Other working titles for this blog post have included: "How not to lose your mind and your money this Christmas", "The Mel Wiggins Guide to keeping it together and not wanting to kill people during the Christmas season" and '"OH LORD. CHRISTMAS CAN BE DRAINING". Catchy, right? This time of the year. Oh the merriment, the excitement! The parties, the presents, the rituals and traditions. There is so much to love, so much to savour. I love the time and space it brings to hang out loads with family, get creative, reflect, decorate, eat good food and generally slob out. I do love Christmas, but I'm also aware that every year brings the potential for this short period of 3 weeks to end up costing us a fortune financially, physically and emotionally. I'm so aware of how heavy it can be on emotions and nostalgia and often light on common sense and boundaries and it needn't be so.
So with this post, consider me your permission-slip-giver to have a healthy Christmas this year - your 'get out of Christmas with your sanity in tact' card, if you will. I write this as a reminder for myself as well as you so that we can all really properly find some rest and nourishment from this season and not end up back at our desks in January like a bunch of bleary eyed, bankrupt zombies.
Here are 5 permissions for us all to think about to avoid being overwhelmed this Christmas:
1. IT'S OK NOT TO BUY YOUR KIDS EVERYTHING THEY ASK FOR.
*Gasp* I know. They write their list. They post it in the big red postbox and then Father Christmas magics it under the tree. True. Mostly. Last year Levi begged us for a jelly/slushy maker thing that he had watched adverts for on TV (ugh. adverts are the number one reason we got rid of our TV). He talked about it non-stop for 2 months and so Santa brought it. We even prepared the jelly in the fridge the night before Christmas (yeah, it doesn't actually make jelly or slushies. It basically mushes your pre-prepared jelly into a slushy) so that he could play with it right away on Christmas morning. And he did. And that was the last time he played with it. It now lives in a plastic bag in the toy room. It was a legit big fat waste of money. Now, I know it's hard to know what kids are really going to enjoy and what is going to be a short-lived fad when it comes to their wishlists etc and I don't want to teeter too close to the Scrooge end of the spectrum here. There is something to be said about trusting your child and being tuned into and engaging their interests but it's also important that we, as parents, keep expectations in check.
We were sent this little set of blocks from Discovered (a really beautiful website of handmade goods that support global artisans by cutting out middle men and allowing makers to sell directly) and Levi has played with it non-stop. I mean, it's like some sort of hippy colony up in here now with these beautiful wooden toys floating about and no TV but genuinely he has had so much more enjoyment and imaginative fun from this set than any plastic jelly slushy maker thing could ever bring.
What I'm saying is it's OK to skip something on the list if you know in your heart it is going to be wasteful. Don't let the Spirit of Christmas Guilt make you think you are a bad parent or that Christmas will be ruined for your child if you don't get them everything they ask for. It won't. I promise. Keep it simple, set boundaries, give them loads of time to think about what they would like for Christmas and help them work it out.
2. IT'S OK NOT TO SEE ALL THE PEOPLE AND GO TO ALL THE THINGS.
This time of year is so lovely for catching up with friends and family or for having an excuse to dress up and head out for a night out. These things in moderation are just wonderful. Packing 3 family dinners, a visit to a long-lost uncle and auntie, coffee with your old Uni mates and a night out with work friends in one weekend is too much for one person. It is too much for two people. It is too too much and you will run yourself ragged. There are so many lovely things to go to at this time of the year and it would be so tempting to try and squeeze them all in because the FOMO (fear of missing out) is real but is it really how you want to spend your precious time off? You may come to the end of the holiday period and have seen dozens of people but not really have any idea how anyone really is or spent any quality time with anyone. I have been guilty of this in the past and it doesn't feel good. Now, the invites aren't exactly rolling in over here this year (it may be because of how much I talk about being chained to an unsettled baby at night - it makes me a lucrative party pal) but I already know who I am prioritising my time for over Christmas and what I really want to make space for.
