Many of us get swept along by our desire to create the perfect Christmas for our family, but even the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed concern at the amount of pressure, and especially financial burden, that some people subject themselves to at this time of the year.
There are those who over commit themselves financially to such an extent that it's estimated it could take them up to three years to pay it all back.
Let's look at ways to plan and make for a happier, less stressful Christmas:
- Where to spend the Christmas festivities is often a major contributor to family stress and tension, especially when there are in-laws, ex-partners and step families to consider. Some families compromise and agree to alternate visits and custody arrangements over the Christmas and New Year period. Others decide to avoid conflict altogether by having their festive meal on a 'token' different day. Be firm from the outset and arrange what's best for you and yours so that it makes for a happier Christmas all round.
- Gift shopping can be fraught with difficulties; what to buy and for whom as well as how much to spend can cause real dilemmas. Try some of the local markets that sell unique, attractive items with no discernible price tag. Interesting, locally sourced food and drink, jars of preserves, handmade pictures and crafts all make for relatively inexpensive yet thoughtful presents.
- Have you a particular skill that would make the perfect Christmas gift? Genuine offers of help in the garden, baby-sitting vouchers, a delicious homemade cake or an original picture or photograph you've framed are often much appreciated.
- Discuss present giving with your children, especially the older ones. Let them know that you're cutting back and that they'll receive one main present this year. Agree amongst the adults in your circle that you're only giving gifts to children or commit to a price limit or a Secret Santa approach to present giving.
- What about spending time together as an alternative to buying gifts? Children often appreciate the wonderful memories of times when you went bird watching, spent an afternoon painting, playing games, scrap-booking or sharing a picnic together. Time and attention can be the most treasured gifts of all.
- Share catering over the Christmas period by asking your guests to bring a contribution of food and perhaps even provide their 'famous' signature dish. Many people routinely bring a bottle, so extend the request and include everyone in the food provision, thus sharing the cost and effort.
- Plan the routine family meals ahead. Draw up a timetable and prepare as much food as possible in advance. This avoids the hassle of expensive panic buying and means that you're able to batch cook several simple, tasty winter casseroles. People enjoy these as a welcome alternative to rich, heavy Christmas fare.
- Investigate free events like carol services, concerts and gallery openings. You may need to book some seats in advance. Plan a brisk country walk for one day, an outside ball game for another. Get out your board games and cards and enjoy the opportunity for conversation, fun and friendly rivalry.
- Don't forget to schedule some 'me' time so that you can enjoy an interlude for a pleasant bath and some relaxation. Ensure that you're able to socialise and enjoy your guests' company. Remember to record your favourite programmes so that you can watch them at your leisure.
- Don't be afraid to delegate some tasks so that family members feel proud that they've contributed to the day's success. Accept offers of help with the simpler tasks like vegetable preparation, setting the table and washing up.
And remember, the things that go wrong are often the very things that people remember with affection for many years to come. They're the special memories that make for the perfect Christmas Day and become part of your family folklore.