Every year in December we lose our collective sanity. It starts when Micheal Bublé and Mariah Carey emerge from their hibernation to awaken Christmas via supermarket radio playlists. Everything becomes cinnamon- and pine tree-scented. You can’t buy a jumper without a cat wearing a Santa hat on it or a mug without “Nollaig” scrawled across it. Emails are coming about Secret Santa and reminders that ONLY SPARKLING WINE is included on the set menu for the work do – real Champagne will incur an extra €15 per head surcharge.
We are overwhelmed and overstimulated. We are dissociating in shopping centre car parks. We are sending increasingly passive-aggressive texts to the sibling WhatsApp reminding the stragglers to chip in for Dad’s present. We are hot glue-gunning school nativity play costumes at 3am, questioning the choices we made that led us to this moment. We are envying our Muslim friend who is looking forward to a quiet few days off work at the end of December eating non-denominational discounted boxes of Quality Street in peace.
It’s time to remind ourselves that Christmas and December is a time built on lies we tell ourselves and others. Sometimes subconsciously. It’s time to take a step back and realise that a lot of things we force ourselves to do or believe during this period are absolutely insane. Like unwanted gifts, here are some things we could shed in order to actually bring ourselves peace and joy this year.
1. The Christmas catch-up
There is something lovely about making time for the people in our lives we haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to as we would have liked throughout the year. Things get busy. Texts you’ve been meaning to send sit in drafts. Voice messages don’t get responded to. (Honestly, please just stop sending voice messages. “Just sending a voice note because it’s quicker.” Quicker for whom? Not the recipient, that’s for sure.)
It is nice to organise dinner and drinks plans while town is decorated with twinkly lights and the pub’s urinal cake smells are disguised by fresh Christmas tree garlands. But I find the whole thing takes on a sort of mild desperation. “We must meet up before Christmas” gives it a frantic time limit. We must see everyone we’ve ever known or cared about before December 25th or the relationship will be irrevocably damaged. If we don’t go for drinks with the university gang or the lads from five-a-side, they won’t be our friends any more. The alliance between us will be broken. We will start a blood feud that will be continued by our children and our children’s children.
For some there is rationale behind the madness – Ireland sadly remains a country of people who feel they have to leave to have a chance at living the life they want. Returning emigrants only have a short amount of time over the Christmas period to see everyone. But for everyone else we have to remind ourselves that our friends will still be there in January, and catch-ups can be organised at any point of the year. Preferably when every other group of people in the country aren’t trying to book the same venues or fight for the same taxis to get home at the end of the night.
2. Children’s Nativity plays
Uninspired. Derivative. And we all know how it ends. The plot twist is obvious. There are too few characters with meaty parts so most kids get lumped with being a nonspeaking tree or a sheep. Thousands of children every year in this country are subjected to the indignity of being a live, silent piece of stage setting. There is also something a bit weird about making a little girl with her mother’s third best white sheet on her head pretend she just birthed a plastic doll in a cardboard stable. Maybe I’m just bitter that I was never chosen to be Mary, and have a lifelong distrust of girls who were. I have a suspicion that the Venn diagram between former Nativity Marys and the colleagues who say “Good afternoon” when you walk in at 9.05am is a circle.
3. Panic presents
The ones you grabbed so “they have something to open” or overspent on because you wanted to show them you thought about them. We often think giving a crap present comes from thoughtlessness or a lack of care or insight into the person we care about. But sometimes it’s a result of overthinking and anxiety. Some of us are so stressed about giving the wrong impression we second-guess the best ideas and leave it too late because we want to make sure we researched every option on the market. So give a service instead of a gift. A deep house clean for a loved one dealing with fatigue. An offer of a day’s babysitting for parents needing a bit of head space. Healthy freezer meals for someone struggling with mental health. A session with a stylist at home for someone who has too many clothes but can’t ever find anything to wear. We all have something in our lives that might be a small job for someone else but is weighing us down because it’s on the insurmountable pile of things we have to sort out. Lightening someone’s load is a much better present than an overly scented luxury bath bomb pack. That’s just giving someone the gift of a future UTI.