Seasonal offerings for a cracker of a Christmas
Seven more sleeps to the most distinctive day of the year – one that is invested with so much hope and expectation.One person’s ideal Christmas Day, be it participating in a large family gathering, staying home in the PJs, attending church or calling on friends, may be another person’s idea of Christmas hell. But there are steps we can all take towards creating a “perfect” family Christmas:
Decide what festive elements are really important to you and your family and focus on those. Your physical and mental health, as well as your finances, will benefit from a simpler Christmas.
“Less is more,” says clinical psychologist Mark Harrold. “I don’t think having extra trimmings and going to a whole lot of expense adds to the tradition of Christmas.”
This may mean cutting back on socialising and menu excesses, but far better to really enjoy everything you choose to do and eat. Small children will not thank you for being dragged hither and thither – what they want above all is the time and attention of loving parents, which is hard to deliver if you’re half deranged by “all the things to do”. However, tamper with family tradition at your peril.
Don’t reinvent your Christmas Day without consulting older children.
We have far too many high expectations for Christmas Day, says Rita O’Reilly, chief executive of Parentline, the confidential listening service. There is a tendency to think it is going to be a “fantastic” day, while it is going to be a reasonably ordinary day, she suggests.
Try to keep children grounded in what they can realistically expect from Santa. Focus on the rituals rather than rights to presents.
At this time of austerity everyone is in the same boat, says Harrold, so we should not feel pressure to have the kind of Christmas of excess we have had in the past.
“I think children understand that Santa Claus has been affected in the same way. Kids are very accepting once it is explained to them what Santa can and can’t do.”
People need a reality check when it comes to Christmas Day, says Ciara Conlon, a productivity coach and author of Chaos to Control: A Practical Guide to Getting Things Done. “They are putting so much into one day: so much money, so much stress. It is supposed to be a holiday.”
A lot of people don’t enjoy it, she suggests, because there is so much stress in the build-up and the day itself is a lot of work. “Then it’s over and you’re in debt and you drank too much and you feel blue.”
A mother of three boys, she says: “I would like people to be thinking about the human side of it rather than the material side of it – it is the coming together, and it doesn’t matter if the Brussels sprouts are beside the ham.”
Preparation in advance is core to taking stress out of the day, says Conlon. If finances are tight, “you don’t have to be traditional and do the same every year”.
Revise the menu if necessary, so it is not all heavy foods. Personally, she thinks having two different meats is “ridiculous”.
Make asking for help part of your preparations – soldiering on as mother martyr to the point of meltdown does nobody any favours.
Prepare for family tensions
The thought of having to visit extended family at Christmas can be stressful for some people, acknowledges Harrold. Don’t just dread the day, “because then you’re carrying the stress and they’re not”. Instead, think through the encounter and consider potential flashpoints.
“Plan the visit, how long you’re going to be there, what you’re going to say. If a particular topic comes up, how are you going to deal with that?”
Create Christmas Eve magic
Every child should be able to revel in the delicious anticipation of Christmas Eve.
Last-minute baking, last-minute shopping, carol singing and the countdown to bedtime can all be imbued with a sense of ritual that childhood memories are made of.
Look to the soul
If organised religion doesn’t do it for you, try to seek a spiritual dimension on Christmas Day through music, quiet meditation, a walk in the countryside (see below), or simply by reaching out to others.
It’s not natural to be cooped up all day; making time for fresh air and exercise will pay off in better behaviour and less stress all round.