It sometimes feels to me like two types of people exist in the run-up to Christmas. There are the ones who love Christmas, who embrace each and every part of it, who put their tree and decorations up in November (I don’t get that!) and who adore every single tediously over-played Christmas song. They love Christmas shopping because they love shops! Because they love people! They are full of the joys and the jollities and don’t understand why others are so bah-humbug about it. Which brings me to the miseries. Snapping and snarling at anyone who mentions Christmas too soon. Rolling their eyes if Tesco has mince pies for sale in September. Then they’re running about scowling and muttering, barging others out of the way as they try to get their Christmas shopping done last minute. They don’t enjoy Christmas. They find it stressful! And it can be stressful, let’s face it. I’ve had my share of stressful Christmases. Ones I wanted to be over before they had even begun. I’ve had tears and tantrums and regrets, and plenty of muttering under my breath; I’m doing it differently next year! We’re all searching for the perfect Christmas as portrayed in the ads and the movies, yet we all know it doesn’t exist! So why do we try?
I have chipped away at Christmas induced stress over the years and every year it gets better and less stressful. Why? Well, let me tell you what I did!
- I Stopped Cooking A Turkey – I’d spent too many years watching that damn bird cook in the oven, taking up all the space, causing all the stress about whether it’s cooked properly or not, or is going to be ready on time. Then one year my husband said, why do we even buy one? We don’t even like it. And he was right. We don’t eat turkey any other time of the year. Given a choice, when I was a meat-eater, I would have preferred chicken every time. Why did we feel we had to be slaves to a tradition? So we stopped and replaced it with meat we did like, such as chicken and lamb. My eldest and I are vegetarian so we make veggie pies. It’s been about eight years since I last tried to cook a stupid massive, dry, boring turkey. Less stress!
- I Got Strict With Relatives – when I was a kid I loved a big family Christmas. Nan and Grandad and Uncle Colin, Mum and Dad, us four kids and big sister’s boyfriend all around the table together. Such fun! But it wasn’t bloody fun for my poor mother, was it? I soon learned this the hard way. Over the years we’ve had various relatives around at Christmas, and we’ve slowly become braver at establishing ground rules. Such as, you won’t still be here eating and drinking and keeping the baby awake at 11pm. We used to feel guilty, but we don’t anymore. This is our family and our time and we’re quite happy to have people over and feed them, but it has to be within a set time. Come at this time, go at this time. We need our time to slop about in pjs and watch films together, just us. It was horrible when we first had to mention it, but now it’s fine and we never get anyone outstaying their welcome
- I Have A Christmas Notebook – I’ve done this for years and it saves me so much stress and time! Quite simply, it’s a notebook which rolls through a fair few years and when it’s full I start a new one. I write the year on a page, and on the following pages, I write who I’m buying for and what I will buy them. There is a stocking list page for the kids and a Christmas Eve box page, a main present page, a page for my husband, a page for my mum, other relatives and so on. When I buy something I tick it off the list, even if it’s something really tiny for a stocking. I know I’ve done it then and I stay on track. I started doing this about ten years ago, I think. I used to just buy presents, chuck them in the cupboard and then have to get them out to count them every now and then, or to check what I had bought. Now, it’s all in the notebook! Easy!
- I start buying in January – I don’t go mad, but if I see something cheap or reduced, or something that won’t go out of date like pens, or socks, for example, I’ll grab it and stick it in the cupboard. I then start seriously in June and ramp it up another notch in September. Each year I’ve finished earlier than the year before. I hate shopping, so I like to get it done as soon as possible.
- I buy most of it online – Pretty much all of it actually. I hate shops and people and crowds at this time of year so I avoid them entirely and do it all online. Sitting at my desk in the warmth and comfort of my own home, with a cup of tea on the go, I can browse the net and get the best deals and research what to get people and get through it all pretty easily. Thank goodness for the internet. I can still recall the nightmarish Christmas shopping trips before online shopping. Ugh.
