Have you ever noticed how around this time of year there are always newspaper and magazine articles about how we all need to relax, chill out and stop trying to do so much? Every year, as the last of the Bonfire Night fireworks explode in the sky, they appear, telling us not to stress ourselves out trying to create the perfect Christmas.
And every year, we don’t listen. If we did, it would be a given that on the 25th, we'd eat a lasagne in our pyjamas and give each other a tenner in a sparkly envelope.
And we don’t listen, because we are doomed and destined to experience Christmas mania: that fear of judgement. “But who is judging us?,” you cry. “We don’t live in 1950s America – who cares what you do at Christmas?”
I’ll tell you who: we do. It’s us. The judgement is internal, and that is the worst and most inescapable thing of all.
It can't be just me who looks at a Christmas spread in a weekend supplement and thinks, “My home ought to look like that.” I think this despite spending 14 years as a journalist, being on set for many a Christmas photoshoot and knowing that they are not real. Yet I’m still sucked in. I still think I can make my house look like that and that on Christmas morning it is normal to resemble a woman in a White Company catalogue.
Thank god for my husband, who would notice if I spent £500 each year on an entirely new set of table decorations because I want a woodland-themed Christmas that I saw in Livingetc. He insists we use what we’ve already got. (Though I do always manage to squeeze in one or two new, crazy things so my collection is becoming quite glorious).
I do however insist on colour coordinating our wrapping so there is a mound of matching presents under the tree. Woe betide we run out of that particular paper and ribbon before I’ve finished my wrapping. Honestly I would rather brave Selfridges at 5pm in the rain on the 23rd than have a gift in the wrong wrapping paper.
With six Christmases as a ‘grown-up’ under my belt; with my own house and two small children I am a sitting duck for Christmas burn-out. But I have learnt that it’s not about having a ‘low key’ Christmas – it’s about picking your battles.
For example, I will not, this year, be having a party for as many local families as I can cram into my house, with a Father Christmas impersonator who arrives with a sack full of gifts for the kids (that I have bought, wrapped and labelled personally). I will not be hosting a mulled wine evening for adults that goes on until 3am. I will not be crisscrossing the country to visit my third cousins so we spend most of the 24th to the 26th of December in the car.
But I do reserve the right to be a maniac in my own way. I am hosting the day, but with a small crowd of just six people. I will make Christmas lunch all by myself but it is an easy Beef Wellington and cabbage; a roast turkey lunch and all the trimmings is a recipe for a nervous breakdown.
I am also going easy on myself when it comes to gifts; I will be buying everyone the same thing: solid shampoo from Lush, in its own little tin for the women (so eco! So 2018!) and a box of Spacemasks (amazing self-heating eye masks) for the men. I’m stockpiling them now.
This will free up valuable time and energy for all that wrapping and to decorate the house with huge fronds of eucalyptus and pine and Christmas candles everywhere.
So don’t let anyone tell you to relax this Christmas. Why? Because Christmas is fun! Just make sure you do it on your own terms.
Esther Walker is the founder of The Spike. She lives in North London with her husband and two children.