27 Nov 2023

Taking Charge of Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching, and you may well be sticking your head in the sand, refusing to sort out Christmas arrangements, make plans, agree spending limits, or extend invitations. While it’s tempting to just assume you’ll be able to improvise and make it up as you go along, Christmas is a challenging time socially, with many contending demands on your time. You will need to prioritise children and elderly relations, ensure that nobody feels left out, make time for friends and parties, as well as organising presents and food. If you don’t make plans and confront Christmas quandaries now, you might find that the whole festive season turns sour.

So now is the time to bite the bullet and think about the following:

Christmas Day Arrangements

While some of us are lucky enough to have uncontroversial families and straightforward plans for the big day, many of us are having to juggle complex priorities. We might be divorced and therefore forced to negotiate access to our children, we might have elderly parents, or we might be dealing with illness or bereavement.

All these factors can make Christmas fraught, but you will relieve your own stress, as well as the anxieties of all the people that are potentially involved, if you confront the situation now, talk to friends and relations, explain dilemmas, or express willingness to accommodate and be flexible. Sometimes Christmas arrangements involve considerable tact and diplomacy; careafully listening to other people and encouraging them to tell you what they really want is always a good start.

If you feel that you might be letting someone down or disappointing them by not extending a Christmas invitation, don’t procrastinate any further. Make a phone call or write a carefully worded email that explains your position or your difficulties. Forewarned is forearmed, and any potential guests that might find themselves disappointed will at least have time to think about alternative plans.

By locking down your arrangements for the big day, you can begin to think about other important issues.

Present Pitfalls

Many of us find the gift-giving aspect of Christmas especially perilous, and tie ourselves up into knots of indecision, or throw too much money at the problem in a state of last-minute panic.

Now is the time to have honest discussions with friends and relations about the whole gift-giving dilemma. You might find that older relations are happy to arrange a gift-giving amnesty and concentrate their firepower on younger family members. Or you might be able to negotiate a mutually agreed price ceiling for family gifts, or even opt for a Secret Santa arrangement.

If you’re really beginning to feel agitated and uninspired, you can always solicit ideas from your family and honestly explain that you’re out of ideas and in need of assistance. But if you do decide to go down this route don’t turn the tables on the poor recipient, and torment them with requests for ideas for presents. If you ask and receive an immediate and decisive response, that is helpful; if you don’t, no amount of nagging and pleading is going to solve your problem and it will just make everybody feel grumpy.

Don’t leave present shopping until the last minute, which is when disastrous decisions are made. The magic of giving is inevitably somewhat tarnished by the experience of panic buying on Christmas Eve, so make it a bit easier for yourself by starting the whole process well before Christmas.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to equip yourself with contingency presents, just in case you’re nonplussed by an unexpected gift. A supply of soaps, chocolates, liqueurs etc, will be useful in case of emergencies.

Peripheral Socialising

Christmas is party season, and you may well find that there are many demands on your time as you approach the holiday. If you want to host your own party or social gathering, you really need to consolidate arrangements as soon as possible, or you will find yourself disappointed by the numbers of people who are already committed elsewhere.

Make sure you don’t over-commit yourself in the run-up to the big day. A week of protracted pre-Christmas partying can sap you of much-needed energy and enthusiasm, especially if you’re hosting. Sit down well before Christmas and make a note of really important dates (eg the children’s nativity play, the school carol concert, the office party, drinks with the neighbours) and structure socialising around these important milestones.

Catering Choices

Once you’ve worked out the shape of your Christmas celebrations, you’ll have a good idea about the numbers of meals, and guests, that you are going to have to organise. It is sensible to think about what you are going to serve at each meal, and how much drink you will need to purchase. For hosts, Christmas can be a stressful time with lots of different events to manage, so it is best to go down the tried and tested route when it comes to home cooking. It’s not the ideal time to experiment with challenging new recipes, and it’s a good idea to prioritise meals that are comparatively simple, or can be substantially prepared in advance, so that you are released from the kitchen and can really engage with your family and guests.

Nobody is going to enjoy spending Christmas with you if you become a hosting martyr, who makes a big production number out of food preparation, refuses offers of help and resorts to passive-aggressive plate-clattering and theatrical sighs.

Relax

The whole season will go much better if you’re relaxed and flexible. Being organised and making plans is not about imposing structure and treating the whole event like a military exercise, rather than the hospitality highlight of the year. Planning for every contingency is important because it will give you a secure foundation, allowing you to accommodate sudden changes of plans (cancellation, unexpected guests, illness) with ease and good humour, which is the key to a successful Christmas.

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