Thursday 30 November 2017

The Myth of the Perfect Christmas

   Oh how I wish it would snow.
   White Christmasses are becoming a thing of the past. It's our own fault, of course, but the thought that my 7 and 3 year old nephews will never know a white Christmas is kind of sad. I haven't seen one since I was a kid. See, in the UK, rain is the weather of every season, and here in the South West, the danger of flooding is real. It's just too mild for snow, and while it's true that January and February are the coldest months of the year, we're still seeing temperatures of 13 degrees Celcius in late November. How did we ever see snow at Christmas?! And yet even on UK Christmas TV and films, there is always snow at Christmas. Because that's the Christmas ideal - which is incidentally hilarious because the fall of a single snowflake sends the country mad with weather warnings. In the US things don't seem to get bad until the snow reaches half a foot. Over here, the snow doesn't even settle. Frost is the closest thing we get to a white Christmas. Exhibit A:

Perfect Month Syndrome
   I was reading this month's Women's Health magazine (50) - I find the magazine disappointing so I rarely ever buy it, and yet my 3-year subscription to Women's Fitness has proven to be immensely valuable - and there was an article in there about Christmas stress. Now, it wasn't so much the 'How to Christmas-Proof Your Brain' title that drew me in, because I love Christmas and don't want to Christmas-proof anything. Instead, it was the image of tinsel, the flash of red, and the ribbon on the following page. And so I read.
   PMS - but not that kind of PMS - is a fresh term meaning 'perfect month syndrome', and it's safe to say that many of us suffer from it, brought about by wonderful Christmas memories. Others suffer from a contrasting condition brought about by bad Christmas memories, but it works the same way: we're clinging on to the past rather than trying to make fresh Christmas memories and letting things go as they will. Instead it's an attempt to recreate those perfect Christmasses (or hiding from Christmas and shunning every hint of it because you're lingering on the past).

   Sally Brown of Therapy That Works states that we 'look back on the Christmasses of our childhood through rose-tinted glasses, so when you grow up, you go into a frenzy of organisation and spending in a bid to recreate that 'special time'. But you're trying to recreate something that never really existed; it was never perfect - in reality, there were tantrums, tears and disappointments.' And when I stop to think about it, she's not wrong.
   I'm lucky, though - all I remember are the good things. In fact I had a damned good childhood, even though it turned out we never had any money, always went on holiday to Devon or Wales and stayed in my grandparents' caravan, and my parents argued a lot (which will happen when one of them is diagnosed with a debilitating disease and neither know how to handle it). I only have good memories, and I regret only one thing.
   We also had great Christmasses with loads of presents.

   The trouble with that last thought is that, alongside trying to recreate those 'perfect Christmasses', I can't stop at buying just one good gift for everyone. And my younger sister, who has very little money and two kids, is trying to give them the same kind of Christmasses we had, and she can't afford it. So she cuts immense corners in order to do so, rather than create her own Christmasses.

Is It So Bad?
   No. It isn't - as long as you don't let that obsession get in the way. I still try to make plans with everyone in my address book, but I'm lucky that I have such a small family and friends I can count on one hand because I have few gifts to buy and few plans to make. But I still make those plans because I want to soak up every ounce of Christmas, and because I need the escape from the stress of my business. As much as I love the work and love the thought that most of what I make through November and December will be given as gifts, it can quickly get on top of me. I'm not used to large volumes of orders, so I kind of fall apart come mid-November.
   But trying desperately to fit those plans in around other matters - especially a few things Seeg and I are going through this year thanks to Brexit that are more than simply 'getting in the way' - isn't the way to go. And neither is obsessing over not having 'enough' gifts for each individual person.

Take The Pressure Off
   For a lot of people, family is non-negotiable. They have to gather, and should someone decide to give it a miss one year, a few relatives may well take it as an offence. Well, if you need a small Christmas, take it, don't worry about causing people imagined insults, but if you do all get together and you're the host, rather than trying to plan games and events, take it one step at a time. Everyone visiting is just as stressed as you, and sometimes all they all really want is to sit down with some hot chocolate or mulled wine and have a catch-up. No fancy canapés, no copious amounts of booze or Christmas music - try to keep it simple. Make sure it's about the company.
   Christmas shopping fills so many with dread. My advice is to make use of the internet. If you're venturing out of the house, make an event of it, don't make it all about gifts, and if there's something in particular you want to get someone, buy it online and use click and collect - you're guaranteed to find it, beat the crowds and avoid delivery fees, but you can still browse for funsies while you're there. Alternatively, you could skip the shopping centres altogether and go online. I only head out to shopping centres once and that's just to look at decorations and soak up some festive feels. And, I won't lie, for the free chocolates in Thorntons and Hotel Chocolat while I'm there picking up things for our advent calendars.
   Christmas food - keep it simple, and make what you can in advance. Look to spices and seasonal produce rather than fancy meats - a lot of the time, it tastes the same. But yo can seriously dress up the same turkey you have every year with a new sauce, stuffing or spice rub. Cooking can even be theraputic, and even more so when you're not cooking to a deadline laid down by grumbling bellies. Make sauces, canapés, sides and desserts early and, for goodness sake, make use of your freezer.
   Christmas traditions and rituals - Christmas will still be Christmas without them. Even just skipping one can take the weight off your shoulders and make the whole holiday seem smoother and easier because you'll have broken the stressful cycle. You'll realise Christmas can still be 'perfect' without it.
   Christmas may be a time to gather and be social and you're reminded more often to think of others, but don't forget to take time for yourself. Try to pencil in some workouts, be it HIIT, yoga or even just a walk. The endorphins released during any kind of exercise are faster-acting and longer-lasting than food or alcohol. Or perhaps try a lovely festive bath with some fancy Lush products. I always take one after my last post-run of the season to celebrate the end of my work year.

   But most importantly this festive season: enjoy yourself. Don't let the magical time of year, with all the lights, tinsel and marvellous spices on the air, become tainted by papercuts, an over-flowing to-do list and debt. Because, in the end, it's just one day, a few weeks, a month, depending on how you want to look at it, and the more work you put into it, the higher the expectations of Christmas and the greater the opportunity for disappointment.
   Make each Christmas new - don't try to recreate what never existed. Make new memories and enjoy the run-up as much as the event itself.


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