Normally, my Christmas is the sort of military operation. I’ve been known to buy the first of the following year’s Christmas presents in February, I tend to get panicked if I don’t have the crackers before Bonfire Night, and if you stand still long enough in my house during advent, you’re likely to find a bauble glue-gunned to a limb. Or be swagged with pine. Or just possibly sprayed with glitter. And if anything doesn’t seem to be going ‘to plan’, I am, as a rule, not a happy camper.
But this year, Christmas is going to be a little more unpredictable in our house, and its taught me an excellent life lesson. On Christmas Day, we might be six – or we might be fourteen. (Which is quite a difference.) And I might not know till the day before. This is because there’s someone in the family who’s not too good health-wise, and they may or may not be up to making the journey. If not, then more than half the party – her children and grandchildren – will head to London for a scratch Christmas to make sure she’s not alone.
For a few years, I was smug about having organised our Christmas arrangements pretty ‘flawlessly’. It had dawned on me that we were hosting a dozen people every year, but they weren’t necessarily the same dozen. So in no uncertain terms, I informed everyone they needed to co-ordinate their Christmases, because we were only going to do one big Christmas every other year. (In between, we’d either go away, or quietly celebrate with two of us, or maybe accept an invitation to someone else’s Christmas lunch.)
And it worked. At least it worked until the younger family members started partnering up and having babies, which meant doing their duty to go to their partners’ families for the holidays. And since some of those families are fractured, we’re now in a three or four-year rotation, because there are two sets of parents to accommodate, as well as us. Duh. Didn’t think of that, did I? Chances of us all getting together again? Around zero, give or take.
So I have decided instead to quieten my inner Martha Stewart (who has rarely been far beneath the surface in previous years), and take a ‘whatever’ approach to what can be an unbelievably stressful time of year. Basically, it will be what it will be. I’ve got enough food to feed fourteen, and if instead we’re six, or maybe eight, I might invite some waifs and strays. I always admired my mother’s approach, inviting people who didn’t have anywhere else to go for Christmas. (Mostly she did this because a stranger at the dinner table meant that the children behaved far better than they would otherwise have done, but she also did it because she had a big heart.) Maybe we’ll do round up some ‘randoms’ – or maybe not, and instead spend a lot of time Googling ‘turkey leftover recipes’ in the aftermath. (And Tofurkey leftover recipes, if there are such things.)
All in all, even I – former Queen of Christmas, sequined trumpet-blower for all things festive and sparkly – am coming to the conclusion that Christmas has turned into a bit of a monster. The RSI from signing Christmas cards. The lists, the endless lists. The wrapping – and heck, I’ve always loved wrapping, but this year (partly for eco reasons) I’ve ordered personalised sacks into which to slip people’s presents, pull a drawstring – and then they can give me the sack back for next year.
Am I turning into Scrooge, in mid-life? I don’t think so. I’ve just got things a bit more in proportion. There have been some nail-biting health moments for people in our family, and for my friends, this year. One good friend died, actually. And so for me, it’s become more about spreading the kindness, cheer and generosity year-round – which nobody can argue that we definitely need more of, right now. Yes, we’ll have a tree. And lots and lots of pine branches, because I like the smell. But I am not, for once, going head to head with Regent Street on the decorations front.
I’m also reminded of a conversation with a friend, not long ago. She told me that her best Christmas ever was soon after she’d divorced and she asked her kids how they’d like to spend Christmas, and what food they’d like. Upshot is: they stayed in their onesies all day, and had pizza for Christmas lunch while watching videos. I’m going to leave you with that thought, as you frantically hunt for that recipe for Devils on Horseback canapés that you just know you tucked away somewhere.
I’m not sure I’m ready to be quite that laid-back for the holidays, yet. (Though in future years, who knows?) But what I do know is that I’m going to cut myself some slack, this year, in the hope of keeping the needle on the Christmas ‘Stress-o-Meter’ firmly in the green zone. Basically, in 2019, when it comes to Christmas, at our house it’s going to be a case of: ‘whatevs.’
As my darling step-grandchildren – who may or may NOT be here on 25th December – so love to say…