A Traditional Christmas Panto

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Pantomime is an eccentric British theater institution.  Usually performed at Christmastime, pantomine (slang, panto) emerged during the Restoration with roots in the commedia dell’arte of Italy.  By the beginning of the 19th century, this wonderfully strange, campy, corny, quirky mix of musical comedy and fairy tale had become a tradition.

Young Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret performed in these musical comedy stage productions around Christmas and New Year’s, as pantos were a big part of their holiday celebrations at Windsor Castle, where they lived after evacuating from Buckingham Palace during wartime.

John, Joe and I attended our first Christmas panto in England at a village theater in the north.  Pantomimes rely heavily on audience participation (that’s a main part of the fun) and when the lead character called for a TALL volunteer, we pushed John into the fray. He played a door and a Christmas tree, much to his chagrin and our glee.  Later on in the village, we passed two children in the shops who pointed at John and said, “Look mummy!  It’s the door!”

JP endures the indignity of being a prop in the 2008 panto in England.

JP endures the indignity of being a prop in the 2008 panto in England.

Back at home in Maryland, we have the beginnings of a new Christmas tradition with our friends, Chris and Adrienne Harrington.  The British Players (formerly The British Embassy Players) mount a Christmas pantomime production at the Kensington Town Hall each year.  This year was Cinderella, a traditional British panto directed by Charles Hoag.  Chris purchased a passel of tickets for several friends and their children and away we went.  After the play we adjourned back to our house for dessert and hot chocolate.

I set up an assortment of cookies and treats in various shapes, sizes, flavors beforehand on the buffet.

Christmas dessert display

 

I knew I wanted an abundance of offerings but couldn’t make it all, of course, so I baked some homemade cookies and bars and rounded it out with my favorite seasonal treats from Trader’s Joe’s.

Homemade:

Dried Cranberry and Chocolate Cookies

Dried Cranberry Chocolate Cookies

These are everyone’s absolute favorite cookie. I think I made at least 9 dozen throughout the Christmas holiday to eat and give as gifts.

Chinese Chews

I found the recipe at one of my new favorite blogs, She Wears Many Hats.  This is a vintage recipe, dating back to the 1900s, but no one seems to know why they are titled ‘Chinese.’  Some recipes call for dates and walnuts, but I followed She Wears Many Hats and made these with just pecans.  They were like a blondie without chocolate.  Chewy in a good way with lots and lots of brown sugar.

Chinese chews (pecan bars)

I made a batch of Sugar Cookies with Sprinkles for those who don’t like chocolate or nuts.  I can’t say I was blown away with them (why are sugar cookies so hard to get right?) so no recipe to recommend.

From the store:

We love Trader Joe's.

We love Trader Joe’s.

(Left: Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes with Chocolate and Hazelnut. (Top to bottom: Trader’s Joe’s English Toffee, Trader Joe’s Caramels with Fleur du Sel, Trader Joe’s Jo Jo Cookie Assortment (like chocolate-covered Oreos).

And Walker’s Shortbread (our favorite at Christmastime.)

Everyone at our house gets shortbread in their Christmas stocking.

Everyone at our house gets shortbread in their Christmas stocking.

Christmas cookies

 

Dessert buffet

We decorated the front porch with candy canes, garland and mini trees.

christmas lights and candy canes

And a lovely guest brought the cutest miniature mince pies–an English tradition!

Classic mini mince pies

Classic mini mince pies

Another lovely friend brought a big bowl of Chocolate Mousse and the children had hot cocoa with mini marshmallows and candy canes.

P1010068Santa made an appearance.

santa

We had some savory treats also (because I like salty and crunchy better than sweet.)

Keeping it English, I put out a Stilton and a 5-year aged white cheddar (both from Trader Joe’s cheese section.)

We passed around a bowl of Spiced Pecans and a bowl of smoked almonds, both excellent with the various sparkling wines we served.

Schloss Beibrich Sekt is a wonderful sparkling wine from Germany.  A great buy.  Michelle Brut from Columbia Valley in Washington State another lovely find!

Schloss Beibrich Sekt is a wonderful sparkling wine from Germany. A great buy. Michelle Brut from Columbia Valley in Washington State another lovely find!

Spiced Pecans

And let’s not forget my favorite potato chip:  Kettle Brand Salt and Pepper Chips. Because it’s not a party without a potato chip, in my opinion.

We served an assortment of beverages, including lemonade, Pellegrino, Coke and Diet Coke, Capri Suns for the kids, white and red wines and IPAs for the adults.

I had planned to offer coffee and put out the china cups and saucers beforehand, but we totally forgot to brew it or offer it.  Since the play didn’t wrap up until 9:30 pm, this was a late party and no one asked for coffee as I’m sure they wanted to go to sleep at midnight with visions of sugar plums in their heads.

Tree at the Kensington Armory

The marvelous tree at Kensington Town Hall, large and festive.

Hope everyone had a happy Christmas!  Thank you, Chris and Adrienne for the panto tickets and the lovely new Christmas tradition.

Cheers,

Rebecca

One thought on “A Traditional Christmas Panto

  1. What a wonderful party! Can’t wait to make your cranberry/choc cookies.
    Are there any plans for anyone’s birthday in January?!?!?!

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