*According to us. Don't argue
We're all familiar with the scene. It's early November. You're hungry. You sit down to quietly eat your lunch of turkey and parsnip sandwich, a packet of stuffing crisps and a mince pie – when out of nowhere, you become the subject of interrogation by the Christmas Police.
"NOOOOO," they bellow, turning mulled wine-purple in the face. "TOO EARLY! TOO EARLY! You MONSTER!" they shout, before confiscating your food and stomping all over your festive joy. They're same people who have a fit if you put your tree up before the first frost or dare to pop a bit of Wizzard on the office playlist in the first week of December. If Ebenezer Scrooge was alive and not fictional, you can bet he'd be tweeting furious comments about the shops being too full of advent calendars on 24 September.
But what ARE the rules? When can you tuck into your favourite Chrimbo treats without fear of arrest? How do you make the most of the yuletide season without letting the magic wear off too soon?
Here are the official guidelines! As decreed by … us.
Pre-November: a solitary mince pie
Just one, mind. And you can only have if it's offered to you in a work or party setting, not alone in your own home. And you must treat it as contraband, giggling naughtily and telling everyone afterwards, "I just had a mince pie! I KNOW, in September! I'm nuts, me, I don't even care."
1 November: Brussels sprouts and chestnuts
It's fine because technically, technically, they're not Christmas foods – they're "seasonal produce". And if Mother Nature says we can have them seven weeks before Christmas, who are we to argue?
6 November: novelty coffees
That's your red cups, your green and red cups, your cinnamon-laden, pine-infused, marzipan-topped, smells-like-a-branch-of-Yankee-Candle-exploded coffee buckets. The ones so full of syrup and cheer they could be one of Buddy the Elf's main food groups. Start chugging them down to your heart's content as soon as bonfire night is over, to make the most of it before you're staring down the barrel of a matcha-spinach juice come January.
But take heed: you can Instagram your red cup once, and only once. Santa said so.
15 November: mulled wine
Mulled wine is allowed, nay encouraged, in the pre-festive period because it figuratively and quite literally warms you up for Christmas. It also features cloves and orange segments, both important for boosting your immunity to colds and flu during the winter season, and can technically be classed as "après-ski" even if the closest you've got to off-piste is sliding on a damp copy of the Metro on your way back from the pub.
We've mulled it over – totally acceptable from mid-November onwards. Get a pot on the stove, pronto.
1 December: Mince pies after 5pm
Congrats! You've reached official mince pie season. But because you're classy and not the kind of person who puts their tinsel earrings on as soon as the calendar flips to December, you'll only be eating them in the evening time for the next week. Properly warmed first, maybe with a fork, even a dollop of cream on the side if you want to feel like landed gentry.
There is a time for lunchtime mince pies, elevenses mince pies and breakfast mince pies eaten three at a time at the bus stop, but this isn't it. Yet.
2 December: Christmas sandwiches
Oh … go on then, you've waited long enough. A person needs sandwiches, and it's not your fault that you can barely turn around in December without falling over a wodge of turkey and cranberry.
But BEFORE December, eating a Christmas sandwich is like snooping at your presents early – guiltily enjoyable in the short term, but ultimately you're just taking away from your later enjoyment. Why would you do that to your future self? Why?
15 December: all the mince pies, all of the time
There is a time for lunchtime mince pies, elevenses mince pies and breakfast mince pies eaten three at a time at the bus stop … and this is it! Hurrah!
Just remember to periodically shake the crumbs out of your hair.
20 December: the big tin of Quality Street
We know Auntie Marjorie said you weren't to unwrap it till Christmas but it makes sense to open it now, because you'll have so much chocolate in a few days' time that you'll be overwhelmed and not stop to appreciate the subtle flavours.
And besides, you need to pick out all the green triangles and stash them in a secret hiding place. That's just good forward-planning.
23 December: the posh cheese
Up until now, the festive fromage was strictly off-limits. It's been a default cheddar or nada. But once comfortably within the boundaries of Christmas Eve Eve, you're safe to unwrap the special stilton or Wensleydale with raisins and marzipan or whatever, without the delight of Christmas overpowering you to a dangerous level.
You've built up your tolerance – now reap the rewards. And fetch the fancy chutney too, while you're at it.
10pm, Christmas Day: tree chocolates
You're so full you've had to have a little lie down on the carpet. You're approximately 30% human, 70% roast potatoes and trifle. You worry you're slowly turning into a life-size pig in a blanket. You can almost feel the brandy butter oozing out of your pores.
That's it. You're never. … ever … eating … ag- HANG ON, Christmas tree chocolates! Dangling conveniently within arm's reach!
Well, it'd be rude not to. But leave the wrapper hanging up there, just to cover your tracks.