I have been very concerned by the number of stressed out people I spoke to in the days immediately leading up to Christmas. The desire for the perfect menu, properly wrapped gifts, and clean home after what sounded like weeks of shopping and writing cards, was reducing normally sane people to a frazzle.
In my last blog entry on the issue I had concluded that 8 days is long enough to prepare when you are no longer working. In fact after I posted that, Mister E and I disappeared off for another bout of DIY activity in Nottingham, staying four nights and returning only on the evening of Tuesday 20th December. That, of course, left only 4 days or half the time I had planned on.
Maybe it's a change of attitude in retirement; the lack of awareness of work colleagues getting ready or a Yoga and Pilates induced plane of freedom from anxiety. Alternatively and perhaps after all the years of pre-Christmas stress, finally the realisation has dawned that it is after all just one day.
Whatever, Caree has come a long way since 2013 when she was still only contemplating retirement and succumbing to the pressures of Yuletide planning whilst juggling her professional commitments. Then you will recall that she had the rather romantic notion that it might be nice to "do Christmas properly" for once; log fires, tinsel, entertaining and home baking with perhaps a Christmas carol or two playing in the background.
The following year and the first Christmas in retirement, preparation was much more relaxed but still following a familiar pattern, save that there actually was more time for planning and execution. I suspect however that by 23rd December I may have been having second thoughts as a flick back through this blog shows that I was extolling the virtues of Cuban life and, somewhat subtly I admit, raving against the pitfalls of the consumerist society with its luxury goods, overpriced necessities and brazen marketing.
2015, I recall, was a little more chilled until reality caught up after an incapacitating virus struck and upon recovery there was that inevitable last minute panic.
Manipulated by merchandisers rather than Church to believe that "Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year," for so many it ends up being the most stressful. Certainly that was the dismal vibe I encountered last week from the conversations I referred to above.
So how did my 4 days of preparations this year go?
Well there was a wobbly start when I discovered that the youngest was actually coming home for the holiday period from Texas a day earlier than I had written in my diary but a tranquilising Yoga session on Wednesday morning restored the Karma and that afternoon I cleaned her room before decorating it with tinsel and snowmen. There was even plenty of time for a cup of tea with a neighbour and another with Mister E before we went to meet her at the station. Upon our return a dose of jetlag meant she soon crashed out, leaving me free to take advantage of a subscription to Amazon Prime with next day delivery; Christmas present shopping done!
Thursday morning saw me in the Kinesis room at the gym, priming those muscles ready for any weight Christmas might throw at me. I spent the afternoon taking the youngest to the dentist and to make her own gift purchases. I succeeded in falling over ignominiously in the middle of the town centre when I tripped on the kerb but that's another story. Upon our return we indulged in a wrapping paper fest (my online order had arrived) and packed up the car with gifts that we then delivered to my mother's home.
On Friday I whizzed around our house with the vacuum cleaner. Mister E and the youngest went to do the major grocery shop and I wrapped more presents. Then at 3.30pm, I disappeared to meet like-minded friends in the spa attached to the gym where we work-out; a swim and laze in the jacuzzi preceded an early evening meal out together.
By the time I returned home the eldest was there too and our family Christmas would have begun in earnest except that the following morning (Christmas Eve) I had promised to work a shift in the charity shop for Save the Children. It's not quite like manning a soup kitchen on Christmas Day, but it did give me the opportunity to buy those Christmas cards that I am yet to post; obviously I chose winter scenes with blank insides for my own message; there is after all no point wishing anyone a Merry Christmas several days after the event. At 1pm, voluntary work over, I braved the last minute shoppers thronging the High Street as I went on a quest for items overlooked from the shopping list the day before. Whoever could have imagined that there would be a run on Christmas crackers in North Yorkshire? Four shops later, however, I tracked down a supply and, inventory complete, returned home.
Late afternoon the youngest and I embarked on our annual tradition of bedecking the Christmas tree at the eleventh hour. I tidied up our spare room ready for our Christmas Day overnight guest and the festive period began with a mince pie (bought not home baked) and a glass of wine.
I am proud to say that we enjoyed a fraught-free Christmas Day following the most relaxing run up that I can remember.
If anyone is thinking of following suit then my top tips would be:
- Cut back on the gift list (or try Secret Santa instead) and stick to consumables rather than trying to find the perfect present
- Only do essential cleaning; nobody is going to measure the dust in your house and subdued lighting will hide it
- Don't send cards if you don't have time; consider telephoning friends instead
- Restrict your decorations to a tree and one or two special pieces (vases of flowers or seasonal pot-pourri)
- Factor in plenty of time for yourself in the run up to your celebrations
- If you really have reached the nirvana of being totally chilled out about the whole thing, take yourself away for a long weekend just before
- Whilst Christmas may have appropriated the date of a pagan festival, it was never intended to be a mass consumer orgy and never forget, to quote from Robert Browning, "Less is more"
- Remember too that Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of a child, yet the world is full of children suffering because they are in the wrong place, disabled, a refugee, from a minority group or even because they are a girl. Reach out to help every last child.