I know, I know, its REALLY early to be thinking about Christmas, but I am. For the last few years we have started buying presents early to spread the cost, and this means that it’s in my mind already. Sorry.
I used to be pretty ambivalent towards the “Season to be Jolly”. I could take it or leave it. As a child it was exciting, of course, and I remember it as a time when we saw family and had lovely food; one of my Nans (sometimes both) would spend the day with us and Boxing Day would be at one of my Auntie’s houses or my cousin’s. It was a happy time. But as I got older it was a time of disappointing nights out at the pub, sometimes a hangover to nurse, too much expectation to Have A Good Time.
As an adult, before K and I were married, I always wanted to spend the day with my family. K was very kind and always made the journey down to my parents house, sometimes eating a second Christmas dinner when he arrived (pig!). When we moved in together I think we took it in turns to go to each other’s parents houses, but when we had both the children we agreed that we would like to spend the day at home, with our parents if they wanted to join us. We quickly fell into a pattern of one set of parents coming on Christmas Day and the other set on Boxing Day and then reversing it the next year. There has been the odd year when this hasn’t been the case: we had one year on our own as both sets of parents had been invited to our respective siblings houses (which was strangely nice albeit a little odd) and one year we went to my brothers house. I prefer being at home. I like having people here. I like cooking a lovely lunch and the opening of presents. But, even so, I never really looked forward to it as much as other people seemed to and was definitely a bit bah humbug when anyone mentioned it, in my opinion, too early.
Several years ago I caught the infectiousness of it. My fabulous friend, Mrs F, is a HUGE fan of Christmas the decorating and the present buying and the general, in her eyes, loveliness of it all. Her enthusiasm rubbed off and now I like nothing more than a Christmas section in the shops or even a Christmas Market. I like buying a new decoration each year, be it big or tiny and I love that a lot of what we have has special memories attached to it. We’ve developed a few small traditions: new pyjamas for us all on Christmas Eve (a borrowed tradition from Mrs F); a new decoration; a new board game; bacon sandwiches for breakfast on the day; making the cake with A in the weeks before; cooking a joint of gammon on Christmas Eve (as my mum always used to); table presents. Not many, but enough to make it more “ours”.
However, one thing that has never changed is the expectation. I always imagine the Perfect Day. Not helped by the adverts, social media, other peoples photos, the expectation becomes unrealistic. And then throw in the guilt.
In the months before, I worry that we are not generous enough with our gifts. Other people seem to throw financial caution to the wind and buy their loved ones laptops, phones, etc. We have always been more cautious, never wanting to be faced with a huge credit card bill in January. If the kids have made noises about something “big” we have encouraged them to contribute towards it. A laptop for T one year was half funded by us and half by him – through money he had saved or money from other people for Christmas. You get the idea. We weren’t in a position to spend a lot on them when they were little, before I went back to work, and I suspect that mentality has stayed with us. And I worry. That we should be less cautious. More generous. Spoil them. And I worry. I know we do what is right for us and our kids have never complained about contributing, or aiming their sights slightly lower. In fact, they are both pretty restrained when it comes to lists and I often have to ask for a few more ideas.
The expectation mounts the nearer it gets. Will we all be in a good mood? Will anyone be ill? Will we manage to diarise it all well enough so that we get to see everyone we’d like to see? Will the dinner turn out ok? Will there be enough gravy? (this only matters when it’s K’s parents turn to come for the day). Will it snow and stop people travelling?
The main question is “Will we have the Perfect Day?” On past experience, I would imagine the answer will be “no”. Of course it won’t be perfect. Something will ALWAYS happen to make it not so. Batteries missing from a toy, when they were small. Something broken within minutes of using it. Someone feeling unwell. Last year, it was one of the kids forgetting to shut one of the car windows the day before, it rained overnight and the inside of the car was “soaked through” (slight exaggeration but nonetheless enough to cause huge discontent and ill-feeling for a big part of the day) and was only noticed as K’s parents were parking their car, so the first hour of their visit was spent with K outside trying to sort it out, leaving me to entertain and cook and smile like a Stepford Wife. Not the Perfect Day I had imagined.
So, this year I am lowering my expectations. I am not going to try and control every element of it. (K has booked himself in for a flu jab so at least that shouldn’t rear its ugly head this year.) I am going to try and just enjoy it for what it is – a day to be with family, to eat (hopefully) yummy food and maybe open the odd present or two (hopefully the present won’t be odd, you know what I mean). I am NOT going to expect everyone to be in a great mood. I am NOT going to expect it all to go perfectly. I am NOT going to expect there to be no arguments or bickering. If we don’t get to see everyone we would like to, then so be it. I am just going to try and enjoy it.
I have made one small change this year. I have taken Christmas week off. Not a huge issue, it only amounted to 2 days leave taking into account the bank holidays and my usual day off. But I’m hoping it will make a difference to my mindset. Maybe this combined with my lowered expectations will mean I go to bed on Christmas night a happier bunny than in previous years. I’ll let you know.