• How to have a Imperfectly Perfect Christmas 30 October 2017 | View comments

  • The secret to surviving (and actually enjoying) the festive season…

    If I see one more advert or piece of editorial about how to have the perfect Christmas, I won’t be held responsible for my actions.

    It’s not that I want to go all ‘Bah, Humbug!’ on you, but it’s taken me the best part of twenty years to realise that we’re being sold a lie with all this ‘perfect Christmas’ nonsense.

    Why? Because, put quite simply, the notion of the perfect Christmas is as much a misnomer as the perfect wedding, the perfect birth or the perfect child. There simply is no such thing. 

    What there *is* … is the wedding where the father of the groom trips over the front doorstep after collecting the cake and drops it on the floor the night before the big day – which still seemed perfect, despite those wonky hastily-stuck-back-on-with-icing-sugar flowers. 

    What there also *is* … is a dramatically fast and scary birth with no time for much-needed pain relief, never mind filling the birthing pool for the peaceful water birth you’d been elaborately planning for nine months. 

    Oh, and there are also the kids you got in the lottery of life, who are no more perfect than their far-from-perfect mother, but who you wouldn’t swap for all the tea in China.

    See? No such thing as perfect, no matter what Pinterest or Instagram try to tell us.

    And then there’s Christmas. With its financial implications, overloaded expectations and exceeded budgets. It’s no wonder Christmas is one of the most stressful periods of the year for many, and a time noted for being especially busy if you’re a divorce lawyer.

    Chuck in the pressures of family life – how to decide which set of in-laws to spend the big day with, whether the kids should be allowed to open all of their presents at 5am, and the whole question of how to make Christmas magical and memorable for your little people, even though you might be dealing with grief, relationship breakdown or money worries. It’s no wonder lots of us feel more Woe-Woe-Woe than Ho-Ho-Ho about Christmas.

    So, this year, I’m taking it upon myself to remind all and sundry that there is simply no such thing as the perfect Christmas, and that the secret to actually enjoying the festive season is to wholeheartedly embrace this fact.

    What that means in practice is accepting that families come in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes, and that not resembling the Waltons is no grounds for having a miserable day. Christmas, like life, isn’t about trying to live up to unrealistic ideals, to which none of us will ever attain. 

    It’s about sharing Christmas with random relatives who’ve never once offered to host Christmas at their house; tolerating ancient aunts with funny habits; turning a blind eye to Grandpa falling asleep in the middle of the starter; and enduring parents bickering over the right way to brown a turkey. And, at the end of the day, it’s about realising that the kids, for whom every Christmas is perfect, don’t notice or indeed care about any of that stuff.

    After all, the first Christmas, so the story goes, was far from perfect. No room at the inn, no crib for the baby, and surely a choice word or two exchanged between the main players about what on earth was going on.

    I’m not alone in believing that the secret to the perfect Christmas is to wholeheartedly embrace the imperfect, either. I undertook comprehensive research on this topic (ok, I asked my mates on Facebook) and one friend admits she aspires to be more like a particular mum of four she knows. 

    Does said mum pull off the perfect Christmas? She does, in her own way. She lets each child choose their favourite foods from Iceland and puts on an all-day buffet where everyone gets to eat their favourite things and mum gets a well-earned rest. Well done, that woman.

    “Not getting dressed up, eating what you really fancy – usually bacon sarnies, Christmas pudding and a box of Thornton’s chocolates – all washed down with a mug of tea, is my idea of heaven at Christmas,” admits another friend.

    One pal recalls a pearl of wisdom she once heard on surviving the madness of the average family festive season. “Every family has a drunken uncle or an unhinged aunty round the table at Christmas,” she says. “If you can’t think who that person is, then it’s probably you.”

    I honestly believe that the secret to your happiest Christmas yet lies in embracing these difficult truths. So do yourself a favour this year. Lower your expectations. Buy frozen Yorkshire puddings. Laugh at the lunacy of the motley crew gathered round your dinner table. And, above all, try seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child whose sense of wonder blots out the imperfections. (Unless you forget to buy batteries, and then nothing can help you.)

    Children don’t see the financial pressures, the emotional strain or indeed the point in eating sprouts. They see fun, gifts, festive togetherness, and at least several days ahead of getting away with chocolate for breakfast. What’s not to love?

    Don’t be afraid to rip up the rule book and do Christmas according to your own rules this year. Several friends of mine swear by going away for some quiet family togetherness at Christmas. But if you can’t get out of navigating tricky family dynamics or suffering traditions you don’t entirely fancy honouring, try embracing the imperfect anyway.

    Invest time and emotional energy in the little things that can make Christmas Day truly special. One year I took a walk to the beach with my middle child, who often ends up sandwiched between the needs of his older brother and younger sister. He’d literally never seen the streets so empty, so I indulged him with an impromptu dance all the way home right down the middle of the road. 

    I *might* have had one Baileys more than was strictly necessary at that point but it’s a memory he seems to cherish, and not a year has passed since where he hasn’t begged for a rerun of our Christmas street dance routine.

    It’s the little things that matter to kids. What they remember is small acts of kindness. Moments of tenderness and togetherness that cut through the rushing that we do so much of throughout the rest of the year.

    Christmas, ultimately, isn’t about any of the things we get so het up about. It’s about slowing down to meet yourself. Taking time to let your loved ones know just how much they mean to you. Choosing thoughtful, inexpensive gifts that mean more than money could ever buy. 

    Watching Elf together for the hundredth time and still finding it funny. Eating cheese as if it’s an actual meal choice. Hanging the hand-made tree decorations that make you feel a tiny bit more teary every year, and making space for small rituals that bind you closer together as a family and remind you that who you are together and how your day unfolds is the closest thing to perfect that you will ever know. 

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