Keep calm and carry on planning for Christmas
Having had a few (hundred) e-mails about Christmas and how to stay sane, I find myself going a little bit mad. On the one hand, the retail sector is bombarding me with great ideas for Christmas presents, lunch, decorations, booze etc and, on the other hand, the self-help sector is offering me simple expedients for dealing with the seasonal stress... although building an Anderson shelter in the garden and hiding away until January 2 is, perhaps, a bit extreme.
“Great gift ideas for men” always means slippers, gloves, scarves, socks, key rings and aftershave, meanwhile “What women want for Christmas” usually means re-mortgaging.
Whatever I do – and I have tried not to over-plan – I still end up in a complete lather.
Every November I confidently announce that this year is going to be different. But it never is.
The one time I thought I had it all sorted, no question, the snow fell and the Ocado delivery couldn’t get through. I felt like Margo Leadbetter in The Good Life who also faced this quandary when her Christmas wasn’t delivered. She and Jerry, of course, went next door to Tom and Barbara’s and had a wonderful time.
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I think my husband would quite like to be stranded in 1976 with nothing but Felicity Kendall, but this wasn’t an option in 2010. I had to drive to the nearest supermarket and buy Christmas again from scratch.
Except for crackers. We have accumulated a lifetime supply of Christmas crackers due to my husband’s obsession with making sure we don’t run out. If anyone needs a tiny screwdriver...
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Then there is the annual rummage in the bottom of the wardrobe for the presents you bought during the year. The unique gifts you bought that you would find nowhere else but in that small, rather overpriced craft shop on the south coast... nowhere, that is, except for many, many internet outlets.
So who is it for, this artisan crockery? Did you make a note? Of course, you didn’t.
Then, when you survey the haul, you’re not sure if it is all things you bought or things that were bought for you that you’ve never used. Do gift sets of bath foam and body lotion have sell-by dates, or is it OK to give them to distant cousins? And what about the Challenge Anneka game?
You also uncover a bag full of bows, ribbons and gift tags accumulated over 34 years of marriage. They can’t be thrown out – there’s nothing wrong with them apart from the fact they don’t match this year’s colour theme.
Perhaps the most satisfying pre-Christmas task is clearing out the fridge, freezer and kitchen cupboards to make room for the seasonal fare. That’s fare as in food, not fayre as in a sale of handknitted baubles, of course.
So you dispose of the spare Christmas pudding from last year... the one you got just in case no-one liked the Heston Blumenthal hidden orange pudding. And frankly, that’s a bit of a misnomer now because everyone knows where it is. It’s like calling a scotch egg a hidden egg snack.
We also have to face the annual Christmas tree dilemma. Do we use the artificial tree we’ve had for 12 years? The artificial tree we bought last year (the one that looks as if it’s covered with snow; the one I don’t like)? Or do we get a real tree from the garden centre?
We haven’t always had the best of luck with real trees. One year we put up the tree, went to work next morning and arrived home that night to find a stick surrounded by a mountain of pine needles. Another year, the tree started to smell and the stench eventually became so vile we had to put it outside.
We’re currently preferring the old tree but haven’t yet made a final decision.
We will all have to face the tyranny of supermarkets’ Christmas order brochures. Try and take a rational view. Until you saw the picture of the whole York ham on the bone you were happy with six slices of breaded Wiltshire, weren’t you? So why are you suddenly gripped by an overwhelming need for a whole ham plus a giant platter of continental meats despite the fact there will be just six of you for tea.
And what about the desserts...
Are you going to bother with the sherry trifle this year? You make one every Christmas and only your husband eats it. Nine-tenths of it stays in the fridge for a week where the sponge turns to wet crumb, the sherry oozes out, the custard goes stiff and the hundreds and thousands melt into the whipped cream in a Jackson Pollock effect.
So today, you must make a pledge. Solemnly place your hand on a copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas (other titles are available, such as Hairy Bikers and Nigella) and repeat after me:
n “Christmas is about being with family and friends. I will not spend all day in the kitchen.
n “I do not need to buy in enough supplies for a month. There will be shops open on Boxing Day.”
n “I do not need to rush out on Christmas Eve afternoon and buy everyone an extra present.”
You know it makes sense.