Christmas. Such a loaded word. Such a loaded idea. For many the perfect Christmas is a time for people whom you love to come together, share each other’s company, exchange gifts, eat delicious food and maybe drink a bit more than is wise, wear silly paper hats and play some silly games.
What could be better or more delightful than some Christmas festivities to lighten this darkest and coldest time of the year? If only it was so simple! The older I get (yes - I hate that expression too!) the more I feel that Christmas has become so loaded with the weight of expectations that it is buckling under the strain. Undoubtedly the virus has made it worse. Last year we were promised ‘five days of Christmas celebrations with all our family and friends’ which was cruelly cancelled when, with just a week to go, new rules forbade social contact in all but the smallest, safest bubbles. This year was meant to be so different, and therefore so much easier, but with Omicron on the rise there is, as I write, considerable confusion about what we might be wise to do.
So I’m proposing that we swerve away from all notions of The Perfect Christmas, dial down our expectations and, instead, create ‘the Good Enough Christmas’.
The Perfect v The Good Enough Christmas
1. People - Who would you really love to enjoy Christmas with if you had a choice? Make a mental guest list now and think about all the people you’d ideally like to spend time with over Christmas. Now think about the people who will actually be there and consider the discrepancies between the two lists. The reality is that we don’t choose our families, especially if they are ‘blended’ and complicated by both marriage and divorce. Most families have annoying people in them, or people with whom you have ‘history’ or people who suck the oxygen from the room. For me Christmas becomes ‘good enough’ when I am in the company of at least one person that I love and that I know loves me in return. If I also have to endure my son-in-law’s sister’s father-in-law Derek who is a pompous ass, then so be it. After all, I hopefully won’t have to see him for another year!
2. Presents - There was a time when I was always on the lookout for ‘the perfect present’ for my nearest and dearest. I’d imagine their faces being suffused with pleasure as they opened my lovingly wrapped gift and say: “Wow! Thank you - how did you know that this is exactly what I’d set my heart on?” I do remember a brief few years when we’d buy presents for our young children which we knew they craved and their delight often at around 3 a.m on Christmas morning was palpable. But I’ve given up on all of that. I have no idea what my children and grandchildren long for and there’s a chance that I may not even have heard of it! So I now settle for the family gift lists that get passed around, preferably with links to specific websites so that I can just ‘click and order’,wrap it with the minimum fuss and know that the gift will be neither a surprise nor a disappointment on the day. That’s good enough for me.
3. Food - In times long past I was always on a strict diet in the run up to Christmas. This was so that my perfect Christmas could be an incredible overindulgence of all the foods that were forbidden to me for the rest of the year. My particular favourite was Christmas cake which my mother made with an extra thick layer of marzipan and royal icing conjured into stiff peaks on the top to resemble snow. Goodness knows how I found room for this just after the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day, but the whole point was to eat as much as possible, including half a tin of Quality Street and a whole Terry’s Chocolate Orange, until you were lying on the sofa like a beached whale groaning in agony. My ancient digestive system now winces at the thought of such sugary laden excess. Good enough for me now is to eat slowly, savour and enjoy the delicious food and stop stuffing my face when my body tells me to.
4. Decorations - When I got married in 1970I fancied myself as an interior designer. I loved decorating rooms to make our living space as beautiful as possible, so when it came to Christmas decorations, perfection for me would be colour coordinated and extremely tasteful. No wonky old fairy or star fashioned by my kids in infant school for the top of my elegant tree! I think that I had delusions that it could pass muster on the cover of Homes and Gardens under a banner proclaiming “The Perfectly Decorated House at Christmas. Tricia Cusden Shares her Secrets.” As I am never at home on Christmas or Boxing Day I no longer decorate my living space beyond lighting the odd pine scented candle, but the homes I’m invited to are traditionally festive rather than festive perfection and that’s good enough for me.
I want to end this with a few words for any of you who are not just dialling down expectations but actively dreading Christmas this year. As someone recently bereaved said on Super Troopers a few days ago: “Not sure I can put on a happy smile and showtime for those who want me to this year. The old saying it can be lonely in a crowd keeps popping into my head”. Within my circle of friends I have someone whose husband died from throat cancer last week after it was diagnosed last Christmas. I have a close relative who suffered a devastating stroke a few weeks ago and is now permanently in residential care, and I have someone who is four years into caring for a husband with Alzheimers. All three of them will be very much on my mind and in my heart this Christmas, as will all those of you in similar circumstances. We need to remind ourselves that the perfect Christmas is a myth as fake as the snow in all those ghastly TV ads. Instead, please take care of yourselves and I truly hope that all of you can enjoy a Christmas with just enough good company, good food and kindness to make you feel loved and cherished, because ultimately, for all the tinsel and sparkly lights, that’s all that really matters.
Many happy returns for your birthday. The trouble with Christmas is it starts at the end of September and all over on Boxing Day. Very different in my day. Pantos started on Boxing Day and the sales on January 1st. It was not a holiday in those days. Happy days. I might not agree with some of your blogs but I would miss them if you stopped writing them. So please keep writing. By the way I love your makeup and your tutorials on how to apply.
Your “Good Enough” Christmas really helped me. When I read what you had written I realised that “the perfect Christmas” just doesn’t exist any more. I thought it was just me not looking forward to Christmas this year - all the presents, all the food prep and trying to look perfect as well - I can’t face it. But your sensible thoughts gave me the jolt I needed to believe that yes we might have to get through a few days that won’t be perfect but it will be worth it if there is just one person there that loves me and I love them. How lucky am I. Thank you Tricia for your wise words you are a true inspiration.