The great Christmas conspiracy

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.


  1. I absolutely agree with you. Women's magazines are all about creating guilt so that you will rush out and buy, buy, buy.
    In my earth mother days I used to make my own cake, christmas puddings etc and what with that, working full time and having 4 children I grew to absolutely hate Christmas. it was a nightmare. It took me a while to let go. What's wrong with packet pastry for mince pies, buy a Christmas cake and marzipan and just do the fun bit like icing. etc. If I go on this will turn into a rant.
    Now, Christmas day my man and I have to ourselves. We go out on our bikes because the roads are quiet. Family come on Boxing Day,

  2. Gorgeous cake! My kind of gal...

    I have just passed on 3 Christmas editions of women's mags to my MIL who is laid up after an op. To be honest they made me FEEL stressed just looking at them. Who on earth can cook Christmas lunch in high heels and a sequin dress? How on earth do you make your whole house look so perfect and cook lunch, and wrap presents, and shop, and everything else, and many of these poor women work too! I don't and I can't think how I'd do everything.

    Don't get me wrong, I just love Christmas, and I love to entertain, ice the cake, cook the lunch, the whole caboodle, but I do it looking rough as a badger's wotsit, generally stressed and flushed and half-cut and nobody seems to care!

  3. I've given up reading women's mags. Most of them are just ridiculous and full of complete rubbish. Christmas is my favourite time of year and I do make a fuss over it but I don't get stressed along the way. I enjoy it. I take Amy to my mum's on the 27th to spend few days with the family and I have to say even though that is a lovely time, my mum does get stressed. She finds it hard to cope with us all for some reason!

    Crystal xx

  4. yeah, kindred spirits! love Kitty's description. Yep, flushed, half cut and looking like a badger's wotsit is me to a t!

  5. Oh I do agree with you..the guilt complex that can come after even looking at the magazines is awful. Those perfect colour coordinated schemes ..'Madeleine is doing cream this year, note the matching posies, candles, table mats,(exquisitely starched)'... and probably West Highland terrier as well.
    I cant keep up with it, but enjoy doing my own thing. Our favourite decorations as children were paper chains, which probably drove my mother up the wall!

  6. Less fantasy perfection, couldnt agree more!

  7. see, i like this post very much because you don't buy into the stress the magazines want you to buy into, and you don't believe their myth. good for you. excellent!!

    that cake is adorable. i would eat one of those frosting trees all by myself, given the chance.

  8. Good for you! I feel the same way; if you do what you like with those you love, Christmas is wonderful. Of course, easier said than done!

    There is one magazine that I actually like to read for ideas. It's called "Real Simple" and the whole idea of the magazine is for things to be easy and streamlined. My favorite segment is called "Fake it, Don't Make it". The editors take something complicated and time consuming, then show you how to make it easily using ready made items and convenience products. Brilliant.

  9. I do love the chance that Christmastime gives us to re-enter some childhood wonderment. But totally agree with you all that it is horrible to fall into some stressful state trying to do what some outside force has dictated.

    Much better to enjoy the bits that you personally enjoy. Doing things that will also surprise loved ones.

    Food, drink, lovely fragrant greenery, candles.

    I do paint my cards, one by one. I don't do that many, but each one is just for a particular person. I just love making that effort. I start early, so it is fun, not stressful.

    I will bake some cookies mid December.

    Every year, I do get a "cute" Advent calendar, because I just find it an innocent pleasure to open the windows, day by day.

    Also love to go to a few church services that feature the season's beautiful music.

    Just try to keep it simple, because there will be plenty of potential stress at the shop!


  10. This made me laugh! I only get the dread Country Living, but I don't think our humble Christmas of a few bottles of real ale and a dvd box set to watch comes into the realms of those glossy fantasies! (Thank Heaven!)

  11. Here! Here!
    I've got it sussed Colin Cooks christmas dinner!! i drink and play games and load the dishwasher.... the mags are good to look at but you'd need 7 servants and a mansion to be that tidy on christmas day xx

  12. Sounds like my kind of Christmas Elizabeth...I put my foot down about 4 years ago with a vengence its frills no fuss...just a tree, midnight mass, Christmas dinner and small prezzies....walking, fresh air and relaxation and this year I've got the whole 10 days off as well

  13. Great blog, Elizabeth - and one I read with great interest as a writer who regularly has to come up with Christmas stuff for the women's magazine market. Funnily enough, I think your piece would be great for a Christmas issue - it sums up the problem of unreachable expectations and the rose-tinted fantasy of Christmas perfectly. Your family Christmas sounds perfect to me.

