Sophie Pembroke 1Sophie Pembroke is a published romance author, with numerous titles to her name, who grew up in Wales. She never misses going home for the Christmas holidays; as she says, “There’s simply nowhere I’d rather be.” She and her family share many fun and warm-hearted traditions, like Boat Sunday. The annual gathering of 30 or so family members originally started at the Boat Inn – everyone dresses up and goes out to dinner at a local hotel to feast, catch up, sing and hunt for chocolate coins. Here, she shares more magical Christmas memories.

What part of Wales are you from and where do you live now?
I was lucky enough to grow up in North Wales, never too far from the mountains or the seaside, and close to almost all my extended family. These days, I live down in Hertfordshire, England, which is lovely and green but a bit lacking in mountains and beaches. Still, I think it helps me appreciate Wales all the more whenever I make it back.

The possibility of not being able to make it home for Christmas inspired your novella The Kiss Before Christmas. Have you ever missed a family Christmas back home?
My mother’s birthday is Christmas Day, so missing it just isn’t an option! Still, when I was much younger, my family did live in the south of England for a few years, and my parents, brother and I would travel home to Wales for Christmas. I do remember not making it back for Boat Sunday, one of our biggest family traditions, one year – it was devastating!

What are some of your childhood memories of Christmas?
Oh, I have so many! Favourite ones include going up into the mountains to pick our Christmas tree, then coming back to my aunt’s house for bacon butties; hunting for golden chocolate coins at my grandparents’ house with all my cousins; choosing my own Boat Sunday outfit for the very first time (I think it involved taffeta. Very stylish!); my family singing together, all our old favourite songs. Oh, and the year I had tonsillitis, when my mum arranged for the Father Christmas float that drove through the streets each December to stop outside my window and serenade me to make me feel better!

Besides Boat Sunday, what are some of your family’s other Christmas season traditions?
Boat Sunday – our family meal out the Sunday before Christmas – is always the biggest one, featuring lots of food and singing and festive cheer, but yes, we do have other traditions too! When I was younger and living at home, somewhere around the beginning of December always used to be Christmas Tree Saturday. We’d pile into the car and drive up into the hills to choose our tree from the Christmas tree farm in Llandegla, often with my uncle and cousins. There’d be Christmas music, much debate over the best tree, then we’d strap our final choices to the cars and drive home again, making bets on whether the trees would fall off before or after we reached Coedpoeth…These days, we’ve updated Christmas Tree Saturday to suit our ever changing circumstances. Now, my parents come down to stay with us, usually the first weekend in December, and my brother pops up from London for the day. We all go out together to choose the tree for my house, then spend the afternoon decorating it, listening to Christmas music, and watching Wales play rugby on the telly! There’s usually canapés, mulled wine and mince pies, too. Then in the evening we all go out for a lovely dinner together at our favourite local restaurant. It’s the start of Christmas for me! On Boxing Day, my husband, daughter and I always catch up with our other family – the friends we’ve had since we were in school. Every year, we meet near Erddig, the local stately home, and go for a long walk through the woods and grounds – then on to the pub for lunch! It’s the perfect way to blow away any post-holiday cobwebs.

What makes a Christmas in Wales different from other parts of the world?
I think, in my family at least, it’s the singing! But there’s definitely something about Wales that makes it feel just perfect for Christmas – especially when it snows. There’s simply nowhere I’d rather be for the holidays.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
If you’d like to know more about my family Christmases, this year’s Christmas novella features plenty of snippets from my own festive memories! Including mince pies, carol services, and fortune telling fish… The Kiss Before Midnight (follow up to last year’s The Kiss Before Christmas) came out as an e-book on November 13th from Harper Impulse.