It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But that’s the kind of headline you see all over the place – How to Survive Christmas/Thanksgiving/Half term. Newsflash – it’s a holiday! A celebration! There is nothing to survive. Christmas doesn’t involve crawling flat on your belly under barbed wire across a mine-strewn muddy field. It’s supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun then you’re doing it wrong. Same deal goes for weddings, by the way.
So I realised this week that I’ve basically not bought anything for my daughter yet. The only things she’s put down on her wishlist are a Furby (not going to happen) and a Kindle Fire (not going to happen.) Plus some clothes (okay) and the Twilight series of books (not going to happen.) Which meant I drove down to Glastonbury at the weekend to search out hippy shit for her. She loves crystals and it seemed likely that there would be clothes available and books that didn’t involve overly-controlling slut-shaming bloodsuckers. While there I got into conversation about Christmas with a shop owner in which I confessed that last year I didn’t send any cards. I ran out of time, I was knackered and the whole thing felt like a chore rather than something I was doing with genuine affection. If you can’t send them with genuine affection then why are you doing it? I had already ruthlessly culled the Christmas card list year by year – no cards to people I’m actually going to see over the festive season, no cards sent just to be polite to people who I’m not really that close to. This came about after realising that I was writing out a card to a friend of my husband who he hadn’t seen in fifteen years and had no intention of seeing at any point in the future – knowing that this guy’s wife was doing exactly the same. Umm… if the men want to send cards to each other then that’s one thing, but why are we doing it for them? Anyway, if you’ve got a close friend/relative who runs a certain shop in Glastonbury then I should probably apologize because I think I converted her. You ain’t getting a card this year.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas. I love it enough to do it my way though, rather than blindly following tradition. Christmas doesn’t have to look like a filmed Dickens novel or a Martha Stewart special. This year the tree went up for a few days without decorations to see whether the cats would attack it. When they showed no signs of interest, the kids decorated it. Despite me going out to buy another set of fairylights, there’s still no lights on the bottom third of the tree. I could take all the decorations off and fiddle with it to get it looking perfect, but I’d sooner embrace the imperfection of it. There are no glass ornaments on the tree because they’d definitely get broken, and the cats seem to think that anything hanging on the lower branches is fair game so the decorations are gradually working their way upwards. My tree would not be repinned to anyone’s Pinterest Board of Christmas Ideas, but it’s right for us and that’s what matters.
When the kids were small, neither of them particularly liked roast dinners. With the tiredness that accompanies having small children, Christmas dinner was looking like a lot of hard work. One of us looking after the kids while the other cooked, only to end up sitting at the table while the kids complained that they didn’t like it and have I eaten enough for pudding now? Screw that. After a brief discussion, we decided the only sensible solution was to head to Iceland for several boxes of party food, which on the day needed nothing more than to be taken from the freezer and lobbed into the oven for 20 mins. Job done and the kids loved it. That’s why Mum goes to Iceland. It worked so well that we did that for several years, until we all liked the idea of a proper roast once more (chicken, not turkey. Seriously, unless you’re cooking for 10, stick with a chicken. Unless you’re veggie, in which case you’re on your own at this point. Happy Nut Roast.)
No doubt there will be some people out there who think I’m being half-assed about it. Not making enough effort. Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you’ve folded your napkins into neat star shapes that colour co-ordinate with the baubles on the tree and this year’s wrapping paper theme. Well, there’s been years in which I’ve handmade all my cards and knitted up a storm of gifts, made my mincemeat and mulled wine and invited all the neighbours round for drinks on Christmas Eve. And there’s years when I haven’t. Point being – do what works for you, in the present moment, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. Nobody is going to die if you buy your Christmas cake instead of making it. Or even if you decide you don’t really like Christmas cake and buy a tiramisu instead. Whack a sprig of holly in it and drown out their complaints by playing Slade extra loud.
Make your own traditions. Don’t allow yourself to be dictated to by other people’s expectations. Think about how you’d like Christmas to be, and then follow your vision as far as possible. If that means scouring the internet for flights to Bahrain so as to get out of dinner with the inlaws and extended family, do it. Compromise when you can, stick to your guns if you know it’s going to make you miserable. If that means making apologies and not trekking 300 miles on Christmas Eve for the family get together, then so be it. They’ll get over it. Don’t argue that you have no choice but to do whatever it is – it’s always a choice. You could choose to do the letting everyone down option, as you see it, or you could choose to do the going along with what everyone else wants option, or you could choose the sod it, I’m doing it my way option. Know that they are choices, and whichever one you go with, do it with gladness or not at all.
Top Christmas tips;
- Eat what you want to eat at the time that works for you. As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have beans on toast served with love, than a 5 course meal that’s taken tears, arguments and gritted teeth to get on the table.
- Have grown up conversations with your friends and relatives about cutting back on the number of gifts you have to buy. It’s ridiculous. Swap it for a secret Santa within the family, give token gifts such as homemade cookies, or agree to all save your pennies because it would be more fun to have some money left to spend on yourself in the sales.
