Are you all ready for Christmas?” a friend asked, while out in town last Wednesday.
I paused, gurned a little in my socially awkward manner, and confessed to not having even got off the starting line – except for the tree and Christmas cards that I’d bought that afternoon.
No food ordered, no presents bought and no cards written. Not out of lack of desire to enter into festive proceedings but purely down to lack of time.
It was 16th December and I had organised almost NOTHING for Christmas. In many ways it felt at odds with our social norm of preparedness.
My natural instinct at this stage of the festive proceedings would have been to panic. Several years ago, a headless chicken would have had nothing on me. I would have been out there, getting stressed amongst the crowds, juggling everything.
However this year, just like the last and the year before that, I have a secret back-up plan: to forget the stress of juggling festive preparations with work demands and simply wait until my work is finished, fully poised to organise everything in the week before Christmas. An approach that would be even more stressful to many, it’s one to which I’ve become gradually accustomed.
It’s certainly been made easier by the way we’ve changed our approach to Christmas Day at home, swapping the number of short-lived gadgets and lots of trinkets for fewer but longer lasting gifts, along with switching to digital downloads and tickets to events and family days out. I’ve also become more adept at resisting all those random foodstuffs that in previous years magically appeared in our trolley simply because it’s the season to be jolly, only to be thrown in the bin after New Year. My festive wastage days are well over and Christmas most definitely tastes much better for it.
Elsewhere, the kids in our wider family are quickly turning into teenagers and are so much more of appreciative of cash these days. Who didn’t like the gift of money as a teen? I am delighted that pound notes are as much in fashion as they ever were. It certainly makes shopping easier and cuts out the restricted inconvenience of a plastic gift-card.
Adjusting to a simpler Christmas isn’t without its stresses though. There’s part of me that still fully expects my headless chicken approach to the Christmas run-up. That fight-or-flight feeling that I’ve relied on to build seasonal momentum is hard to lose. The irony that I find my sense of calm pretty unsettling and even stressful at times also hasn’t been lost on me.
Perhaps it’s also because our Christmases are now tinged with feelings of loss. Where once I would have been busy organising gifts for our parents, as each special person has sadly passed away we now light candles in remembrance. I long for them to be part of every Christmas still.
This time of year particularly brings back dear memories of my mother, who in her latter years never wanted any presents, gratefully insisting she always had enough things and that we should save our money. Yet I used to thrust unwanted gifts on her every year, lovely things that I ‘knew she’d like’.
I wish I’d listened sooner, especially before I took drastic measures one year and adopted a gorilla on her behalf, which resided several bus-rides away in a far-flung sanctuary in Wales. The following Christmas she gently hinted that a year’s endowed responsibility for visiting a large primate was probably sufficient as one of her life’s experiences.
In the end we compromised and gifts were ditched in favour of more lunches down the pub.
So will I be ready for Christmas? Well, I’m quietly confident but until the big day arrives, I guess I’ll have to wait and see. And if you are a fellow late-starter also flying by the seat of your festive pants, here’s a supportive Ho Ho Ho, in hope that you are ready, too.
In the meantime, a heartfelt toast to absent friends at this special time of year.