I love Christmas but I must admit to a certain amount of stress each year. Especially when I start watching those super organised women on television preparing their own decorations, or I visit that gifted friend who secretly should have been an interior designer or, worst of all, I open one of those “all you need to know for Christmas” recipe books. So, in the belief that I might not be the only human that feels somewhat inadequate at this time of year, I thought I would share some of the knowledge that I have gleaned over the last few years. Here is a tried and tested list of things that you should NOT do.
Everyone loves a Christmas tree. Here are some things to beware of:
If you take a man with you to buy a real tree, he will lose all sense of proportion. This is true. Crude jokes aside, it seems to be some strange male trait that they ALWAYS want to buy a tree that is much too big for the space in your home. They always forget the bucket and top decoration add extra height, they always forget that you might want to live in the room where they plan to put it and if it’s too wide everyone will have to scrabble through the branches to communicate. So my advice, do NOT involve a male of any age in choosing the tree.
You cannot however, avoid them being present for the annual family discussion on where the tree should go. Now, we have lived in our present house for eight years and EVERY Christmas we discuss (heatedly) where the tree should be placed. Every year it always goes in exactly the same place that it always has.
If you buy a tree in late December, your family will constantly tell you everyone else has theirs already. If you buy a tree in early December, it will probably be bald by New Year.
If you decide to ‘plant’ your tree in soil, over time, as it is watered, the soil becomes unstable and the tree will gradually fall over. If you follow the shop’s instructions and “treat your tree like the living plant that it is” and stand it in water, then after a while, the warmth of your house will have turned the water stagnant and everyone will be asking you what the funny smell is. If, on realising this, you then add a drop of bleach to the water, the tree first gets very pale looking and then dies very quickly. A dead tree will droop and all the ornaments slide off the branches. Your lounge also smells a little like a public lavatory. (Trust me, I know this.)
If you ever want a tasteful tree, you must NEVER allow the children to put on their home made ornaments. Every year I produce those faded photos in plastic frames, the robin that sheds paint, I even have the clay angels that my sister made one year which look like they slept in a puddle after an especially hard night out. It is true, they bring back lots of special memories, but I can now never NOT put them on the tree, so my tree, whilst precious, is also incredibly tacky.
If you do not water your tree, do NOT leave the lights on it and go out for the evening or it might burn down your house. (This did not happen to us, but it did happen to a neighbour in the US. A dried pine is incredibly flammable.)
If you have an artificial tree, you can spend hours sorting out branches and colour codes. My advice is tell someone else that they are in charge of putting up the tree because it is too hard for you (this works well if you have males in the family, who will actually believe that you are incapable of matching colours.) They will also be keen to supervise the taking down of the tree because they will know how impossible it is to put up if not stored carefully.
Do NOT believe that everyone who helps decorate the house will also help tidy up after Christmas. Every year I say, “Only put out the ornaments that you will put away afterwards”. I may as well not bother. I know this is true because last year I was ill and we have had a nativity scene on one window sill all year. I find family members are very keen to decorate all sorts of random places and not at all keen to tidy them afterwards.
Do NOT buy gifts too early and if you do, do not forget where you have hidden them. It is annoying to find winter nightclothes for your daughter in June.
If posting gifts, do NOT forget to name each gift so the recipient knows who they are for (you would be surprised at what has happened in our family…..)
Do NOT assume you will know when your child stops believing in Father Christmas (sorry if this is a spoiler.) When I asked one of my sons on his eighteenth birthday (okay, so he wasn’t quite that old) if he really still believed in Santa, he informed me that he had not believed for years but hadn’t liked to disappoint me by letting me know. This was a huge relief for the whole family as we could now stop worrying he was completely thick and it also meant that I could give the children their ‘stocking gifts’ the evening before Christmas which meant that we all slept much better Christmas Eve.
Do NOT forget to check that either your husband has bought his mother a gift or you have bought one for her yourself. Really, I cannot stress enough how important this one is……
Unless you are a very organised person, do NOT buy a large frozen turkey. They take DAYS to defrost and where will you put it during that time? If you leave it in the utility room, the cat eats it. If you put it in the garage, the mice eat it. If you leave it in the oven to defrost, you are sure to forget and turn on the oven to preheat – melting plastic over poultry is not a good smell, trust me. If you place it in a bucket of brine, as was suggested one year, what are you going to do with the salmonella infected brine afterwards and how will you stop the dog licking it? If you put it in the fridge, you cannot fit in any of the shelves, let alone other food. Trust me, big frozen turkeys are a bad idea.
Do NOT forget that supermarkets ARE open other than on the bank holidays. I always do this, I try to buy enough food for the whole holiday period which is a military operation in an over flowing supermarket with insufficient parking and queues the length of the Nile to pay. Then, soon after boxing day we always run out of something essential, like milk and I go to a beautifully empty supermarket which is now selling all the same food that is decomposing in my fridge for half the price. Being overly prepared is always a mistake I feel. Just buy enough for the Christmas day dinner.
If, like me, you have a problem with chocolates, when you buy the family tub of chocolates, do NOT forget to also buy tape. Then, if by mistake you open them and eat lots before Christmas, you can buy a replacement, add the ones you don’t much like and reseal the tub. Your family will never know. Honestly, every year my husband tells me that there are a surprisingly large number of green triangles in our chocolate tin.
Do NOT forget to go to a carol service. Actually, I do not especially like carols unless they are sung by a choir. They are mostly really really long. A lot of them also have things in them that are very European and nothing to do with the actual account in the Bible. But I do like carol services, full of excited children and people in thick coats that they don’t have anywhere to hang. One year at our church we even managed to set someone on fire. (It was an accident, I should add. She leant against a candle and she wasn’t at all hurt, just ruined her coat. The following year as a safety precaution the candles were suspended above us. Unfortunately they weren’t the non drip variety and we all made polite conversation afterwards with white wax in our hair.)
Do not forget to build some family traditions of your own. On Christmas eve, if my children are in the house, awake before noon and sober (I assume nothing these days) then they still like to help prepare the vegetables. We all sit round peeling sprouts and remembering how we did it every year while watching the ‘Lost Toys’ and the year that the youngest removed every leaf from his sprout and then declared, “Mine’s empty!”
Most importantly, do NOT forget what is important. Christmas is not about family or tradition or nice food. Actually, it’s about a God who thought you were special enough that he came to this dirty smelly earth as a baby. Even if you don’t believe in him, he believes in you and he cared enough to come so that you can have a chance to change your mind if you want to. So spend a little time trying to remember what it’s all about. Read my Mary story or better still, look in Luke’s bit of the bible and read the account of what actually happened – no donkeys, no inn keepers with tea-towels on their heads, no fairies or snow. Just a simple story of something special.
Thank you for reading – and Happy Christmas.