I remember as a kid seeing the first glint of tinsel in the supermarket and the instant fission of excitement: Wow! It’s nearly Christmas!
Not so long ago, I greeted the same sight with a feeling of dread. Christmas already? Oh, no!
At its core, the Season’s celebrations are primarily around family. This is wonderful when everything is peachy at home but can serve as a cruel reminder if the family has changed in some way through the year. There’s nothing quite like having to split your holiday with a newly split family or eat dinner in the presence of the ‘empty chair’.
It’s not just loss that can create stresses at this time of year. Many of us are struggling to make ends meet and are facing the daunting prospect of going into debt in order to buy presents. And even the most functional of families can start to fray when you add heat, expectations, alcohol and a year’s worth of disappointments to mull over.
A few years ago, when death rocked our family in September and the December festivities loomed, we made the radical decision to just cancel Christmas. We still got together, but there were no presents, no Christmas tree and the main meal was a Jamie Oliver risotto. We held a ritual around candles to honour our loved ones and we breathed a collective sigh of relief that we didn’t have to fight our way through shopping malls, picking over bargains or asphyxiate in a kitchen baking dinners when it was hitting 40 degrees outside.
The ease with which that year’s celebrations passed made me aware of how important it is to minimize the stresses of the season. So in the spirit of sharing, here are my top seven tips of how to make it through:
1. If your family has gone through loss or change through the year, take time to have a chat about how Christmas or your festive celebrations should look well before the day.
2. Acknowledge anyone that is missing through a ritual that you agree on- perhaps sharing a story or setting a place at the table. Yes, it will remind you that they aren’t there, but seriously, has anyone really forgotten that?
3. Simplify the shopping as much as possible. Have lists, consider shopping online (if you have time) and consider postponing gift giving until after the January sales.
4. Simplify the cooking and preparation as much as possible as well. Consider cold cuts for lunch, cooking a few days before or, if entertaining, asking everyone to bring one dish.
5. My in-laws, and now my family have instigated a form of Kris Kringle across all adults- you are told a couple of months before Christmas who you are buying for and are given a budget (e.g. no one spends more than $70). It’s so wonderful to just shop for one person and get something decent that you know they will like.
6. On the day, take time out to have a break and breathe. If it’s really painful, remind yourself that it’s just one day and that you can get through it.
7. Dare I say it? Take it easy with hitting the alcohol. It’s like our entire culture has agreed that the merry season is the messy season and it’s okay to get totally out of control. I would be a hypocrite if I said “don’t drink”, but perhaps consider just taking a break, volunteering to be the sober driver, mixing up some marvelous fruity mocktails, drinking a tonne of water between vinos or waiting til the evening to start imbibing: that way your celebrations may end on a happier note!
Wishing peace to you all.