- I wrap up as I go along – Okay, actually it was one of my daughters who started this. She gets so excited about Christmas she likes to start wrapping in October so I let her! She doesn’t wrap her own obviously but most days she wraps up a few things for me, which means there is hardly anything to do come Christmas Eve. I spent far too many Christmas Eve’s sat on the floor with cellotape stuck between my teeth, running out of wrapping paper and losing the scissors! Now that never happens because it is all done.
- I’ve cut down what I buy and simplified it – My kids are good and they don’t ask for much anyway. But other years have seen me stressing out about what to buy other people, you know, the ones who always say ‘oh nothing’ when you ask them. Or the ones who already have everything they need. I used to worry about what to buy them but I don’t now. If I can’t think of anything cool and they haven’t asked for something specific then they get a voucher. Sorted. I’d rather spend the brain time thinking about what to get my kids.
- We started our own traditions – Christmas is such a time of traditions, and I do like this aspect of it. But the trick is to shake off the ones that annoy or stress you and invent your own! A few years back I saw a thing on Facebook about Christmas Eve boxes. I always gave the kids pjs on Xmas eve anyway, and I really liked the idea of packing up a book and some hot chocolate or something too so I started it. We’ve been doing it for about five or six years now I think and the kids love it! This was never a thing when I was a kid but hey, traditions can change! Last year we started a new one. Secret Santa. We put our names in a hat and everyone picked out a person to buy a present for secretly. We all got £5 and the only rule is it had to be something that person would appreciate. This was so much fun and we made sure to leave the Secret Santa presents to the end of the day when everything else was over. We’ve done it again this year and I think we always will. My 10-year-old son asked me if we could also celebrate Yule and the winter solstice this year so we are. We researched ways to do this and have made a list of ways we can celebrate this time of year, such as bringing logs and greenery into the home, doing some baking and arts and crafts and giving back to nature by decorating a tree with bird food. We can’t wait!
- I don’t do Christmas cards – I stopped giving people Xmas cards about 6 or 7 years ago. It just seemed so silly! If I see you a lot, I can say HappyChristmass. If I see you on the day, why do I need to give you a card as well? And if I hardly see you at all, isn’t there a reason for that? I don’t want trees to be cut down for this wasteful silliness! I can see why it would have been nice when the Victorians invented it. They didn’t have phones, emails or social media. There are so many ways to wish people happy Christmas these days, why do we feel the need to slave over a giant pack of cards, dutifully crossing people off a long list? Cut out the stress and stop doing cards. No one cares if you do, I promise.
- I don’t buy much food – I used to write extensive lists of things I thought we had to have. The world would end if we didn’t have these things! A tin of Quality Street, a box of Roses, a family box of biscuits and so on. Why??? I’ve cut it right down. I don’t want all that crap in the house. Yes, we will have some candy canes and chocolate decorations on the tree and yes the kids get a tube of sweets and chocolate coins in their stockings. I’ll buy the meat and vegetables for the roast dinner and the crackers and cheese etc for the evening meal. I’ll make sure there is hot chocolate and squirty cream and there will be something a bit nicer for breakfast too, like brioche or croissants. The kids get bought chocolate by other people, so I really don’t need more in the house. I’ve had years where the unhealthy food dragged on for weeks after the day, making us all feel yukky. Not anymore. We don’t need to have a house crammed full of food just because it’s Xmas! I do make my own Xmas cake and mince pies and we also make our own gingerbread creation. That is more than enough!
So, there we have it. One happy, peaceful, silly, family Christmas. It took me years to achieve this but now it feels like the norm. I told my daughter that I was blogging about stress at Christmas, and she replied with ‘but we don’t have any stress at Christmas.’ Yay!
Over to you guys. What stresses you out about Christmas? Have you changed things over the years to ease the pressure, and if so what? Please feel free to comment and share!