This year the theme of Christmas is fraught and manic. Mums of young children everywhere are 'having fun' but in a slightly high-pitched, wild-eyed sort of way. This year, more than ever, it feels like I am the facilitator of the fun - I'm arranging the magical festive moments for the kids, writing all the cards and doing all the shopping while my husband has three presents to buy (no disrespect to him, he works more than double the amount of hours I do and we both agree I'm better at it) and ensuring we tick the box of quality time with every family member and close friend.
But Christmas wasn't always like this. Last week while trying to do the online Xmas food shop with a snotty, restless 1 year old bouncing on my lap I had a pang of nostalgia for Christmases past and how they reflect each stage of my life so far.
For me, Christmas as a kid has a warm, fuzzy, rose-tinted quality - half based on real memories, half based on old photos and stories told by family members - the huge bubble of excitement in your tummy as you crept downstairs in the morning, the elation and festivities of the end of term at school, hanging baubles on the tree and arriving at my Granny's house in Sheffield in the snow to see her beaming through the window. Carefree, giddy and joyful, just as it should be, lucky me.
Christmas in my late teens and early twenties were all about coming home, travelling back from uni on the train laden with gifts. Flying home from my year abroad in France and feeling incredibly sophisticated (like all self-absorbed 20 years!) as I came through the arrivals gate at Heathrow. Always being hungover from the party the night before. Going out with old friends from home on Christmas eve and dancing in our old haunts. Sharing the stories of where I'd been but always feeling that huge sense of relief and comfort that comes from returning to the cosy familiarity of home. Parents are so patient with their kids at this age, they turn up like rock stars, stay out too late, eat all the food and barely help in the kitchen.
Late twenties and early thirties felt like we were on the cusp of being proper grown-ups. The first Christmas day spent with my husband's family, decorating the tree in our little terraced house, hosting friends for parties, showing off an engagement ring and then a baby bump and feeling like our lives were just beginning. Then my daughters first Christmas day - 12 weeks old and dressed in the frilliest, frothiest party dress I could find in the shops. But still retreating to my parents' house to show her off, be looked after and clucked over.
Now with two kids of our own and eight people (spanning four generations, and including one recent separation and a vegetarian) coming to our house on Christmas day, these are the years when it's my turn to do the hard graft. The long years of being indulged were great while they lasted but they're well and truly behind me now and I need to pick up the baton and make sure that my 1 year old son through to my wonderful 95 year-old Gran are equally happy on the big day. It's a different kind of enjoyment but just as satisfying.
The one thing all of my happy Christmas memories have in common is spending time with people that I love - the really simple things. So I'm not going to the measure the success of the day on how perfectly cooked the potatoes are or whether the kids say thank-you politely for all of their presents. I'm going to measure it on noise, wine, chaos, cuddles and laughter - the more of all the better.Suggest a correction