Thursday 27 October 2016

Exactly when did Christmas become an endurance test that we have to survive?

Published 11/12/2015 | 02:30

'Where has the spirit of Christmas gone? Since when has it become about receiving the perfect gift?'
'Where has the spirit of Christmas gone? Since when has it become about receiving the perfect gift?'

When did Christmas become something that we have to survive? Every magazine I open these days has articles plastered all over it giving 'survival tips' for Christmas Day.

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'Experts' tell us how to fake happiness when you get awful presents and count to 10 or go for a walk if a drunk relative is irritating you. Surely for some families that would mean spending most of their day doing laps of the neighbourhood?

Where has the spirit of Christmas gone? Since when has it become about receiving the perfect gift? Isn't part of the fun of Christmas Day when you get the annual Lily of the Valley soap from Aunty Una or the woolly hat from Granny?

Christmas was never the same after my grandad died and we no longer received our annual Christmas pyjamas. It was part of growing up, part of my memories as a child. I never particularly wanted the pyjamas but I loved getting them because it was tradition. Just as my grandad didn't need another badly knitted egg cover but always looked delighted when he unwrapped it - he was excellent at fake happiness.

When did we all get so greedy and needy? When did we start having to order gifts from Taiwan in June to keep our kids happy? Whatever happened to getting a 'surprise' from Santa?

The best present I ever got for Christmas was a surprise. It was a kitten who lasted 17 years. It's the only present I can remember getting, the others are a blur of plastic junk and cardboard packaging.

Parents are to blame for feeding the fire. I swore I'd never buy into the commercial frenzy that Christmas has become and yet I did, and for what? When the singing Elsa doll last year caused a woman in Dublin to punch another woman in the face over the last doll in the shop, I shook my head at the madness of it all.

And then my daughter asked Santa for one…I tried to persuade her to think of alternatives, which she duly did, but she kept saying that the doll was what she would really love.

And so, despite all my protestations, I found myself calling my daughter's godmother who lives in New York and was nine months pregnant at the time. Over the course of the conversation about the imminent birth of her first child, I just happened to mention the Elsa doll and the fact that there were none left in Ireland or the UK. I unsubtly hinted that if she happened to be out for a waddle around the block and happened upon one of the dolls, she might just go in, buy it, rush to the post office and send it to me.

This kind and generous woman, overdue on her first child, pounded the streets of New York to find me an Elsa doll which arrived via courier on Christmas Eve. Had she gone into labour in Bloomingdales, the fault would have been entirely mine...and the makers of the Elsa doll's. When I opened the package, I felt elated and ashamed.

I had been completely sucked into the commercialism of Christmas. I had harassed a heavily pregnant women to find me a plastic doll. But payback was nigh, the Elsa doll sang (or rather screeched) 'Let it Go' in English and Spanish all day every day for the full two weeks of the Christmas holidays.

The pressure to create the perfect day doesn't just stop at the gifts. If it's not articles on how to 'get through the day', it's 10-page spreads on how to cook the perfect dinner. It seems if you start preparing in July, it might just be possible. Glossy photos of perfectly roasted turkeys and lavishly set tables jump out from everywhere.

Women with groomed hair and shiny lips wearing sparkly party dresses beam out at you as they hold aloft platters of perfectly cooked Christmas fare.

Apparently it's all about preparation, organisation and having a strict timetable. You can now get an interactive Christmas dinner planner to help you or you can download the Perfect Christmas Dinner app from iTunes.

No longer can you sway about in the kitchen sloshing wine into your glass and guessing if the turkey is cooked by stabbing it with a carving knife every hour or two. Now, you need the military precision of a US Navy Seal.

It's time we stopped being so hard on ourselves and trying to be perfectionists. Does an overcooked turkey really matter? Are slightly burnt roast potatoes going to ruin everyone's day?

Maybe this year it's time to say sod it all, pour yourself a large goldfish bowl of wine, crank up the volume on the Christmas carols and have some fun. It's supposed to be 'the happiest time of the year', not an endurance test.

I hope I've learnt my lesson and will be wiser this year. You only have to look at the discarded toys strewn about to know that, regardless of what Santa brings, the toy your child 'had to have' will be cast aside after a week. But the memories of being with family, watching Christmas movies together, playing charades with cousins and turning on the Christmas tree lights will last them a lifetime.

Irish Independent

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