‘A perfect Christmas: The stress is up there with divorce, death and moving house’

Managing present expectations and arguing about traditions awaits me this year

 Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and sons, from left, Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie at their home in Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and sons, from left, Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie at their home in Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

“You should probably start writing your letters to Santa,” I said to my children. It was still November, but I was thinking about how much I had to do in such a short space of time – and one of those involved beating The Late Late Toy Show and the potential sudden mind changes that it can bring.

I did a quick google recently.

Divorce, death and moving house were listed among the most stressful events in our lives – but surprisingly there was no mention of managing Christmas expectations.

It’s not that I’m the Grinch. Far from it – I’ve always loved Christmas. My favourite Christmas movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and I think I may possibly be married to Clark W Griswold’s real-life alter-ego, but with such a love of Christmas comes a pressure to make it perfect. A perfect Christmas with all of us enjoying every single moment and aspect of it and ne’er a cross word spoke.

So we’re doomed from the beginning.

Christmas traditions in our own families varied significantly. Some we’ve combined, some we’ve compromised on, some we’ve started anew and some we still argue about every year.

Every. Single. Year.

It seems Santa didn’t wrap the presents he brought to my husband’s home.

“What do you mean Santa didn’t wrap your gifts?” I asked incredulously, on learning it for the first time as we contemplated our own daughter’s first Christmas morning. “Sure part of the magic is the anticipation of seeing what’s inside the wrapped parcels,” I continued, convinced my in-laws had some rather outlandish Christmas notions, and adamant Santa would wrap ours – as was surely normal practice.

Visiting Santa

Less controversially, we have continued with visiting Santa on my birthday every year – a tradition left over from my own childhood and thanks to having so many younger siblings a tradition that’s meant my daughter will be making the annual pilgrimage for the 18th time this year. Even Santa has spotted our custom, remarking “ah it’s the Von Trapps again” upon encountering us last year, evidently oblivious to the less than tuneful version of Imagine Dragon’s Believer that was being belted out by two of the boys as they waited in line.

We always stayed at home on Christmas Day when I was a little girl, while my hubby, his parents and siblings made the trip to the big smoke to have Christmas dinner with his gran and extended family. There hasn’t really been a need for debate here as the years have passed and our family has grown. These days we’re about as popular with potential dinner hosts as we are with babysitters – both run screaming in the opposite direction at the prospect.

And so, thankful that we are our own version of “rent a crowd”, Christmas dinner takes place in our home. The turkey and ham are cooked on Christmas Eve and the smell of Christmas fills the air – except that time in 2010 when it didn’t. The great snow had come and there was yet another new Hogan on the block. A call came from the kitchen to say that the bird wasn’t browning. “For God’s sake, I’ve just grown and birthed a baby bigger than the bloody turkey, do I have to do everything?” I complained, selectively forgetting that he always cooks the Christmas meats. That was the year that the schools closed for much of December, getting to the shops was a nightmare, I had a six-week-old baby and my cooker packed in on Christmas Eve!

Miscarriage

There was a time for a while that Christmas lost its magic for me. A time following a miscarriage at Christmas when the lights and the carols reminded me of the baby I should have had. And though I went through the motions of Christmas for my other children it was the birth some years later of a very special Christmas baby that finally healed my heart. The one who sees having a birthday so close to Christmas as a wonderful thing, “because everyone is so happy”.

“We’ll put the tree up in a few weeks,” I offered to my three- and five-year-olds, by way of consolation for removing the Halloween lights. “Now let’s get those Santa letters written,” I continued.

“It’s a bit early to write to Santa,” my Christmas baby perked up. “Not at all,” I replied. “He’ll need lots of notice from a house with this many children,” I added, while grimacing internally at the thoughts of the overtime the Chief Elf faced with all the present-wrapping that lay ahead . . .

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