Christmas - let's just all calm down a bit.

Now I know this is my fault.  I don't have to read magazines and perhaps I shouldn't, especially not in the run up to Christmas.  I don't have to read weekend papers and watch television but, heck, I like all those things.  I am a real newspaper addict, love my particular magazines dearly (Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Woman and Home, Gardens Illustrated and The English Garden since you asked, with occasional diversions into Red) and while I don't watch a lot of television, what I do like are things that make me laugh like  "The Thick of It"  and cookery or gardening programmes, particularly ones like River Cottage which talk about growing and cooking the kind of food I like.

So I don't really want to turn into Mrs Grumpy and give up my usual pleasures during the run up to Christmas but I am plodding through my usual reading feeling that the country is running mad.  Do people really give each other £900 headsets from Swavorski or is it a joke?  Do they spend £68 on a child's watch?  I don't spend that much on my own watch and any of my children would have broken or lost it within a week until they were well into their teens.  Do people buy Prada velvet and crystal shoes for £505?  Does every child have a laptop and a mobile phone by the time they are eight?  I know there are some fabulous exceptions.  (Have a look at Who's the Mummy's fantastic toy guide for a reminder that there are lots of great things out there which don't break the bank.) But an hour or two with my favourite papers and magazines at the moment is making me feel quite queasy.

Similarly, do people really fret and angst about cooking the Christmas meal to the extent that magazines and television imply that they do?  Come on, it's only a roast dinner.  If you can roast a chicken you can roast a turkey and if the problem is not knowing what to do with a great big bird, ask yourself exactly why five of you need a 14lb turkey anyway.  Buy a 10lb one and you won't find it that different from cooking a chicken and you'll have plenty, unless you intend to feed twenty five which I suggest you don't do unless you like doing it.   Sorry, I can hear myself getting bossy here.

And all the endless exhortations to "get ahead"!  Yes, it is great to have some meals in the freezer if you have guests staying for days but how long are the shops going to be shut?  Less than forty eight hours?  You don't need to behave as if we are all going to be snowbound for a fortnight.

All that stuff about stress and how to cope with your awful relatives at Christmas too!  Do people really get so stressed by making a Christmas dinner and sharing it with their in laws?

It all makes me want to say:
Buy less.  We all have way too much stuff.  I know present giving feels like showing your loved ones how much you care and I am absolutely not immune from that sensation that somehow you haven't found the best and brightest and biggest present or from the desire to please and cherish.  But maybe we can please and cherish with time and care and something smaller or even home made.

Fret less.  Your house doesn't have to be perfect, neither do your children and neither do you.  Hang up the cards, bring a tree in (one you can put back outside if you can, but a fresh one which smells like a tree), light a few candles or a fire and it looks festive and Christmassy without spending a fortune on decorations from John Lewis or hours making home made gingerbread men, unless of course you like making home made gingerbread men.

And I suppose that the thing I feel like saying most of all, especially to women,  is to enjoy it, do what you like doing.  If you are newly weds and you really want to spend Christmas at home together, eating special food, going to bed for the afternoon, watching old movies, well do it.  Things will change and when you have a family the chance for a little loving selfishness won't happen for another twenty years.  You can go visiting parents before and after Christmas Day and shower them with some of your bright and shiny loving kindness.

If you are exhausted balancing work and home and the very last thing you feel like doing is cooking a Christmas meal and washing up afterwards, don't.  Go out to a hotel, go abroad, run away, drum up some assistance.  Work out what you need to do to have a nice time and, in so far as it is reasonable, do it.

And if some of your relatives are a bit trying either don't invite them at all, or, if that would create World War III, put up with it.  It is only a few hours of listening to the same old stories and swigging another glass of wine.  Surround yourself with the people you love and if you have to have the odd one who you wouldn't have through the door were it not for the sake of one you love dearly, well that's the deal in family life.  "Suck it up" as my son would say. 

If you are a religious person, Christmas will have a meaning for you that ought to make sense of the celebration, but if you are not it can still be a great time: a few days off work, the company of your nearest and dearest, nice food, the chance to sit by the fire or go for a walk, a pause in the rush of life while the year turns.  Turn your back on excess, whether it is excess consumption or excess fuss, and have a good time whether it is with those you love or on your own.  You know anyway that the best bit is always the cold turkey sandwich on Boxing Day.

I am way too messy to be a minimalist but this might be a time to borrow their slogan: less is more.


