Why We're All So Exhausted By The Time It's Christmas

Why We're All So Exhausted By The Time It's Christmas

One Christmas Eve - the children tucked up in bed, Rudolph's carrot and Santa's whisky ready on the hearth - I said to my husband, 'Can we cancel Christmas? I'm so exhausted I could sleep for a week.'

We didn't, of course. But probably only because I knocked back a glass of whisky too.

Christmas is a magical time of year. But the build-up to it is physically and emotionally exhausting. This is because a parent's normal daily routine is only just about possible in the first place - children, work, washing, cooking, shopping, collapse into bed, get up and start all over again. It's amazing, frankly, that any of us survive.

But then, halfway through November, you add in all the Christmas stuff. One minute you're walking a tightrope; the next, you're walking a tightrope while balancing a pile of books, a car and a zebra. Every year I forget this. Every year I kick off the festive period with boundless energy and enthusiasm. And every year I end up weeping with exhaustion on Christmas Eve.

First, there are all the preparations at school. You have to find old sheets to make an angel costume. You have to buy cards for the Christmas postbox. You have to help your five-year-old learn his lines, decorate the hall for the PTA party, make mince pies for the Christmas fair, and promise to go carol-singing after work on Thursday.

While all this is going on, you're getting ready for the family Christmas at home. You get in a plumber to mend the toilet (because your mum will be here in less than five weeks). You start the Christmas shopping - online, on the high street, and in your lunch hour. Presents have to be bought and sent to godsons and goddaughters, relatives in Scotland and cousins in Australia. Evenings are spent writing Christmas cards, compiling long lists ('Order turkey. Check lights. Airbed?'), and wondering whether you really can fit 14 round the kitchen table.

Then the festivities begin. You've got two plays at two different schools, a Christmas concert, four parties, a visit to Father Christmas, the carol-singing, drinks with the neighbours and your Christmas party at work. By now there are dark smudges under your eyes.

You look with longing at the sofa in the living room and think how wonderful it would be to have a night in. The children get more and more tired. Everyone's on the verge of tears. Soon the whole family is fractious and unreasonable. Your eight-year gets a cold, passes it on, and now everyone is coughing and sneezing and mainlining Lemsip.

You stand there at the neighbours' party feeling too ill to eat a mince pie; at the Christmas concert you start wondering whether it's not so much a cold as flu. At some point, around 20 December, you would give anything, absolutely anything, to go to bed and forget the whole thing.

But now is the time to dredge up more energy - a huge power surge - because Christmas proper has begun. At work, there's a ridiculous push to cram two weeks' worth of jobs into three days because everyone is going to be drunk or out of the office until January 5. Back at home, you decorate the tree, wrap presents, leave another frantic message for the plumber, hang up the cards, and look, aghast, at the spare room packed to the ceiling with a year's accumulation of rubbish (Mum will be here in three days).

Then there's the Big Food Shop. Cars are queuing round the block. Wearily pushing your trolley, the awful truth dawns. We forgot to order the turkey! The supermarket shelves are bare. Time is running out. You still need cranberry sauce, new Christmas lights (they blew last night), and something (anything) for your mum's best friend. You catch sight of a magazine cover, saying '50 Things To Remember This Christmas', and you think, 'Fifty? Only fifty?'. By now you've given up making lists because you know, with a sinking heart, that it can't be done, that Christmas will be upon you before you're ready. Did I buy enough sprouts? Does everyone like chestnut stuffing? At the traffic lights, the car breaks down, the frozen turkey starts defrosting on the back seat - and now you remember that your sister-in-law is vegetarian.

Back home, everyone is shivering because the boiler has blown up, and you can't get an engineer out on Christmas Eve. Your teenager is moaning about all the relatives coming tomorrow because he'd rather spend the day with his girlfriend, and your six-year-old is crying because someone at school said Father Christmas couldn't afford to buy any presents this year. Your mum says she really doesn't mind sharing the spare room with an exercise bike, the old computer, some bags for the jumble and your son's mildewed football kit; and the cat, who has found all the sausagemeat, is quietly sick on the carpet.

And you stand there, thinking, it's happened again. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and I'm so exhausted all I want to do is spend the day hiding under the duvet.

Glass of whisky, anyone?

Does this sound familiar?

Or all you all organised and relaxed?