It’s that magical time of year again. The season to be jolly and a time for letting our hair down, kicking off our shoes and generally just rockin’ around that Christmas tree with a glass of champagne or two – or ten. Festive madness has arrived. And madness it is. Endless head-spinning preparation, abandoned spending that is completely out of character, and the inevitable round of parties – all of which leave you with the realisation that you should probably have gone into training for the big day back in August.

But whilst it might be the most wonderful time of the year, it can also be the most stressful, and statistics show that it seems to be women who take on the bulk of the workload in our quest for a perfect Christmas. And we do. From deciding to make the Christmas wreath ourselves (why oh why didn’t we just buy one?) and allowing absolutely NO ONE else to decorate the tree, to the frenzied navigation of packed shops for obscure gifts, the supermarket spree hell and writing cards to people we haven’t seen for thirty years, our ‘to do’ list is endless.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love Christmas. All the sparkle and excited anticipation. And it is a time for friends and family, but at no other time of year do we behave as if it’s utterly normal to be out till all hours every single night of the week and yet still decide to invite the entire street in for more drinks and tiny festive snacks at the weekends. There are endless parties, intimate cocktail dinners, catching up with old friends or even just a tipple of festive sherry with a great aunt you had no idea was still alive. By the time it comes to putting out a mince pie for Santa and playing ‘one for you, one for me’ with his glass of whisky, we are on our knees, exhausted from the sheer celebration of it all.

How on earth do we get through it with our sanity still intact?

Every year I tell myself that next year advance planning is the only way to go, and yet each year I leave everything – and I mean EVERTHING – until virtually Christmas Eve? We might mock those who announce smugly at the beginning of November that their Christmas shopping is done and that they’ve already ordered the largest turkey they could possibly source, but these are the people we see floating serenely through the season, stress free, and without that slightly deranged look we seem to have embraced by the time we arrive at these Christmas parties. But it does work. Obviously having everything in order by November is a bit of a stretch, particularly if you work, but just buying the odd present here and there, cards when you see them and the Christmas pudding as soon as it hits the selves goes a long way to ticking off just a few things on the list before Christmas Eve. Trust me, you’ll feel calmer.

I’ve also realised that I need to be realistic with my expectations for the day. If you’re anything like me, with a need for perfection that actually teeters over into OCD, we need to learn to accept that not everything can look perfect or run smoothly. There is always going to be something you have forgotten (usually ourselves…) and there is always going to be conflict in one form or another. The minefield that can be relatives on Christmas Day happens year in, year out. We know the children are going to attempt to slay each other over the remote control, and we know that the astonishingly old uncle twice removed is going to drink all the Port, bring up politics and lay out his own manifesto in a lengthy speech before sinking into a deep and noisy slumber in YOUR chair.

So over the years I have learned to just take some time out for myself and leave them all to it. Give yourself some time to breathe. Go for a long walk – it’s unlikely that anyone will want to join you under the groaning weight of the lunch you prepared. Or escape to the kitchen, half-heartedly toying with some clearing up (cleverly leaving most of it for everyone else) and put your feet up with another large glass of wine and the podcasts you haven’t had time to listen to all year. Even an hour alone in your bedroom, a few serenity and pine-infused candles burning and Christmas carols playing just loud enough to drown out the chaos below can make all the difference between dragging a feeble shadow of your former self into the new year or being that annoyingly serene, floaty person you secretly admired at all of those parties. 

It seems to me that in our mania to make sure we have a perfect Christmas, we forget that this time of year is supposed to be about having FUN. It really is about being a child again and just letting all of the negative wash over us. In many ways 2019 has been a hard year with the depressing uncertainty of politics and the environment across the globe. So I say – play ridiculous games, dance around the sitting room to loud hackneyed Christmas songs, drink too much, eat all the chocolate, go to bed far too late and don’t worry if the turkey clearly needs another four hours when you’re supposed to be sitting down to eat.

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