Getting into the festive spirit involves several different departments at Robinson College – there’s the Christmas tree, the seasonal menus including 2500 mince pies and very importantly, the services in the Chapel. Here we take a look behind the scenes to get a preview of the preparations.
Guy Fuller, Head Gardener at Robinson, says: “Christmas preparations start quite early for me - usually in late September or early October when I place an order with D&R Simmons of Spalding, Lincolnshire for our two main Christmas trees – one for the Dining Hall and one for the College Chapel. Both have to be installed ready for the Carol Service, which usually takes place on the last Sunday before the end of the Michaelmas Term which this year meant delivery by 21st November.
“We normally have a 12ft Nordman Christmas tree for the Dining Hall and a 16ft Norwegian Spruce for the College Chapel. I also order two six foot Christmas trees from a local garden centre for the Porters’ Lodge and the Warden’s Lodge. The gardening team also collects greenery – Ivy, Holly, Cotoneaster and Garrya - which is used in the Chapel for decoration.
“In January we collect all these trees up, using the main trunks for logs and the rest is made into chippings for different areas around the College.
“Hopefully by the time we stop for our Christmas break, we have managed to get the garden clear of fallen leaves. This is quite a job in itself as we have over 600 trees on this site, most of which are deciduous which means a lot of leaf sweeping and blowing, especially this year. When we have finished this job we can then start looking at getting the borders tidied and forked over ready for the Spring”.
Christine James, Deputy Catering Manager, says: “The regular College Christmas events start with the Advent Carol Service on the last Sunday of term (usually in November) at which we provide tea and cakes for approximately 200 people in the Dining Hall following the service in the Chapel. This always reminds us that Christmas is upon us!
“This is followed by two large Christmas Formal Halls for the students during the last week of term where we offer the traditional Christmas meal and include wine which we don’t do for regular Formal Halls. Then we invite Freshers’ parents to a luncheon on the Saturday after the end of term at which we provide a festive finger buffet served with a warm non-alcoholic festive fruit punch and the College Choir usually sings a few carols besides the Christmas Tree.
“The College then does its usual transformation from ‘College’ to ‘Conference Centre’ when we take a combination of residential conferences and functions for the next two weeks. One of these functions is for a very regular client who has been coming for 20 + years and we have other regulars too. These events are either buffet/dinner dances, with some events having a disco after the meal; others have live bands, casinos, caricaturists and magicians as part of their entertainment.
“On one of the days in the run up to Christmas, we plan a Staff Christmas lunch in the Garden Restaurant, where the traditional menu is served and crackers and wine provided. In recent years the Facilities Manager has produced a quiz! The Catering Staff cook and serve this lunch to all the other staff and generally dress up to get in the spirit.
“Our final event before we close for Christmas is our own Staff party which is unusual in that although we set it up and prepare the food, on the actual evening the College Fellows come and lay-out, serve and clear away all the food, which enables all the staff to attend.
“The organisation and juggling of each event to fit with the next is the fun part for our department, particularly the Food service section which has to make all the clients requirements fit together, from changing the Dining Hall round from an exhibition space during the day to a fully laid-up Christmas function for the evening. The secret is definitely forward thinking and planning.
“What I most enjoy about Christmas is eating and drinking – especially mini party food – and listening to Christmas carols at home when we have finished for the Christmas break. That’s when I really feel in the festive mood!”
Simon Perry, College Chaplain explains: “Christmas comes twice at Robinson. Since the students leave at the end of November, there is a rush to decorate the Chapel for Christmas long before Advent. A tree is brought in; a group of students gather to furnish the Chapel with foliage the gardeners have collected on our behalf; hours are spent preparing music, readings and prayers for the service which – though early – is the College’s only chance to celebrate Christmas with the students.
“Apart from the Advent Service, and Christmas concerts (which take place before the end of term), we have a Christmas Day communion service for local members of the College, our staff and any local residents who wish to come. This is a 30 minute service which is child-friendly, relatively informal and is followed with refreshments provided by the Warden.
“When people ask me what I like best about Christmas it’s tempting to say ‘it’s all about children’ as we have four! But it’s not necessarily about the children who attend. There is something about the decorations, the smell of the tree, the candle light and the excitement which re-awaken people’s memories of childhood. In this sense, Christmas is a good reminder of our place in the world, about the mystery outside our cosiness, our lives as vulnerable and flickering as the candle flame and our sense of wonder at the world re-awakened. In this light, children’s excitement and wonder at Christmas serves as an invitation to share a child-like sense of the world and our place within it.”
From all of us at Robinson College, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!