Why is it that so many of us groan at the thought of Christmas? Suzanne Green suggests we need to rethink our approach to the festive season
Recognise any of these comments?
“I can’t believe that shop has got its Christmas decorations up and it’s only September! It’s appalling! I can’t bear to think of Christmas yet.”
“I can’t wait until all the hustle and bustle is over and I can put my feet up.”
“I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas!”
It appears that many of us have a love/hate relationship with the season. Have you noticed?
• It’s fun to fill that Christmas stocking with sweets and little gifts that are just right for the person receiving it. But it can take hours to find the perfect stocking fillers, and adding up the cost can be depressing.
• It’s pleasing to make those American Christmas cookies that everyone raves about. But it’s exhausting rolling out the dough at midnight because you need to make just one more batch.
• It’s a creative challenge composing your family’s annual newsletter. But it’s soul-destroying when each and every photo you suggest including is rejected by at least one of your kids.
I love Christmas time and all of its traditions. But I understand the moaning. Let’s face it: if you are a woman, Christmas time activity is non-stop. There is always one more thing that needs to be done. Another gift to wrap, a cake to ice, a bed to be made up for your guests …
“Women produce Christmas,” said my friend Jennie. “If it were not for women, there would be no Christmas! We clean and decorate the house, buy the presents, wrap the presents, fill the stockings, decorate the tree, write the Christmas cards, post the cards and parcels, bake or buy the Christmas cake and the mince pies, buy teachers’ gifts, order the food, prepare the food, make gallons of mulled wine, write the thank-you notes, keep hold of the receipts, return the unwanted gifts …”
Jennie’s right. It’s full on. Maybe we start out happy and positive, ready to celebrate the birth of our saviour, but then we’re gradually beaten down by the physical and emotional demands put on us, the expectations we place on ourselves and the never-ending to-do list!
You would think women would support one another in standing up against this onslaught. But I think we actually put pressure on our sisters. Every year, earlier and earlier, we ask each other, “So, are you all ready for Christmas then?”
Though this question might be well meant, it causes me to go into a panic as I think about all of the tasks that I have yet to complete. And, when it’s asked three or four weeks before the big day, I start to compare myself with the other woman. How come she has got everything done? There are weeks to go!
If I am feeling cheeky, I answer the poor, unsuspecting lady with something like, “Yes, I’m all done. I’ve bought and wrapped everything. We have opened all the presents and I’ve returned the things that weren’t suitable. I’ve shopped and cooked the turkey, and we’ve eaten everything up. At the moment, we are enjoying turkey and vegetable soup from the leftovers!” I am usually rewarded with a blank stare … before the person makes a hasty exit.
I’ll bet there are many women like me who love Christmas, yet dread it. Oh yes, we’ve got visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads! But we’re also extremely stressed because the house should be decorated by now … but it needs to be cleaned first. And when will we fit in housework, given how busy we’ve been lately?
If we are going to experience the joy of the season, our workload has to be manageable. For years older women told me to keep things simple. But I ignored them. It’s very difficult when you are the sort of person who just won’t give yourself a break – unless I iron this tablecloth and use it for the Christmas table, the dinner will be ruined!
For years women suggested I get my family more involved in the preparations for the big day. But I held tightly to the reins, thinking that the Christmas Producer role belonged to me. Nobody could do it quite like I would, or would be willing to expend the same amount of energy. Therefore I needed to keep control.
However, in the past few years something has changed. I am not sure if it’s age or wisdom, but I’m no longer willing to let the Christmas holidays run me ragged. Somehow balance has come into the equation. I have had to let go of some things. But I’ve also gained, especially in terms of enjoying Christmas.
This has happened because I’ve asked myself:
• What is Christmas all about? Where should my focus be?
• What tasks and traditions are worth hanging onto? What can be let go?
• What jobs can my family do? What tasks do I want to continue to do?
I’m not sure if I ever sat down and actually went over these questions, but at some point they were asked and answered. The result: my sanity.
Of course the answer to the first question is the birth of Christ. Jesus is the reason for the season. We have to keep our focus on celebrating him, even though there are so many other demands for our attention. My last few Christmases have been so much better as I have put this above traditions and tasks. The season can run away with you if you let it. Don’t let it.
Though it has been a challenge, I’ve let go of some of the things I have always done. And I’ve found that everyone has a happy Christmas anyway! At times I have temporarily let something go. For example, there have been a couple of years when we didn’t send out a family newsletter with the Christmas cards, or perhaps we sent it out in January instead.
More radically, there was one year when I didn’t send Christmas cards. My career and domestic workload just didn’t allow it. And guess what: the world kept turning round.
This year, with daughters who are 19 and 22, I expect a lot of family involvement in preparing for Christmas. Not only will this be helpful to me, but it will also help them to enter into the season more fully. We women don’t do ourselves any favours if we teach our families that Christmas is a time when everything is done for them. They need to learn to give too – and not just from their purse.
I long for a time when, instead of lamenting the fact that Christmas is approaching, we are so excited that we just can’t wait! It’s the birth of our Saviour Jesus. It’s about love, and giving, and family time. It’s full of warm traditions that we can enjoy now, and our kids can one day teach their children. There is no room for “Bah, humbug!”
Do you have a love/hate relationship with Christmas? Perhaps this is the year to do something about it.
+ Suzanne Green is a freelance writer based in Edinburgh