Country Life December 7 goes backstage at the Nativity; explores a deconstructed fairytale castle and offers up hampers of delight. Find out more here:

ARCHITECTURE: Evelyn Waugh’s vivid, wistful portraits of country houses foreshadowed their decline and fall, says Jeremy Musson

GARDENS: George Plumptre learns how the proximity of a motorway turned round the fortunes of the gardens around the historic hotel at Great Fosters in Egham, Surrey

WILDLIFE: The crafty cormorant, or ‘sea crow’, can dive to 30ft and swallow an entire eel, gulps David Profumo

SHEPHERDS: They may not receive angelic visits, but these shepherds feel blessed with their lot, says Adrian Dangar

THE NATIVITY: Rupert Uloth witnesses the delightful telling of the Christmas story that takes place every year in the Surrey Hills with a 100-strong cast, including donkeys and horses

BRITISH LETTERBOX: Andrew Martin hopes the jolly red British letterbox won’t be consigned to the same fate as the telephone box

COOKING: Melanie Johnson ensures we’ll eat our Brussels sprouts

HAMPERS: Jeremy Taylor unpacks the perennial excitement of the traditional Christmas hamper

INTERIORS: A dream dressing room and the joy of a second kitchen

PROPERTY: Penny Churchill on the Varsity Line and Annunciata Walton seeks the sun

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