Christmas is one of the most stressful times a couple can experience, second only to moving house and the honeymoon. More marriages break up over the festive period than at any other time. For this reason, my advice would be, just relax and enjoy it, dears. However, if you insist on keeping your marriage intact here are a few tried and trusted tips to help you survive Christmas.
This is the big one, dears. Eventually, no matter what you do, your children will inevitably reach that difficult age - the age when they start to believe in Father Christmas (or Santa Claus, as our charming American cousins call him). Despite your best efforts to deny his existence, there will always be some smart Alec school friend who insists on ruining it for everyone by telling them Father Christmas exists. Millions of weak parents find themselves succumbing to social pressure and end up spending a small fortune on presents to appease their little ones. I'm ashamed to say that even we have fallen foul of this scurrilous conspiracy, sometimes spending upwards of £30 on gifts - which equates to very nearly £5 per child.
Of course, we've tried taking them along to see department store Santas, pointing out their ill-fitting beards and whisky breath. We've blocked up our chimney. Stephen's even not dressed up in a red suit on Christmas Eve, but all to no avail. No matter what we do, our children simply refuse to let go of the captivating and magical concept of free stuff.
No family yuletide would be complete without the all-important Christmas tree. It's a focal point for the festive season - we place presents beneath it, we gather round it to sing carols and we all hop about cursing it when we tread on its needles in our bare feet. Another annual tradition in the Fry household is something we call the 'getting of the tree'. This isn't as straightforward as it sounds. Most families buy their Christmas trees from garden centres, supermarkets or their local grocery store but Stephen, being a typical Neanderthal hunter-gatherer (and a bit of a cheapskate), prefers to cut down his own. A couple of weeks before Christmas he'll head boldly out into the night, chainsaw in hand and balaclava over his face, in search of the perfect tree. I have to admit I do find it difficult to sleep, knowing Stephen is out all alone in the dead of night with only a chainsaw to protect him but every year he returns safe and sound and when we wake up the following morning, there it is, standing proudly in the living room - a magnificent, tall, bushy specimen, branches miraculously hung with baubles and lights and a gleaming star on the top. I can honestly say it's the best Christmas tree in town - and has been for the past six years that the one in the marketplace has been stolen, although I simply can't begin to imagine who would do such a thing.
Now, I'm as fond of Christmas decorations and traditions as the next woman but I'm afraid I do have to draw the line at mistletoe. If you have a husband like Stephen, it's just asking for trouble, believe me. If it weren't bad enough that he always hangs it over the front door and gives a sloppy, wet Christmas kiss to every woman who comes within a hundred yards of it, he insists on calling it 'first base'. He also hangs up a sprig of holly, which he calls 'second base' and the ivy is 'third base'. As for the Christmas wreath - well, all I can say is the lady from the Salvation Army still hasn't fully recovered. It's no wonder he's banned from Interflora.
As if the pressure of catering for family and friends weren't enough, there's the small matter of Christmas presents. It's difficult enough trying to find meaningless fripperies to give people you barely know but buying gifts for your spouse and children can be even harder - after all, you're far more likely to see them again before next Christmas so there will be plentiful opportunities for them to display their disappointment. In the children's case this can manifest itself in sulking and stomping around loudly. In Stephen's case, much the same, only sulkier and louder.
Nowadays, thanks to the internet, it's perfectly possible to do your entire Christmas shopping from the comfort of your own armchair. It's my opinion, however, that while this is terribly convenient, it isn't really getting into the Christmas spirit. Online stores providing lists of personalised gift suggestions may be terribly helpful, but where on earth is the fun in that? To my mind, it can never really replace that disappointed look on the recipient's face. Also, what's Christmas without a little festive bloodshed?
For those of you less inclined to commercial violence, the toy shops and department stores provide a list of 'this year's must-have toys' for your little ones. This is a very helpful marketing ploy as it inevitably leads to panic buying for these highly sought-after items, leaving the rest of the less-desired toys for everyone else to buy at their leisure. If, however, you enjoy engaging in this annual ritual of violence and mayhem, here is this year's top 10 -
1. Tracey Island - Tracey Emin's unmade island, surrounded by a sea of bodily fluids, used condoms and bewildered lookers-on. Thought-provoking and oodles of fun!
2. Buck-A-Rooney - Load up the cuddly Premiership footballer with as many personal problems as you can before he lashes out wildly. Deluxe edition comes with eagle eyes and fairly realistic hair.
3. Kids' Cabbage Patches - For the child in your family who just can't shake that addiction to their five-a-day.
4. Hungry Hippies - How many brownies can you shove down your hippy's mouth at three o'clock in the morning?
5. XXX-Box - the latest console for the solo player - complete with a range of games including Call of Booty, Mario Bothers and Sonic the Crack-whore.
6. Tiny Tears - an empty box.
7. Builder Bare - Can the cuddly construction worker complete a whole shift without his trousers falling completely down?
8. Nintendoggers - crazy car chaos for everyone! For 2-16 players, depending on the size of your vehicle.
9. Connect 2 - for the ADHD-sufferer in your family.
10. My Little Penis - every girl's best friend. Comes in a variety of shapes and colours. Collect 'em all!
While shopping for your children can be a challenge, buying a gift for your husband or wife can be even trickier. The important thing to remember is, no matter how long you've been married, how many wonderful moments you've shared, whatever you do, keep the receipt. That way you can both go out on Boxing Day and exchange it for something you actually want. It takes the worry out of Christmas shopping, guarantees your loved one gets what they really want and means you don't need to waste hours looking around for that perfect gift. Or even, vaguely acceptable gift. Unfortunately, my Stephen loses receipts like he loses winning betting slips and after years of disappointment and garage flowers, I finally had to bite the bullet and tell him to be more original. To be fair to him, he took me at my word and last year he genuinely surprised me with that 'adopt a snow leopard' gift pack. It was so nice that he actually put a little thought into my present for once, although you should see the state of the curtains. Fortunately, it was part of an exchange programme and I understand the twins are causing Twycross Zoo a great deal more trouble.
(Extract from How To Have an Almost Perfect Marriage, published by Unbound - available in all good bookshops, from Amazon amzn.to/OLfAfB and as a Special Limited Edition from www.Unbound.co.uk)
You can see my very special video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4W_DgEI7YA