  1. Amen to that, Elizabeth, couldn't agree more!

    Christmas hasn't started here yet, and it wont, until much nearer the appointed day. After all the 12 days of Christmas begin on December 25th!


  2. totally agree, - although feeling calmer than usual this year, as I set a budget, did all the shopping on-line and will finish work on same day as son ends school so I can have a family christmas.

    Bit different than previous career in garden centre retail, when I was sick of christmas by the time I got there.

  3. Oh I am so glad Zoe! I was just sitting here rereading this and wondering if everyone would berate me for being a miserable old git and I am so truly not. I like Christmas and I love having my family around me and eating too much. I just want markedly less pressure to spend and fret!

  4. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, Elizabeth - so well put. I was thinking of putting up something similar but you've done it for me...
    Who are these people with so much money they can throw around?
    Madness..... Janexxxx

  5. Less is more is my personal motto! Fantastic post!

  6. Well said you! I agree too with all you've said. I wish you could go on national TV and say it.

    My personal 'favourite' of all the nonsense I've already heard/seen this year was an advert (in Country Living actually) for furniture or home decor or something where the strapline is 'I've discovered the magic of Christmas... for less than half price!'

    Er, since when did the magic of Christmas have a price tag on it???

  7. I think that everyone reaches this point- sooner or later. And then, they can figure out what Christmas means to them and their family and make or let that happen. For me, it's music, cookies and the decorations and then the time to visit with friends and family. I've given up, for the most part, gift giving and shredded the lists of names and ideas.

    I think that it's really easy to get caught up in the slick, commercial view of Christmas- it is their job to sell it, after all. I worry a bit about the people who think that everyone else does it that way and it's just them who can't manage it. It's a very stressful time for many.

  8. Your post should be appearing in the glossy magazines Elizabeth ! I think there's way too much hype about what Christmas should be. So many people feel under pressure that it should live up to quite unrealistic expectations. The fact that the build up seems to start up earlier and earlier each year is also something which really irritates me.

  9. I do agree, so wholeheartedly, with much of what you've written. But simplifying Christmas, getting back to basics and reconnecting with one's own values isn't easy - for some years now I've pleaded with friends to keep my birthday (just before) and Christmas itself simple and small, but they just can't do it. Then I feel like a meanie for not going over the top too!

    A friend has started cooking and freezing stuff for Christmas dinner, frantically, as though she was feeding an army - in fact, she has 4 relatives over on the day, for a matter of hours.Somewhere in there, the joy has been lost, I think.

  10. Claire - can't imagine how people cope in retail, garden centre or otherwise. It must turn you off completely!
    EJ - don't know who can do it. I thought we were in the middle of a recession yet clearly the magazines still feel the need to splurge. I wonder if people do too!
    Kim - well that is a great motto for a life. Perhaps I shall adopt it too.

    Sue - I saw that one and responded in the same way. do they think we are idiots?
    Blackbird - I am sure you are right that many do find it stressful. Perhaps it is the unreaslistic expectations that fuel that. Love the sound of your simpler Christmas.
    Anna - agree, we don't need to build up for weeks surely.
    Rachel - your friend is precisely what I am thinking about. Christmas is built up to be such a big thing - panic not required.

  11. You put the case for a simple holdiay so well, as have the other respondants. I think its difficult for younger couples with children to down-play the seasonal expectations. I'd like to think as we grow older we've learned what is truly memorable--hopefully it is time spent with those we love, energies given to family traditions--either time-honored or newly created. Its only ONE DAY of the year--surely it can be made special without a huge expediture of funds and fluster.

  12. I agree with that. Made all my Christmas gifts and enjoyed every minute of it. I don't understand all the huffing and puffing. When our children were young and I was working full time, it was hard to get everything done, even simple things for 6 kids. I have really come to believe less is more. Oh course all the hype just rubs off.

  13. That's it - we simply have to meet. I've been thinking along the same lines, and blogged this morning about small pleasures. This year our gift to one another is the being together - the eating, reading, sitting by the fire and visiting with one another. It's a lovely feeling to be giving and getting the one thing we all want most of all. The expense of the travel across the country has worked in our favour!
    So, 'amen' to your post - well said.

