Do you think women's magazines conspire to create panic and stress? I was hanging around at Euston this week, waiting for my train, and flipped through some magazines for something to read. Issue afer issue had editorial on the lines of "Well, of course Christmas is great and it is my favourite time of year and I love it dearly but we all know how stressful if can be so we have got it all taped for you with the busy/stressed/frantic woman's guide to the perfect Christmas". Then follows page after glossy page of perfect houses, covered in fabulous hand made ribbon and ivy swags. Amanda is at the kitchen table with her delightful blonde children making decorations for the tree. There are stunning table centres and £30 appliqued stockings to hang from the carved wooden mantelpiece. There are pages of women looking sexy and glamorous in heels and fabulous party dresses, tossing their perfectly groomed hair, accompanied by angelic toddlers in velvet dresses.
Now I am a bit of a sucker for magazines but even I think this is a load of old cobblers. It seems to me that Christmas is only stressful if you set yourself these impossibly high standards of elegance, preparedness and sophistication with touches of home made craftiness as the ultimate in oneupmanship. "See, not only have I spent hundreds on my Christmas coasters and table decorations, and my collections of scented candles from Jo Malone but I am also the perfect mother and have spent hours of quality time with my children making perfect memories for them in the kitchen which is the heart of my lovely home."
Christmas is just a big roast dinner with some of the people you love. It's a reason to take a break from the rigours of winter and sit by the fire with a glass of red wine. It's a reason to buy and be bought nice things. If you are a believer, it has a religious meaning; if you are not, it is still a festival with thousands of years of history behind it, the middle of winter when the year turns.
Lower your expectations would be my advice to the supposed hordes of stressed women out there - do they exist? I don't seem to know them - maybe they wouldn't be stressed if the magazines would stop selling this impossible dream. If you don't like doing things , don't do them. I stopped sending cards for a few years and it didn't seem to make any difference to the number I received, not that I would have minded if it had, but it did seem to indicate that people don't really read them, or that perhaps they think someone else must have opened the envelope. We send them again now mainly because Ian does half the work, possibly more than half because he prints off address labels as well as writing his share.
Delegation is a great help too. I don't mind buying presents but I am rubbish at wrapping them. They look as though they might have been wrapped properly at one time but the dog got them (we don't have a dog). So Ian or younger daughter who has inherited the wrapping gene from him will do it and produce something that looks like it should. Older daughter often makes the cake and younger one decorates it. I only do a roughened snow effect but she does extravagant scenes like this one, not for any other reason than that she likes it.
If you have to involve people you don't like very much (and I am not ignoring the fact that Christmas does come freighted with duties) just make sure you have enough people around who you do like. Then there will always be someone to sneak off with for a giggle in the kitchen.
I like Christmas. I like seeing my family. I like cooking and eating and all the food is the kind I like. I like not going to work for a few days and eating too much and going out for walks afterwards. Ian is not really bothered - different childhoods, different experiences - so that probably helps us to keep it reasonably low key but I still love it. Even in the years after I separated from my first husband when we had to negotiate the minefield of how to parent at Christmas, I still enjoyed the dinner and the tree. So I am not being a Scrooge here. I just feel like saying to magazine editors everywhere less fuss, less consumerism, less fantasy perfection please. Let's use it for a pause, as much love and laughter as comes and an excuse to eat cold turkey and stuffing sandwiches standing up in the kitchen.