Our increasingly materialistic society has somehow ended up dedicating an inordinate proportion of the year to preparing for a single day. I try to avoid thinking about it until December, but that still means more than three weeks of intense activity - and rising panic - as I plough through my festive 'to do' list.
It doesn't help that advertisers start their promotions at least a month earlier. If you don't get on board then, you can feel as if you're playing chicken with time - how long can you resist without crashing, unprepared, into The Big Day?
For the first time last year, I opted to cut back on some of the more time-consuming elements: making a charitable donation rather than sending cards, putting up minimal decorations, and replacing the usual expansive dinner with a more simple meal.
We also reduced the number of presents exchanged within my family, giving gifts only to my young nephews and our respective partners. This year, I managed to do all of my shopping online, which seemed far too easy. I felt guilty for getting off so lightly - clearly I'm indoctrinated into believing the whole experience should be as challenging as possible.
I'm not the only one. On Saturday, the BBC news channel interviewed a number of people at a shopping centre. One middle-aged man's response was 'It's misery, complete and utter misery. But, hey, it's Christmas.' In other words, misery is only to be expected.
All of this effort is in pursuit of an idea of Christmas as sold to us by the media - no, not the trauma-filled Eastenders' version, but the kind depicted in all those feel-good films and supermarket ads. Airbrushed models might make us feel unattractive, but airbrushed Christmases can make us feel equally inadequate. If ours doesn't measure up to one of these perfect visions, it can feel as if we have failed somehow.
And it's hard not to follow the crowd, especially if friends and family aren't on the same page: people sometimes take offence if you want to do things differently. Fortunately, mine are supportive of my choices.
|Image courtesy of Apolonia/FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
Because, when all's said and done, there is joy to be had. Whether from a rousing carol service, or good food and drink, or time spent with family and friends...even if you do have to eat sprouts and you feel like strangling someone by the end of it!
Wishing you the most joyful possible of Christmases, however you choose to spend it.
* * *
If you are struggling over the holidays there's help available - check out mental health charity Mind's website.