Let it first be known, I am not at all the Grinch. When it hits December 1st I will already have the lights out ready to go up, and have been singing carols for several weeks (possibly irritating neighbours and my husband). If there's a choir to be joined I will be in it; if there's tinsel to wear, you'll find it around my head. Christmas conjures up delightful thoughts for me: memories of open fires and watching A Muppet Christmas Carol with family; helping my Mum make huge quantities of fudge; wrapping gifts hastily with the bedroom door wedged shut so none of my siblings would appear and spoil the surprise; doing the rounds with a bowl of nuts and raisins while we waited for dinner to cook; and lately, mulled wine and laughter with a houseful of friends, or a pub full, or wherever really!
Christmas celebrations in my life have been a beautiful mix of the silly and the sacred - dashing around the house wearing everything I've been given, even if that's pajamas, several scarves, three necklaces and a pair of heels all at once, and sitting in a candlelit church, murmuring words I've known by heart since childhood, lifted by the joy of them. I don't see my madcap festive escapades as incongruous beside the reflection and songs of a Christmas service, any more than I would think it was wrong to be sipping mulled wine one evening and watching a friend's nativity play the next. I know not everyone will consider Christmas in the way I do, but I think there is space for everyone to appreciate it for what it is: a time of hope. BUT - and here is the confession part - every year I find there's a spectre on the horizon, and it isn't one of Dickens' ghosts. It's stress.
I suck at managing stress over Christmas. I say yes to way too many things, because they all seem fun, or I want to be helpful. Before I know it I've got two weeks straight without a single evening to myself between choir rehearsals, dinners, piano practice, desperately trying to tidy my home sufficiently to entertain guests without embarrassment, and falling into the annual trap of thinking I need a different outfit for every event. Suddenly the pure happiness of carols and family reunions are marred by the necessity of finding a Christmas jumper for the charity fundraiser day, a lack of napkins, or the fact that I seem to be the only one not making their own mince pies because as much as I love baking I just haven't found the time yet. I'll stand in front of shop windows and wistfully gaze at cashmere I can't afford, and roll my eyes at tv adverts suggesting dropping several hundred pounds on jewellery is a good idea, when I know full well I've hardly got a hundred pounds to cover my entire family's gifts. I'm not the Grinch - but this kind of Christmas stress definitely is.
Additionally (I may as well get all my confessions into the open), I am very bad at sending Christmas cards. I write them all out and then forget to post them. I never keep addresses in the same place so find myself leafing through five different notebooks in the hope that I won't have to admit my incompetence to an older, more sensible relative who actually knows where their address book is and keeps it up to date. This year when digging out the cards I bought in last year's sale (I did at least manage that), I found a whole pile of cards from 2013 which I never posted, some of them even with stamps on them. My poor relatives must think I don't care - the opposite is true, but for some reason Christmas has this ability to raise great intentions in me that I struggle to follow through on. I would hate to be thought of as flaky, but honestly, on this point it does seem like I am.
At Christmas my aspirations to be the perfect hostess have the most unpleasant of results. What started as a genuine desire to make other people happy evolves into a narcissistic obsession with being perceived in the 'right' way by those others: worrying that I'm not a 'proper' grown-up if I can't throw together a three course meal without something going wrong; expecting that people who visit my home will see me as a failure because it's not as tidy as it should be. The little voice in my head loves to repeat all these worries until I'm almost convinced that they are my friends' real opinions, which is unlikely really when I consider that I have very honest and realistic friends who are definitely not friends with me because I'm the next best thing in home decor. Why is it that I let a celebration that is not about me at all turn into a big case of the POMs (the Poor Old Me's)?
This year I have no tree. There isn't a space in the house, and frankly I don't have the time or money to go and get a specially-sized one to perch somewhere that it's going to be in the way, just for the sake of fulfilling expectations. I am buying a job lot of stamps at the supermarket on Monday, and dropping my cards in the local postbox on my way to work the next morning. If I've forgotten any, I'll just have to send an email. When I have 12 people for dinner this week I'm using paper plates because I don't have enough crockery and I am not going to borrow more to keep up appearances, nor am I going to make the dessert from scratch if I've been at work all day. The gifts I give will be small tokens and not extravagant gestures, because as much as I believe my family and friends deserve the world, I know I can't give it to them. My priorities are making sure the people I love know I value them, and if I come off as lacking in effort just because I spend less or haven't got it all together, frankly I dont think that's a competition I want to be part of anymore! Christmas stress is ridiculous, it's destrucive and frankly it goes against all the joy that Christmas is meant to bring - it obscures the true message by distracting me from what's important.
So this is my confession. I am vain and I worry about appearances too much. I want too much to be perceived as perfect at at least something, but the reality is I can't be. I am not a perfect housewife, or hostess, or gift-giver, or rememberer-of-cards. I do not have a 'festive wardrobe' ready for the 'party season', even though I sometimes wish I did. I will forget someone and have to grab a box of chocolates from the back of the cupboard, and they will know that's what I did but feel compelled to be nice about it. I will burn something. I will run out of ribbon. I will disappoint the in-laws on some level. That's just the way it is, being an imperfect human. Some things I can improve on, but what's the purpose of it all really? I'm trying so hard to get my priorities right, and ridiculous Christmas self-imposed stress needs to be kicked off the priority list.
If you don't get a card, don't think I don't love you. It's probably sat in a box in my house, and I can't find it.