Here’s my seasonal tip for a stress-free Christmas. Stop it.
Stop the pointless spending and the rage-inducing shopping and the frantic card-writing to people you don’t see from one year to the next.
Don’t put the tree up so early (my mother would have you know it’s unlucky before Dec 13th anyway) and take it down on Jan 1st so you can start the new year fresh and free from mess (and then you only have the clutter of the tree and its shedding leaves for two weeks).
Don’t buy gifts that your loved ones don’t need and don’t expect or ask for gifts you don’t need.
Yes, of course, make a lovely meal or two or three. I love feeding people and I love baking so I always make a Christmas cake and homemade mince pies (because I like to eat them and to share them, not because I feel I have to).
I’m excited about the friends we’ll see this year both at home and elsewhere, and I’m enormously excited about spending Christmas day ONLY with my wife, in our favourite Christmas Day way, doing what we want, when we want, eating what we want. Because we’ve had so much time apart this year, being ‘just us’ is a huge gift. (And yes, I don’t have children, but I’m sure I’d want to do the same if I had been fortunate enough to have them – why not make new traditions of something we all enjoy, not things we feel obliged to do? When my mother was alive I loved to do what she wanted at Christmas, now I have no parents and no children, I really do like best just being with my Mrs.)
I know it’s a cliché, but it’s also true that midwinter is a great time to celebrate with friends and family rather than simply fill our homes with more stuff. It’s also a good time to remember those who aren’t here to celebrate with us, and raise a glass to them, to remember those who are alone and don’t have people to celebrate with and who might like to be included. (They might also enjoy solitude – I know it’s hard for some to believe, but it IS possible!)
Take the time that would have been spent in shopping or card writing to see people you love and who love you.
Most importantly, don’t just look at not spending as a saving, do something more valuable with that money.
About five years ago, Shelley and I realised we’d spent a good three or four hours writing Christmas cards. We added up the cost (even of charity cards), and the cost of postage, and we found it came to well over £200. And that year I vowed never again. Because that £200 could do so much more good put to a wiser use.
Our choice is to give the same money we’d have spent on cards and postage every year to the charity Crisis.
So that’s my best Christmas tip ever : free yourself from the Christmas card trauma by not doing it and give the money instead to someone who needs it more than you.
(Yes, I still send cards to those elderly relatives and family friends for whom the Christmas card does matter, but I know most of my friends and family aren’t any more fussed about them than I am, and I know that they also understand about the charity giving.)
It’s not about being Scrooge, it’s about giving where giving is most needed. Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim didn’t need presents or cards, they needed friends.
Stella, your comments are so true. Christmas has become incredibly commercialised and full of stress. What’s the point? People hardly come to visit during the year, yet they show up at Christmas and their faces show that they come out of some weird sense of duty. The same duty that they forgot when they haven’t been bothering to even text my daughter to see how she is. She’s been ill for the last six years, and likely to continue to be so for a year or two more.
I decided that this year, I will send messages in the few cards I plan to write, telling people that from now on, we won’t be doing Christmas or birthdays any more. We mostly give money to the kids for both Christmas and birthdays but somehow their parents seem to forget our children. So, starting 1st Jan 2013 we’re not doing it any more. We’re going to donate the money towards research in ME, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Postviral Fatigue Syndrome. Hopefully our money will help towards the £60,000 needed to prove that the Perrin Technique does help people with this condition, and once this has been proved then the treatment will hopefully be available to other sufferers via the NHS instead of people having to chance upon it, then pay privately for the treatment. We have first-hand experience of how debilitating this condition is.
Your post has helped to strengthen my resolve even further. Thank you.
Speaking as your elderly not-exactly-relative, I shall be sending you and Shelley a Christmas card this year as well as making a sizeable donation to MSF. Why? Because, old fogey that I am, the sending and receiving of cards gives me genuine pleasure at this time of year – being also, as you know, a bit of a Bah Humbug sort of person, it’s one of the few elements of Christmas I do enjoy; but I will do it also as it’s become a tradition for my partner and I to have cards printed featuring a painting or photograph by our daughter – and seeing and sending them gives us a chance to share her work, of which we are – we’re her parents, for God’s sake! – very proud.
Hah John, I LOVE that you think you could ever fit into the elderly relative category! And indeed, we love and have hugely valued the annual Molly Boiling artwork. I particularly remember a great painting that was very Howard Hodgkin.