3. IT'S OK FOR NOT EVERY MOMENT OF CHRISTMAS TO BE MAGICAL.
There is something about Christmas that brings out the real desire in people to make everything really super special. It's lovely isn't it? We put that little bit of extra effort in - we lay the table with a little extra pizazz, we take more care with our wrapping, we look for the warm moments or opportunities to be amidst the buzz of things. I love decorating and making things at Christmas - I love wreaths and holly and fancy linens and homemade treats. I do. I also love our growing traditions - watching Nativity, Home Alone (1 & 2 because Home Alone 2 defies the rule that the sequel is never as good as the original) and Elf on repeat all through December; making Christmas Cards and giving them out at the Old People's Home; making shortbread for our neighbours. These are little rituals that have just happened over the years and have now become treasured traditions.
What can really kill your joy is trying to cajole the Christmas spirit - trying to force the magic to happen. Dragging your family to Christmassy things that look all festive and fuzzy when really what they all need is a good long lazy evening inside in their jammies. Organising an outdoor Christmas photo-shoot with your entire extended family and a bag full of festive props may seem like a lovely memory-making experience when you see it done on pinterest, but it's cold, there are toddlers, and maybe what you need to do is just order in pizza, get round the table and have a photographer snap your family in all it's normal crazy beautiful glory. Over-organising and micro-managing the cheer is the least naturally magical thing ever and can be sniffed out a mile off. Consider this your permission to do ordinary things with the people you love and enjoy the moments now.
4. IT'S OK NOT TO GET CAUGHT UP IN THE GIFT-GIVING RECIPROCITY CYCLE.
Here's the scene: It's the week of Christmas and: a friend you haven't seen in 6 months leaves a box of chocolates and a card at your front door while you're out; or, your co-worker that you aren't super close to has brought in little hand-made gifts for everyone in the office; or, your parents' friend gives them a card with a generous voucher in it for you. Cue, mad scrambling for last-minute gifts and cards and hand-making things because you feel like you should return the favour and reciprocate. Here's the thing: you don't need to. It's OK. People should give gifts because they want to - not because they feel guilty for receiving them!
I have been here before and it is a real melter to scramble together a present for someone just because they gave you one first (not to mention a tad insincere). You can acknowledge someones kindness towards you without busting a gut or spending extra money (these little extras are how the budget gets blown at Christmas) - a simple thank you card in the post in the New Year, or a quick phone call to arrange a dinner after the holidays or even sending them a picture of their gift in action, showing them how much you appreciate it is enough to show your gratitude. Allow people to give gifts because they want to, not because they expect something in return.
5. IT'S OK TO TAKE A STEP BACK & LOOK AFTER YOURSELF.
Nobody is going to do this for you. I've tried. They can't. Christmas can bring up a lot of emotional baggage for people. It can be a lonely time, a tiring time, a reflective time and all of that can be taxing on your mental health. It's perfectly normal to feel a bit cooped up, worn out or sad - no matter how much you love your family, your friends and the Christmas atmosphere. Take time out. Go for a walk by yourself, drink lots of water in between those cherry brandy's, book a morning off to go and read a book in a coffee shop. Stop. Rest. Not just tidying the Christmas mess in your pj's kind of rest. Properly rest.
The best way to make sure you can enjoy this season and all the wonderful things it brings is to look after yourself.
I shall be revisiting this list myself over the next 3 weeks, keeping myself in check - making sure I'm well rested, not driven by unrealistic expectations (of my own or anyone else's) or needless guilt.
What about you? What do you find most stressful about the Christmas season? How can you give yourself some permission to take things easy? What are some of the ways you make sure you are not overwhelmed? I'd love to hear and add to the list.
If you're not already signed up to my newsletter list, now would be a GREAT time to do that as the next one is hitting inboxes THIS Saturday and it is full of some great content you'll want to read (when you are relaxing - not making presents or buying stupid toys or having stressful family photoshoots). Pop your email in the form below and it will magic it's way to you!