How to get through Christmas when you really don't like it
Every Christmas, I inhale deeply, put on my big girl undies and just deal with it.
I've been a parent for more than a decade now and my sense of how fleeting our Christmases are with young children is stronger every year. So I swallow my objections and get on with it.
That's not to say it's easy. Even though I'd rather cancel the whole thing and go sip cocktails in Fiji, accompanied by a rip-snorting novel, I want my kids to truly feel the magic at this time in their lives. I'm sure one day I'll get my chance to ignore the whole exhausting deal, but not just yet.
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Accepting that I don't love Christmas is a big part of getting through it. I no longer berate myself for not being the mother who decorates the house with joy (though I do make it a happy occasion for the kids), whose heart jumps at the sound of Christmas carols in the shops and who lives for planning the annual Christmas meal.
I have no great reason to dislike Christmas, unlike many people, who are bereaved, have bad associations, are isolated from or have difficult relationships with family. I simply become overwhelmed and, not being a person of faith, I find very little meaning in it.
Of course I love to see family and friends, but the stresses of gift-buying, end-of-year school commitments of three children, school holidays while working, summer holiday planning on top of all the regular demands of life, well forgive me if it all gets a bit much. And I find the rush to see everyone before Christmas a little ridiculous when we could all be doing that throughout the year. I really do try to tap into the ritual aspect of it that others find so satisfying, but nearly always fall short.
I do have some good-natured envy of those who embrace and love all the chaos which comes with the festive season. I genuinely love their joy and the fabulous sense of warmth they get from Christmas. My Christmas-loving friends and I engage in a good deal of anti-Christmas mirth - usually in the form of Grumpy Cat and early decorating memes.
So with all this said, I present a list of ways I get through Christmas, as a person who simply doesn't like more chaos than I already have (I have enough chaos; I have three boys):
Acceptance that it's an ordeal for me. That my desire for my children to experience its magic trumps my dislike of Christmas.
2. Never bring others down
My No.1 rule is to never affect the joy others find in Christmas. This is not solely for the sake of others - it makes me feel really flipping virtuous and gives me a productive reason for my restraint.
3. A degree of faking it is required
I usually pride myself on being totally genuine, however some situations call for a "fake it 'til you make it" approach and this is one of them. If my children and others are to enjoy their Christmases to the full, I'm not going to mope around and whinge about every Christmas thing that annoys me.
I assume a slight smile, put on some tolerable Christmas music like Boney M, then we decorate the tree. When sitting through a very long end-of-year school assembly, I daydream, hold my head in an interested manner and just smile and clap, smile and clap, then de-frag with a friend that evening over a glass of wine.
Find the Christmas music that annoys you the least. Boney M, perhaps? Video: YouTube/DiscoTerra
4. Find joy in the small things
This one is a biggie. Things like my two-year-old getting excited about tinsel on a tree, the cinnamon smell of a festive candle, eating a traditional dish only served at Christmas, going on a family drive to look at Christmas lights, seeing that old friend who is in town.
I don't have to love the whole deal, but I certainly look for things to enjoy on my own terms.
5. Remember my gratitude
I'm not really into the gratitude memes that are so prevalent now (probably a Gen X thing, thank you very much, Winona Ryder). A rare one will resonate with me and I think it's great that others find them useful. I just generally don't, but it doesn't mean I don't stop to remember what I do have.
Isn't it really so wonderful that my life is so very full of healthy, rambunctious children that I even have the opportunity to get overwhelmed by it all? That I get to watch the five cousins play together every year and marvel at how much they've grown.
That I partake in a feast and spend time with loved ones who are still with us, while remembering those who aren't. That we have enough resources to have a decent celebration. When I feel the grump setting in, I remind myself of these things.
6. Have a sense of humour about it
I like that friends send me Grumpy Cat memes. I like that we engage in jokes every year about how grumpy I must be.
I can make fun of my dislike of Christmas and allow others to make fun of me. It's a way of releasing the tension, connecting with others in fun ways and just having a good chuckle.
7. That with a dislike of Christmas comes a love of other things
Like Boxing Day. I love Boxing Day. I wake up and realise it's the longest possible time until Christmas again and, oh, that is a most joyous, incredible feeling.
And January 1, the day when the tree comes down and I gleefully pack away all of the Christmas paraphernalia for another year. I really do swan around in my now-minimal home and grin and skip a little to very non-Christmasy music. Also the subsequent weeks where I get to bellyache about all the decorations left up well into January. That's fun, too.
So that's it, seven little things which turn out to be quite big things when you add them all up. And somewhere in there is some actual enjoyment of Christmas.
Just don't tell my friends - I have a reputation to uphold. Bah humbug.