- Generally I avoid the sales like the plague, but it really does make sense to buy cards and wrapping paper at this point. Especially if you like feeling smug.
- Don’t bother making Christmas cake unless everyone in the family really really loves Christmas cake and would rather eat Christmas cake than anything else. Personally I’m thinking after a big meal, the last thing you need is a cake so heavy that if you chucked it out the window you’d likely kill someone. Plus… you need more dried fruit? Mince pies not enough for you?
- Also, don’t bother making Christmas cake unless you really enjoy making Christmas cake. Ditto mince pies, crackers, cards, gifts, all of it. The shops are there for a reason and will be glad of your custom. I love home made but if you’re a craftster, it can all get a bit out of hand and you wind up putting yourself under a ridiculous amount of pressure.
- If you’re making things instead of buying them in order to save money then it’s not a bad idea to check whether it’s actually saving you money. Regrettably, sometimes it’s not. Just saying.
- One tradition I’ve adopted is to buy, or more usually make a tree ornament for each of the kids every year. This gets opened on Christmas Eve, which helps with that desperate urge they’ve got to open presents once they’ve put their stockings out. It’s always themed according to what they’re into that year – so far we’ve had Christmas owls, cats, ballerinas, rainbows, daleks, and even a Medusa. I plan to keep going until they’re 18, at which point they’ll be handed a shoebox of special decorations to go on their own tree when they’ve left home. Probably with a note saying It’s time to leave home now. Love Mum.
- Stockings don’t get opened at 5am. They just don’t. I don’t care if it is only once a year, I’m not getting up and making merry at 5am. Back to bed until Mummy’s actually conscious.
- You don’t have to put all the decorations out every year. I seem to have accumulated a ridiculous amount of decorations, which probably need a bit of a cull. This year, most of them are staying in a box in the loft. Do what feels good to you right now.
- Having lit candles on your tree is a beautiful idea. The reality is that your house will burn down on Christmas Eve. Don’t go there.
- Be honest with yourself and with others. This doesn’t mean yelling I fucking hate you at an ageing relative after a few glasses of eggnog. It means acknowledging that going to Grandma’s for the big family get together is going to make you utterly miserable and so not doing it. It means taking a nap to get some time alone if that’s what you need, or going for a solo walk. It means having the guts to explain to others that you’re not staying as long as they expected because the kids can’t manage it. Honesty doesn’t mean unkindness, but rather going gently with yourself and everyone else and doing what you need to do rather than over-compromising. Over-compromising is the root of all evil.
- Inviting people round for a bring-and-share/mulled wine/mince pies on Christmas Eve isn’t as much work as you might think, and is a lovely way of building community. It’s the kind of thing that everyone would like to do but nobody actually does. Be the person who does it, at least once in your life.
- If you’re a vicar, I really would like to come and sing carols at the midnight service, but have learned from bitter experience that you’re going to spend a good half hour trying to convert me. Give up and play Hark the Herald and O Little Town of Bethlehem and preferably a bit of White Christmas as well.
- If you can remember Band Aid first time round, you don’t have to buy the single again. Just give your money directly to the charitable cause, it’s fine.
- Christmas crackers are a waste of money. You knew that already. If you can bear it, crackers are one thing that are worth making yourself. Think outside the box and put together a paper-hat making kit inside the cracker. I had fairy-making kits in mine one year, with the resulting peg dolls making an appearance on the tree ever since. Or some after-dinner sweets might be an idea for a filling. Otherwise, John Lewis had the best range last time round, with cracker sets that formed a game or were generally less rubbish than the usual plastic tat.
- If there’s nothing major gracing the wishlists of you and your significant other, spend the money on a big ticket item for the house instead and get each other a small, token gift. By big ticket item, I don’t mean a hoover, unless that really rocks your boat. Something that’s going to bring you both pleasure, like speakers for your Ipod, or a new TV. Or put it towards a holiday. Or a cleaner. Just don’t waste your money buying stuff for the sake of it when it’s not what you need/want.
- Experiences can often make better gifts. Buy an evening class or workshop for someone, a massage, or tickets to see something.
- If you must buy him socks, go with bamboo.
- Nativity plays shouldn’t be longer than 30 minutes. Surprisingly, UKIP don’t seem to have put that on their manifesto yet, but I’d consider voting if they went with it.
- I said “consider.” I was being facetious. I AM NOT GOING TO VOTE UKIP. Sheez.
[edited to add, coz hell let’s just keep going;]
- If carol singers come to your door, you have every right to demand requests, especially if they interrupted dinner. I also ask them to give themselves marks out of 10. I get very few carol singers these days. I guess word gets around.
- Elf. Elf. Elf. Elf. Just watch it. ELF. I wrote a post on how Elf is actually an insider’s guide to Aspergers, but I’m guessing it was on a former blog as I can’t find it. Maybe I’ll write it again.
- Bin men are still contractually obliged to take your rubbish away even if you don’t give them a Christmas bonus.