  14. Exactly! You said it!
    I bake for Christmas because I love it, it brings me joy,and so does roasting a goose for my family on Christmas day.Will the house be spotless? heck no!does it matter? no!
    Giving of gifts is limited to one each between the Hubby and I this year.
    The rest of the gifts we give each other are not things wrapped up.. Going out to the mountains to cut our tree,Being outside in the wintertime, enjoying the season for it's gifts. A walk through the neighborhood to look at the brightly lit,decorated houses,then a stop at the pub for a pint. Celebrating the Solstice with good friends, and a potluck feast.
    Friendship and enjoying the traditions dear to us is what it's about for us.

  15. Oh Elizabeth, how could anyone think you are a miserable git when your whole message is about enjoying it all. I so agree with every word you have written. I love to give gifts, but not expensive ones and mostly handmade - foodstuffs, drinks, textiles, etc but only because that is what we do here anyway. Can't understand how such a lovely chance to have fun became a time fo such immense stress for many. A brilliant post x

  16. Got this totally right! I'm taking a leisurely approach this year - have only just written the cards and haven't even thought about food. It'll still happen.

  17. So full of wisdomosity! Those so called gift ideas lists push me right over the edge when they're so pricey, it just fuels the idea that present-giving is all about how much you've spent. Love and kindness are free and never run out.

  18. Elizabeth - you really ought to send this peace to one of the magazines you read (not that it would do any good). The really sad thing is that money (and sex in its various forms) have become substitutes for love. And alcohol in excess has become a substitute for fun.

    Wearing yourself out shopping (or baking) seems to be equated with giving love, friendship, fun. And of course it isn't - and that's why we are all terribly disappointed. And that's why we read all these 'must do better articles.'

    It is a mad, mad world we are living in. Poisoned too. The 14lb Turkey makes our 10lb bird look paltry. We are disappointed before we start (incidentally a way out is to try a rib of beef!).

    Shopping has become not a need but an addiction. We need 'stuff' to fuel these crazy drives. It's all quite wrong, we know it's wrong and you, most beautifully as always, have put your thoughtful finger firmly on it.

  19. What amazes me is the number of things that have to be done before Xmas - it helps to hype up the sheer stress that this one day can produce and it really is only one day.

  20. Absolutely, Elizabeth! Have always been amazed at the way the media beef up present giving and the food we need on our table.... and you can't even get a loaf of bread 2 days before Christmas because they've sold out! Barmy.

    As you know, my Christmas is going to be "a la NHS" this year, but I did go out with mum for a 'proper' Christmas lunch at a local coaching inn, yesterday. Still ate too much!xx

    BTW - loved your earlier post about your grandson. A lovely tribute to your daughter and her son.xx

  21. Thank you for this reminder! After a trip to Walmart yesterday, I felt the "bah, humbug" coming on. I've got my bearings straight once again.

  22. Elizabeth, I have spent about the last hour reading all your posts back to the beginning of November. I think I have left comments on nearly all of them. I have been away too long - and too much of what you write I am living, breathing, thinking, imagining as well. They are a joy to read.

    Christmas? Yes, I couldn't agree more. The hype is ridiculous. Nothing can possibly live up to it - and if you try to achieve it you certainly won't. My husband, left to himself, wouldn't even do presents! He hates the way the women (and his wife!) get exhausted. I always end up doing much at the last minute (cards, decorations) because I hate starting too early. It seems to miss the point and just makes the whole thing seem too false and commercial. That said, with three young children at school, it is a ridiculously busy time of year and really I should start in October! Added to which things always crop up which you don't expect (deaths come to mind for me at the moment) which somewhat complicates things and suddenly you don't have the time you thought you had...

    Have you been watching Kirstie Allsop's handmade Christmas? She bugs the you-know-what out of me, but I agree with the premise. Homemade is good. Presents should be about thought, time and love - not cash value. For the record, my daughter is getting her first mobile phone for her 11th birthday. I still think that's a bit soon but she's now the only one in her class without and as she enters senior school next year, perhaps it is time. They don't have Nintendos, their own laptops or Wiis. I'm very old-fashioned - and I don't think they need them. They have eachother.

    Anyway, I'd better stop there as this may as well be a blog in itself! And just so you know, we like the same magazines too!

  23. I do agree with you Elizabeth - fine if one can truly afford expensive gifts, but if you can't then don't do it. I'd hate to think someone put themselves in the red to buy me a gift! We never start decorating until nearer the time and I am totally relaxed.

