Is there any such thing as the perfect Christmas?
At this time of year we’re bombarded with images of smiling families sitting round a table groaning with festive goodies, or happy couples walking arm in arm along snowy streets dragging a Christmas tree behind them. Millions are spent on telling us that if we only buy Coca-Cola, have the latest iPhone or Mum went to Iceland, we’ll have the perfect Christmas. ‘So Here It Is, Merry Christmas’ booms forth from every store and twinkly lights festoon every surface. Covid-19 hasn't changed anything. Whenever you talk to anyone, it will be 45 seconds before they ask you if you’re ready for Christmas or what you’re doing for Christmas or whether you’re looking forward to bloody Christmas.
There’s such a lot of pressure to be happy at this time of year, to be surrounded by family and to have beautiful decorations that go viral on Facebook, that it’s easy to forget it’s supposed to be fun. We get hung up on whether we’ve posted the cards early enough or whether Aunty Ethel will like her present. Will Bill and George fight again? Will the children be sick with excitement or scream the place down because they didn’t get the right toys? Will Christmas dinner be good enough or will your mother in law roll her eyes at the roast potatoes and criticize the bread sauce? Do you have to visit relations when you’d really much rather stay at home?
Worrying about getting everything perfect, particularly if you’re hosting a family get-together, can completely ruin what should be a happy time of year. Comparing your Christmas with the ones on TV is a recipe for disaster. Firstly they have a huge budget for decorations, costume, food and fake snow. Everyone has a script. And most importantly, they can have multiple takes. If someone drops the tray of mince pies as they come out of the oven, someone shouts 'Cut!', they get another one out and try again. You can’t do that. You didn’t rehearse this and you can’t have another go if it goes wrong. This is real life, not TV.
In my experience there are two reasons why people stress about a perfect Christmas. Either they want it to be perfect for the sake of someone else, or they’re afraid that someone will judge their festive performance and find it wanting. That hits right on our vulnerable spot – our self-esteem. If you can’t get Christmas right, what use are you?
Christmas isn’t a competition.
I want you to think back to a Christmas from your past which you really enjoyed. What do you remember? The food? The presents? The venue? Or the people you shared it with? Has your life really been blighted to this very moment because you got Malibu Barbie instead of Gymnast Barbie, however disappointed you might have been at the time? If past Christmases were miserable, would a beautifully decorated tree or a perfectly roasted turkey been enough to make them happy occasions?
People judge you to make themselves feel better. If your Christmas tree isn’t as nice as theirs they feel pleasantly superior. It’s gratifying to feel they can cook a better Christmas dinner than you can. In their house nobody is sick and nobody cries because their house is an oasis of calm and order, apparently. But in yours, people are happy and love each other, and don’t care whether there’s pudding because they’re more focused on what really matters in life.
It’s only one day!
So forget the to-do list with a hundred festive preparations. Are you baking your own mince pies because you love to do it, or because you want to impress your guests? Are you trying to be in three places at once because you’re afraid to disappoint someone by refusing their invitation? Zoom means you don't have to leave the house but you can still only appear on one screen at a time. I bet you don’t shun your friends because their Christmas tree is a bit wonky and their mince pies came from Tesco’s, so why would anyone do the same for you?
Make a list of the things you WANT to do, not that you feel you ought to do or that someone will expect you to do. Make sure that ‘Enjoy myself’ is on the list. Put important events like your child’s nativity play on the calendar and refuse anything that clashes with it. If you know you need to be in bed by 10pm to feel human the next day, don’t accept invitations to things that don’t finish until 11pm. Schedule time for relaxation. Don’t forget that the usual things like laundry and shopping still have to be fitted in, and days in December still only have 24 hours in them, just like the rest of the year.
Your value as a person is not defined by the colour of your baubles or the quality of your party food. If your children fight, that isn’t a reflection of you as a parent but the effect of getting up at 4am, excitement, and far more sugar than they’re used to.
Be happy with your preparations. Don’t compare yourself with someone who has more money, more time, better camera filters, or more rehearsals than you do. Focus on making happy memories with the people you love. You won’t #stayhealthy by stressing over having a perfect Christmas, but you might by having a happy one.
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Caeredwen is a physical therapist, coach and counsellor based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If you would like to contact her in confidence you can reach her via email@example.com or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.