So this is Christmas. A joyful time of year when we see all our family and friends and feel merry and thankful.
At least, that’s how I remember it but I’m noticing more people this year putting themselves under pressure about it being magical and potentially spending quite a lot of this joyous period charging about, dreading packing up the car and actually feeling pretty tense. I bellowed ‘I JUST HAVE SO MUCH TO DO’ at Doug last night, before flouncing off to huff and write another list. I was just shy of grabbing him by the lapels to make it more dramatic.
Christmas used to involve time off work or school, circling everything you were going to watch in the Christmas Radio Times while snacking on Quality Street and cheese, and a few nights out celebrating the festive period. Sure, there would be a bit of shopping but it was at a dawdling pace and with a lunch stop.
Now it feels like there is a LOT to do and it’s done at a manic pace. Some people seem to relish it – or at least manage to look like they do; others are feeling exhausted and we’re not even in Christmas week yet.
A friend sent a message the other day saying she was overwhelmed with all the things she needed to do, the house was ‘a shit tip’ and seeing all the super-mums acing it was making her feel pressured and anxious. Now, if you’re breezing through December with a genuine smile on your face, you go for it. If the smile is weak and your mind is racing, I think we should just pause for a moment.
I suppose the question is, do we need to do all the things on our to-do list. How often are you greeted with ‘Oh you know, knackered’ when you ask someone how they are? Everyone is banging on about how tired they are, and yet working themselves in to a frenzy to do and make and be everything AND with sparkles on. Can we take a couple of things off the list and will Christmas still be Christmas? I don’t want to feel more done in after Christmas than I do already.
This is what I remember about Christmas growing up. Every year Dad would come home with a Christmas tree that mum deemed too big/small/full/sparse, and it went up THE WEEKEND before Christmas day. We had croissants Christmas morning (the height of sophistication in the 80s). Our Christmas decorations consisted of mistletoe hung by the front door, accompanied by the cracking of innuendos to everyone that came a-knocking. For the tree a shambling mix of homemade and then occasional overpriced baubles where mum had thought she should up her game, but they would be totally lost amid the multi-coloured tinsel. Towards the end of the box when everyone had lost interest she’d tip it upside down over the tree and see what stuck. I can remember friends at school saying ‘My mum’s got a silver theme for the tree this year’ and wondering how one would go about having a themed tree that included gold-sprayed ping pong balls (a school project of my now 45 year old brother’s that are still going strong) and a garden gnome in place of the fairy.
Presents were of course always a highlight as a kid, the frenzied unwrapping and squeals of excitement; one brother would deliberately open his extra slowly so he was still going when we’d all finished. Things changed a bit the year my Aunty passed away and Mum announced that we’d be doing Secret Santa, spending a maximum of £10 on one person and she was giving her money to charity instead. Spending a fortune on gifts which, as young adults none of us needed, just felt wrong for mum when her heart was feeling a bit broken. Most of all, we had each other to focus on. It was a lovely, raucous family Christmas. The Secret Santa tradition has stayed (kids still get gifts – we’re not cruel!) and it’s not so much that it shifts the focus from presents but that it highlights they really aren’t the thing that makes Christmas. I should probably add that Mum didn’t have a lot to lose in the new arrangement – a few years previous she’d bought AND WRAPPED a sieve for herself from my dad. Now I realise that while we laughed hysterically, she (mother of 6, hardworking nurse and probably pretty flippin’ tired) may have felt a teensy bit pissed off. I’d probably respect her more if she revealed she gobbed in his Christmas dinner that year (love you Dad).
On that note, the other thing that may of course rear it’s head are Christmas tensions with your partner.
You’ve asked casually (you may have done it in a drawl to try and cover up the manic anxiety that you’re actually feeling) ‘so…. when are you…y’know…doing your Christmas shopping?’ and they’ve said casually (because they are actually casual and oblivious to your manic anxiety) ‘probably next week’ aka Christmas Eve. They’ll look at you like you’re deranged as you march about the house in a deranged manner and wail about all the things you need to do, and they’re thinking 1) what’s the point of Christmas cards 2) does anyone care if the cranberry sauce is homemade and 3) if it’s making you stressed, why are you doing any of it? Which if you combine that question with the fact that the things kids remember will not be the beauty of the tree or the taste of your Nigella parsnips, it is certainly not worth getting in a frenzy about.
Last night Doug said ‘just tell me what you need me to do’; I think most blokes would rather be involved and not have a shouty wife. Give a man the responsibility of the turkey and he’s basically (in his eyes) responsible for the whole of Christmas; he’ll set to it with gusto. He’ll buy the most ridiculously oversized one he can find and refer to it as ‘my’ turkey. He’ll tear rather than chop herbs in a masculine fashion a la Jamie and when it’s ceremoniously carried to the table he will stand back like he’s just slammed his actual manhood on the table for everyone to admire. You may have prepped and chopped eight types of vegetables and purchased every single other thing on the table, but hey – at least it’s one off the list.
There are women running themselves ragged all over the country and it’s in our power to STOP. If you’ve young children or babies you especially have the right to sit down and let other people take over. You have years to perfect your hosting skills, but you’re no use to anyone if you’re up until 1am quietly sobbing while adding intricate bows to your parcels.
If you’ve turned your house in to Lapland and you’re not the least bit anxious or tired, good on you. If on the other hand you are in a spin with all the stuff to do? I say we crack open the selection box and take the night off. If my main drive is to make it lovely for the kids, they won’t notice most of the ‘stuff’ on my list. When I stop for a second, I KNOW this. I also know everyone involved will notice if I am calm and enjoying the moment with them.
Have yourselves a merry little Christmas x
Images: ukchristmastv.weebly.com; pinterest.com/paulicabrera/pausa
So tell me, are you enjoying the build up? Which bits are important to you?