  24. How true.

    Have just spent the afternoon in the ridiculous frenzy of Shrewsbury town centre. Conclude that 99.999 percent of what I saw was a waste of both time and money. I think that is my gripe - the festival has shifted from being a religious and family celebration to a vast retail opportunity.

    I'll join you in the grumpy corner.

  25. You talk sense. I went round the shops tonight and looked for ideas. Then I thought, 'I could just make some lovely chocolate truffles and wrap them nicely'. So I may well. Two problems though: will the truffles make it to Christmas, and will my 'wrapping' look like a disaster in a ribbon shop as usual. Still, it's the thought that counts.

  26. MM - I agree about family traditions. That is a lovely thing to give thought and time to.
    QMM - six kids! that must have taken some doing.
    Pondside - I love the idea of the gift of being together, and yes, we must meet!
    FK - I love that your memorable things are doing things not having things. You sound to have a marvellous Christmas to me.
    Pipany - that is just it, the sadness that a chance to have a good time has been turned into a stress and money fest. It doesn't have to be that way!
    Toady - leisurely is just the way to do it. Me too!
    ChrisH - I am right there on the edge with you. We must make a stand (and not fall over it)!
    Fennie - you put it so well. Sex and shopping and money have become addictions to fill the holes in our lives. Quite apart from the fact that we need to consume less if we are to leave any of the planet for our children and theirs.
    WW - absolutely. It should be written in six foot high letters: It is only one day.
    Woozle - hope your Christmas is a good one, despite all! will be thinking of you.
    Leonora - bah humbug is the only response to a Walmart Christmas I suspect!
    Hi HOTH. Lovely to see you again and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I saw the Kirsty Allsop programme and there were some lovely things and hasn't she got nice eyebrows?
    Faith - there is more pleasure in decorating when it is really Christmas isn't there?
    Mountainear - you have it exactly: a huge retail opportunity. Hate it being that when so many of these comments show what it can be.
    Fran - I find I can make the truffles it is the packaging which defeats me. Younger daughter is whizz at it though so a little light delegation is the answer.

  27. Quite right!
    Did anyone else hear Delia on Woman's Hour the other day? I found myself shouting at the radio - at the silly, grown up woman who couldn't cook a turkey without burning it - she even admitted to throwing the legs away!!! And planning seemed beyond many of them. Haven't they heard of lists?
    My only sympathy was with the young Muslim woman, doing her first full Christmas for hubby (non-Muslim) and baby. She had a question about alternative stuffing as she couldn't eat pork.
    As for the rest, surely they had a recipe or two to look up?
    (Sorry - personal bugbear is grown women who come over all useless in the kitchen!)

  28. Arghhh! Left a comment here the other day and it's disappeared - I hate technology!

    It was just to say - as always - I agree with you 100%. I try to get at least half the children's presents from the charity shop and simply spray all the juink I can get my hands on gold to give me blingtastic decs.

    The over the top nature of so much of Christmas sends me round the twist. What a waste!

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  30. I agree too - some of the magazine gift guides are just pure fantasy. I'm sure the programmes must make people who have a quiet Christmas (like I do) feel guilty at not having lavish parties and feeding 50 on Christmas day.

    We stick to a budget and decorate our tree with home made decorations.

    I don't think you are Mrs Grumpy at all - or if you are so am I!

    PS: I deleted my earlier comment because I was getting myself into a debate about trees which I've moved to the PC forum.

  31. You said it all.
    I love the excitement of Christmas. But I have to remind myself it is only one day - one dinner, the shops are always open. I have to stop myself from buying biscuits and chocolates, because they get left for me to eat, and I certainly don't need them.
    The present buying for family (16) stopped a couple of years ago (everyone was relieved), we do the Kris Kringle thing.
    I drive a taxi and have been picking people up since October who have been buying presents, wrapping, decorating the house (not just Christmas decorations), clothes buying etc. Many people borrow money for Christmas and that adds more pressure - it has to be paid back.

  32. I totally agree with you! And I blogged along some of these lines last week - it seems to have become a stressfest, with too much riding on perfection, rather than a religious celebration, or a day off and a nice meal. Hear, hear to all you have said!

    Pomona x

  33. I'm with you on all the "Christmas is too commercialized" sentiments.

    I'm also with you on the "go to bed for the afternoon" idea... even though my husband and I have been married for seven years, it still sounds like a lovely idea!

    *wiggles eyebrows wickedly*


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