Surviving Christmas with a smile on your face

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Christmas – the happiest time of the year right? Erm… maybe. Actually for many of us, Christmas is the time to be stressed. No peace on earth here… just a few arguments about where to spend Christmas Day. Or what to spend on the kids’ presents. Or old family rivalries rearing up after one too many festive drinks. A Christmas with no rows, tears or incriminations isn’t a fable though. Just like Santa Claus, you have to believe…

 

I blame all those fabulously cheesy Christmas movies for raising our expectations about the big day. There’s always snow on Christmas Day, lots of beautifully hung decorations, smiling children. The reality is somewhat different. There will be no snow – possibly some grey, horrible drizzle, but none of the white stuff. The Christmas tree will start dropping pine needles around mid-December. And as for the kids – there willbe smiles, then tears as they over-do the chocolate, break their brand new toy and fight with their siblings over what they got in their stockings. We all need to learn to lower our expectations, and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised when things turn out OK!

 

I speak from experience here. I live hundreds of miles from my family, have an autistic child and a husband who works shifts so the run-up to Christmas can sometimes make my head explode. One Christmas in particular – what we refer to in our family as ‘that’ Christmas –it all fell apart in a spectacular fashion. We drove through intense storms for hours to reach my parents in time for the big day. On the way, we narrowly avoided a tree hitting the car. We were diverted miles and miles away from our destination due to floods. The car was almost blown off the road. After a horrific journey down, we then realised we had forgotten half of the presents for our very much Santa-believing five-year-old… 

 

I’d like to say, I looked at my husband at the end of this journey and laughed out loud - but I’d be lying. I know I cried. I think I probably shouted. I definitely threw a stuffed bear at the husband. However, now three years on we do laugh a lot about it. It’s become a Christmas of legends. The one where everything went wrong - I also got flu on Boxing Day! What it made me realise though is we take this season of festivities way too seriously. When stress hits these days, I try and see the bigger picture and look at what I have got. After all Mary and Joseph had to have their baby in a stable and that turned out OK.

So with that in mind, here’s a few things that help keep me sane during the Christmas festivities.

 

1. Write a list

There’s a reason Santa kept a list – he knew he’d muck up those Christmas deliveries big time without one. I can’t survive my normal life without a list, but Christmas would literally be impossible to navigate without one. Write down one mega list and then break this down into daily lists. I love the app Todoist for this, as I can keep it on my phone and close by so if I remember anything that needs doing, I can jot it down. Choose what works for you though – my husband loves a written list. It really helps keep the craziness of festive preparation in check, especially when you can see it written down in black and white.

 

2. Put yourself first

True Christmas is about sharing and giving, but if your Christmas Day ends up looking like a relay race between your local streets, then it’s time reassess your plans. You’ll never please everyone, so don’t even try. Decide what works best for you and your family and stick to it. Guess what? Christmas happens every year so next year can be the turn of your in-laws. Which brings us onto…

 

3. No isn’t a dirty word

What is it about December that makes everyone absolutely desperate to catch up with you? The school mums, the work do, the uni friends and distant relatives all suddenly come out of the woodwork demanding a social drink or two. Well here’s the big news… you can say no. The world will not end if you don’t catch up with Aunty Barbara and your cousin Sue in December. In fact, pencilling in a date for January when everyone is miserable and cold can all give you something to look forward to – and also give your liver a break. The same also goes for huge present lists, demands for certain foods on Christmas Day… you get the idea. 

 

4. Choose your battles

Does it really matter if the kids binge watch TV? Or eat chocolate for breakfast? Or that your mother-in-law’s opinions on how to raise children is widely different to yours? For one day, bite your tongue. Yes, we know it’s going to be hard, but it will much harder to deal with the fallout of you and your EU-hating uncle trying to agree on Brexit…

 

5. Go outside

This is especially true if you’ve got a houseful of guests - a dash outside in the freezing cold can do everyone a whole heap of good. In fact, exercise throughout the festive season is a really great way of diffusing stress. A run, some yoga, a dance around the house with the kids all helps release serotonin, which in turn, makes you feel a whole lot happier. Try it in the run-up to the big day and you may be surprised how many issues you can take in your stride.

 

6. Remember this all will pass

And it will be January before you know it. The kids will be back at school. The turkey will be all eaten. The relatives, you can only just tolerate, will have gone home. Life will be back to normal and you’ll have a whole year to prepare for the craziness again!

 

7. If all else fails, open the Baileys…

In moderation, booze is definitely a helper, anaesthetising the festive pain. Suddenly those hyperactive children seem cute, your mother-in-law isn’t as annoying and the turkey doesn’t seem so dry. Well it is the season to be merry…

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