  14. You and I are kindred spirits. I never buy December mags as I hate the way they expect all women to behave in a certain way and stress themselves out and be perfect in every way. The words Countdown to Christmas rile me so. I gave up sending cards years ago and like you I did not lose any friends. It is all about commercialism, spend spend spend. So I buy presents for my immediate family only, my children and grandchildren and that's all. I did enjoy it when my children were small and believed in Father Christmas but now it's justa another roast dinner. We generally go round to our neighbours after dinner and have a lovely boozy time so the actual day is good. The last two years we have not had decorations or a tree. I have fairy lights up all year round and candles so it always can be festive not just for a short spell. If I could I would go away and escape but prices are too high. Bah Humbug, stop me now....

  15. Ahh, elizabethm, you have it soooo sorted! Its our dollar they are after these magazines, I'm sure, and they take with it our sanity if they can as well! Christmas can actually be a very difficult time of year, trying to please everyone, and one person generally running themselves ragged. This year we are going to church, then to the beach for a picnic. In the evening we are taking Dad out for a Proper Christmas dinner at a hotel, no effort required. The day before we are having some of our dear neighbours for a buffet lunch of cold meat and salads etc as they have been so good to us all year, and I would like to give them something back. All our nieces & nephews are getting "instant winner scratchies" at $2 each this year, mainly because none of them can even pick up the phone to say thank you for the gifts we sent year after year previous Christmas's!!!! Enjoy your day!

  16. Absolutely brilliant Elizabeth!!

    I am 'Mrs Christmas' and am unfortunately one of the saddo's who goes and buys all those bloomin magazines looking for new ideas and inspiration for my Christmas Crafts!!

    But even I much more enjoyed last Christmas, my first Christmas that wasn't perfect...
    I BOUGHT a cake and puddings, and dare I say mincemeat! And I asked the children to help me-they really enjoyed helping and being involved with the wrapping of presents; making mince pies with packet pastry, creating the table centrepiece and flower arranging, and helping prepare the big dinner.

    It wasn't PERFECT; the potatoes were not cut into wonderful hassleback style shapes, but it was so much more special...and we will be doing it all again this year. And that way, we ALL get to enjoy Christmas!

    So I am with you all the way!

    And btw-I just WISH you would send this piece in to the Times or somewhere!! Even if it it is just to the readers letters!...

    It will strike a cord with many people!

    warmest wishes

  17. It certainly does strike a chord. My particular bugbear (but one that I am addicted to reading about, whilst I chortle away) are the women (because they are invariably women) who will 'only do Christmas in red and silver/blue and gold/green and cerise/whatever - the poor children have to take their messy paper chains and tinsel up to their own rooms, and they presumably have to dress to fit in with the colour scheme as well. The whole thing so unnatural and stiff and un-family-oriented that I would cry if I had to spend Christmas with them! Our Christmas's have got tackier and glitzier since the children, but we have a great time, and, like you say, it's just a big boozy roast dinner. Mind you, R always cooks it so I guess I have a good reason for sounding relaxed! Great post.

  18. Just come to have a nosey and see that you really are an accountant!
    Couldn't agree more about magazines' portayal of Christmas. The reality is so different and it's different for everyone. You're quite right - you have to do what's right for you. Ditto cards. I send very, very few now. Can't really see the point in recieving a card signed 'from Joan' when you can barely remember who Joan is:-)

    Gosh - humbug already. I'm early this year:-)

  19. While I deplore the massive commercialisation of Christmas and the early appearance of anything gaudy in the shops before Bonfire Night, from then on I am all in favour. Think how dull winter would be without all the lights everywhere - in our homes, our gardens, in the streets of all the towns and villages. Think of the moving Christmas Carol Services in our lovely, under-used churches, the Nativity Plays in schools everywhere.

    It's a wonderful excuse to chill out for a few days, light a fire, see friends and family, but as you so rightly say, don't get drawn into the whole perfection thing.

  20. Brilliant, just brilliant! I agree with all of you (especially CCA as I too buy aall the mags). I have to say, Dave and I LOVE the whole thing and even decorate the house on the first of Dec as it marks the break in the winter for us all. We love the cooking, buying, making, wraping, etc BUT would not do it if we didn't. no point if you are too stressed to enjoy it is there? xx

  21. Thank you for visiting me via @ the Mill. Cool cake. However totally eclipsed by the Anglesey photos. I suspect we all think the places we know best are the most beautful, but it does look stunning. Have been up early working to try and get two nights away on a cliff top in Easter Ross. Not as beautiful, but not bad.

  22. I love that cake! Very well put, Elizabeth, it is indeed just a big roast dinner and, for once I'm looking forwards to it because I'M STAYING PUT!! Yipeee!!

  23. oh bless you! I am one of those stressed women, thankfully with no access to magazines that could tip me over the edge.
    I am calmed by your no nonsense attitude!


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