Don't let your Christmas get out of control

 

Experts give their top 10 tips for enjoying the festive season

EVERY YEAR, we’re blasted with images of the idealised Christmas. The manicured home, the twinkling tree, a table groaning with food, smiling families exchanging beautifully wrapped gifts – expectations of a picture perfect Christmas can send stress levels rocketing.

Throw in alcohol, fatigue, family tensions, financial strain and an interminable list of household, social and work tasks and it’s easy to see how someone critiquing the parsnips can lead to an all out row. With just 10 days to go, our experts share their 10-point plan to keep you sane this season.

1It’s hip to be Scrooge: When thinking presents, sort the naughty from the nice, knowing the nice will understand if you can’t afford to give this year. With conspicuous frugality now de rigeur, start new traditions that reflect the times like Kris Kindle or “only the kids get gifts”.

But if you are buying Christmas presents, there’s just one golden rule, says Brendan Burgess of Askabout money.com, “Set yourself a cash budget and pay in cash.”

Burgess says a January payment date may seem do-able but miss the deadline, and you pay interest from the date of purchase.

“If you need extra cash, an overdraft or a Credit Union loan make far more sense,” he says.

2Don’t cook. Shop: “Logistically, for a single person to suddenly produce an extensive dinner for a huge number of people is impossible,” says Bridgestone Guidefood writer John McKenna. Don’t let Christmas Day turn into a frenzy of scrubbing, peeling and basting. His advice for a stress-free day is, “Don’t cook. Shop! Irish producers can give you wonderful salmon, sauces, puddings, pre-prepared hams and mulled wine. Accept your limitations, don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t try to cook everything yourself.”

3Make a list, check it twice: Dr Marian Faughnan, a nutritionist with safefood.eu, says, “Buying more food than you need is expensive and leads to overeating and waste”. She advises households to “plan your meals over Christmas, make a shopping list – and keep to it. The shops are only shut for two days, and freeze leftovers, you’ll be glad of them in January”.

4The big bird con: While advertisers would have you believe the turkey should be a whopper, food writer John McKenna says the trick to a low- maintenance dinner and a tastier bird is to “spend money on the smallest bird of the highest quality”.

5Family ties: All the family under one roof again, what could be nicer? Yet boarded up in the family home, parents and adult children can quickly slot back into familiar roles – the bone-idle brother, the martyr-like sister, the hyper-critical mum. Add in-laws and other people’s children and you’ve got dynamite.

Psychologist Marie Murray says, “There are battles we don’t have to win. If you can’t keep your cool, remove yourself from the group and wait until you’re calm before going back.”

For sibling rivalries she advises levity. “Think how wonderful it is that some things never change! Just remember you’re adults now – you don’t have to prove you are the ‘best child’ in the family.”

6Anyone for seconds? The only thing more frightening than playing charades with the in-laws is giving them all food poisoning. For all you need to know about buying, storing, defrosting, preparing, cooking and reheating food, check out safefood.eu, where you can also download its handy turkey-cooking calculator mobile app.

7Ghosts of Christmas past: Christmas can be particularly tough for those who have lost a loved one and the bereaved should be extra kind to themselves, says psychologist Marie Murray. “Don’t expect too much of yourself. Others should not be afraid to acknowledge that this may be a sad time for you – it’s okay to grieve and to speak about the person.”

8Lick the liquor: While ’tis the season to be jolly, too much booze can make you a bore. Drinkaware.ie advises avoiding rounds, have water between alcoholic drinks or opt for shandys and spritzers. Be a good host – use a spirit measure, wait until guests have finished before offering refills and if someone says no, don’t insist. Be a good guest by knowing your limits. If you do end up on the sofa, don’t drive the next morning. Designate a driver or have a taxi number to hand.

9Climb any mountain: Sleeping late, lounging in your PJs and watching TV – “it’s dark again before you ever get moving”, says Róisín Finlay of Outsider magazine. To up your mood and energy levels, Finlay says “force yourself out the door while it’s daylight”. She recommends the looped walks listed by county on discover ireland.ie, and says the Santa Runs, Goal Miles and RNLI swims happening nationwide are a great way to take the festive fun in the fresh air.

10Keep things moving: After three days of enough eating, drinking and watching TV to rival an episode of the BBC’s Royle Family, both your mood and metabolism will hit the doldrums. Kick-start your metabolism with water and greens, advises John McKenna. “Eat winter salads with celery, fennel or apple with your leftover turkey or hams. Go fresh, green and raw to cleanse the system and get everything moving again.”