I absolutely loved Christmas as a child and I am keen to recreate the same level of magic and excitement for my boys. Yet as I begin to feel Christmassy, I can't help but wonder whether expectations are being set slightly too high nowadays. And I don't mean the expectations of our kids, I mean the expectations we put on ourselves.
I blame the internet. And the telly. A quick browse of Facebook and a watch of the adverts between Emmerdale and Corrie tells me that Christmas prep is no longer just about buying presents, stockpiling alcohol, decorating the tree and choosing which bird* to have. HELL NO. These days it seems Go Large Or Go Home is the mantra of the festive period...
Firstly, it seems there are a million and one 'essential Christmas food' items you need to buy. Like Stollen and Panettone. When did these things become Christmas essentials? I'm not disputing that they are treats traditionally devoured around this time of year but I have quite happily survived three decades of Christmasses without Panefuckingttone. Does nobody whip out the Viennetta anymore?
And actually, the internet suggests we should all be making some Christmas goods too. Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and don't forget the all-important Gingerbread House with intricate icing and jelly sweet detailing. You can buy these things, of course, but people will ask you if you've made one so it might be best to come up with an excuse you're comfortable with (I find 'God no, I can't be arsed with all that shit' gets mixed responses).
I'm already breaking out into sweats about having to make an elaborate sheep onesie when Henry starts school next year, after witnessing parents stressing out on social media about nativity costumes. I was Mary in the nativity play once and I'm pretty sure I wore a bed sheet. Everybody else wore tea towels on their heads. It did the job.
When I was little, I always thought our Christmas tree looked magical. In actual fact, it was probably a bit naf (uneven spread of decorations topped with that god-awful angel hair - does anybody else remember that?) but I can vividly remember standing and looking at the lights with a happy Christmassy glow in my heart. Sadly, a multipack of baubles from BHS and some paper-chains across the ceiling doesn't seem to cut it anymore. Nowadays, I'm told, it's all about hand crocheted decorations, elaborate fairy light displays and sophisticated colour schemes. (I have experienced the frustration of watching a toddler aggressively plonk decorations on the tree, but a quick redistribution to less crowded branches when they are in bed soon fixes that).
My sister and I often got pyjamas for Christmas (always from M&S, "yay, thanks Nan") but we didn't get a special pair delivered to wear on Christmas Eve. We didn't open Christmas Eve boxes with a personalised ceramic plate for Rudolf's carrot nor did we have a Christmas family photo shoot uploaded to Christmas cards.
I'm fairly certain all the Christmas crafts (Father Christmas with his cotton wool beard and all that jazz) were reserved for school or playgroup. These days we're expected to paint reindeer out of baby footprints and, according to an article I read a week or so ago, Christmas origami is a fun activity to engage in with toddlers. Origami with toddlers! I'll just let that sink in.
I wasn't convinced about the Elf on the Shelf until loads of people reported that elves had proved a powerful tool in encouraging good behaviour (this sounds a lot like bribery, which is where I tend to live as a parent - so we got one). He didn't arrive in time for December 1st and instead arrived on December 5th - on paper this is a Christmas parenting disaster, but in reality it didn't matter one bit.
And when it comes to presents, well, I'm never going to be one of those 'all your children need is love' types, because my son has been sleeping with the Smyths toy catalogue so is clearly hoping for more that just my love. But I see no need to go bananas on the gift-buying. A fat OAP in a red suit takes all the credit anyway.
This isn't a dig at households who go The Whole Christmas Hog. I'm just commenting on the pressure to do it all. The way I see it, you should opt in (or opt out) of the things that suit you and your family. The things you enjoy doing. I won't be making gingerbread houses or handmade crackers anytime soon but if I enjoyed baking and crafting then maybe I would.
When Christmas Eve arrives, you should be able to kick back with a glass of wine in front of the Vicar of Dibley, or do some last minute wrapping to NOW That's What I Call Christmas! without having to worry about rustling up another batch of mince pies.
Do Christmas your way. Don't stress out about the small stuff. Remember to buy sellotape, batteries and Prosecco and it will all be fine.
[*Apparently people aren't content with eating just one bird anymore, either. These days it's all about having a pigeon inside a chicken inside a dog inside a horse. What the chuff is that all about?]