere and a picture of her pet goat, Wedgewood, hangs in the hall.
“My husband didn’t want goats so instead of the usual dinner service, I put them on our wedding list. I ended up with three and I called them Wedgewood, Spode and Minton,” says Alexandra, whose favourite print is by her friend, the artist Philippa Porley, who is based in Middleham.
It shows the racehorse Best Mate and has pride of place in the dining room. The sitting room also has its fair share of equine photographs and prints and is the cosiest place in the house thanks to the open fire.
Alexandra has decorated the fireplace with stockings and with greenery she finds in the countryside near her home.
A wooden bowl is full of pine cones she collected from the garden last year and they surround three church candles. The tree is traditional with purple and white decorations, as purple is her daughter’s favourite colour.
This room is where Alexandra, husband, Tim, and their daughters, Jennifer and Eleanor, gather before heading to midnight mass at the village church.
On Christmas day, they open a bottle of champagne, swap presents and observe a long-standing tradition.
“It’s something my grandfather used to do. I leave a letter from Santa under the tree. It’s a resume of what everyone has done throughout the year. Sometimes it is quite sad and sometimes it’s happy.
“I’m not sure where this originated from, though I believe it may have been something to do with Tolkien,” says Alexandra, who follows the reading with a ride out.
“I usually go out with the horses before Christmas dinner,” she says. “They are a big part of my day.”