It’s beginning to look a lot like Stressmass, sorry, I mean Christmas.
In other words, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it can seem like a mad month, or few weeks of pressure, expense, lists, shopping, planning, feeding, hosting, cleaning, wrapping, hiding gifts, hoping for gifts, decorating, more tidying, then recovering from it all, going into the New Year feeling potentially like you may have had a good time but actually did you?
Christmas, after all, comes but once a year, so what is a month of madness when you have eleven to recover from it?
Now we have social media ever present in our lives, telling us what to do, eat, buy, decorate with or not, how many gifts our kids should have, what Christmas Eve should look like, what we should and shouldn’t be doing, comparison really is the thief of joy and a devil on our back telling us unless we do Christmas a certain way, we are not doing it right. If your home doesn’t look all grey and monochrome with all silver décor and a tastefully festooned tree, then you clearly aren’t doing Christmas how it should be done?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, and I always have, I love feeding people, I adore Christmas food (except turkey, bleh) and I love planning gifts and making people happy. I enjoy the decorating of the house and tree, the festivities, London lit up beautifully, and all of the trimmings that come with that time of year.
But, does it have to be a season of insanity and stress? Do we have to be broke, exhausted and need to recover from it, every year?
I don’t think we do. I think we need to make it less Stressmass and more about doing what we love or enjoy, a bit more about rest, and coming out of the festive period having actually enjoyed it, or at least not feeling broken by it.
People’s expectations of others at Christmas are the one big problem. If your mum or parents ALWAYS cooked, and catered for 20 people staying in your home for three days over Christmas, then is that what you are supposed to do? If spending three days visiting five different families so everyone gets a turn of your time, is what you have always done, but you find it exhausting and expensive, then why do you HAVE to do it? If social media is telling you you need Christmas Eve boxes filled with gifts for your kids to open before Christmas Day has even arrived, or that the extortionately expensive beauty advent calendar is essential but you can’t afford them or simply don’t have the time or capacity, then why do it? You don’t even need to feel jealous. Having stuff, more gitts, more cost doesn’t make you a better person or parent, or family member, I promise.
I find the obsession with being with people on Christmas day or over the time of Christmas and the pressure it puts on families bizarre. If you can’t make the effort to see someone at other times of the year, then making a fuss about a few days in Decemner seems weird to me.
You see, I was there a few years ago. I wanted Christmas to be perfect. I wanted to make everyone happy. I wanted to be at the parties, the events, the activities, I wanted to make sure my kids had all the amazing gifts, I wanted to prove I could host people as well as my mum could, when she was alive. I wanted to placate and make family happy by attending their Christmas get togethers, despite the stress and pressure it put on us emotionally and potentially financially, and I wanted to look like I was doing it all right.
Until we had a bit of a revelation and decided that one year, we were going to go away. In fact it was a double revelation. We spent Christmas in Bangkok with my dad (yes, there was a travel cost involved but it was both a family holiday and time with him, family abroad means travel to see them sometimes) and then we also spent Chrismtas in France house sitting, one year. We didn’t do ALL THE THINGS we were supposed to and expected to, those two Christmases and it felt GOOD.
We realised that we didn’t want the stress, the cost and the pressure and now we literally please ourselves at Christmas. We limit what we spend on gifts, with need versus want and cost carefully considered. We look at what we WANT to do, in terms of visits, activities, parties and events and we plan for those, and decline those we don’t think will work for us, even if that isn’t what others agree with. We plan for rest and pleasure during the Christmas month and the week of Christmas, and we make it as gentle as we can on us, so that we don’t come out of the Christmas break feeling like we need another break to get over it all.
It has made a huge difference to us, and how we feel about Christmas. At one point, all my joy in the time of the year, evaporated. But slowly, by making Christmas about what we want to do and less chaotic and stressful, that joy has come back.
We still see people. We still bake and eat Christmas food, we still give gifts, we still decorate, we still do Christmassy things, but we do it at our own pace and in a way that works for us.
You can do Christmas the way you want to. The whole “making other people happy, even if it isn’t making you happy” thing needs to die a death. If we all focus on trying to find happiness and priving ourselves in a few days in December, then what does that say about us, and what are we doing the rest of the year? If Great Grandma can’t cope because you aren’t stuffing an enourmous turkey whilst feeding her her triple gin five minutes before the King’s Speech but you don’t see her at any other times in the year or make much effort to see her or her to see you, then maybye it’s time for a change? If hosting a house full of poele for three days makes you feel so stressed for weeks before and aftger then why are you doing it? If you cannot afford to buy the latest trendy gadget for your teengager because your budget is tight and saving for it across the year just isn’t feasible, it’s time to rethink (and also have a chat with your teenager about why sometimes they don’t always get what they want!)
I realise we don’t fit with the norm around Christmas, and a conversation with someone about our Christmas plans reminded me of that. She was incredulous that we don’t have people over, we don’t have family to stay, that we don’t rush around to family, or friends, that we take it slowly, that we plan for things we like doing rather than what other people exepct us to do.
Maybe it isn’t normal. But when we normalise stress and pressure, and expense, and someone decides that they don’t want to do that anymore, it takes a while to adjust to that.
We don’t do Stressmass. It’s made “the most wonderful time of the year” feel much more enjoyable again.
Some things we do and don’t do:
- Expensive gifts or spending losts of money. We spend a much smaller amount than many people do. We also have a birthday close to Christmas to factor in, which helps us to prirotitse.
- We don’t do gifts for adults bar the husband and I. We also don’t expect other people to give us, adults gifts.
- The adults that work with our children do get gifts, so tutors and teachers get a small gift, but we think carefully and we make it either vouchers or edible, and it’s more a thank you than a splurge to prove ourselves concept
- We don’t send Christmas cards. Sorry, but they are a waste of time and money
- I refuse to do Secret Santa, at work or with groups I am part of. If other people want to, that’s fine, but I hate it, and it’s often badly thought out and you end up spending money for someone you may not normally buy a gift for, or get given a crappy gift you don’t want or cheap chocolate.
- We don’t plan lots of visits over the period to other people and we budget for trips or Christmas activities carefully
- We don’t spend a huge amount on Christmas food. I bake or make some of it, and whilst we do have Christmas dinner, it may not be traditional and tends to be more what our family likes to eat but Christmas “flavoured”
- We don’t do Santa in that we have never used Santa as the main gift giver or person to hold over our children to make them behave or expect gifts
What we do:
- We ask what our kids want for Christmas and we have set their expectations that we are not spending lots of money on gifts and we are not a family that spends hundreds per child.
- We do give to charity or contribute to charities with either our time or money that support people that may not have any kind of Christmas. That might be cooking a meal, making a Christmas box, helping with a student food pantry, giving a donation to a foodbank, or visiting somewhere to sing Christmas carols and have tea with people who need a bit of company
- Free things – visiting Christmas lights in London, wandering around fancy deparment stores enjoying their Christmas displays, going to the local big garden and farm shop to see their Christmas fun
- We enjoy decorating our tree and every year we buy a new bauble each, so we have quite a collection of unique ornaments on our tree (which is not picture perfect, by the way…
- Baking and cooking. Feeding people is my love language so I do enjoy cooking and baking and my kids enjoy helping me or even taking over the kitchen themselves to bake and create
Do you enjoy Christmas the way you want it to be? Or is it Stressmass for you too?