Do you hear me? It’s not your job to make Christmas magical for everybody and their aunt. I know you’re feeling the anxiety, because I feel it too. You look on social media and see somebody’s perfect tree. Someone else’s beautiful table setting. The handmade cloth advent calendar filled with wooden toys. The way they hide that blasted elf each night in increasingly imaginative places to delight their kids each morning.
And although each of these is just ONE person doing ONE clever festive thing, it adds up to this imaginary Christmas ideal in your mind, that you will NEVER be able to compete with. Because you’re just one person, and you’re comparing yourself to many people, who’s efforts all combine into some weird cumulative ideal that makes you think that you’ve got to do all of this work in order to make the holidays magical – for your kids and your family.
Well I’m here to tell you to put that shit down. Let it go. Magical Christmases are in fact, crafted very differently to how Instagram would have you believe.
Christmas was magical when I was a kid and do you know what? We didn’t have an elf. We had advent calendars that we reused year after year and they didn’t even feature chocolates, they just opened into little pictures! My mom didn’t particularly decorate the house. We had an old aloe painted white which we hung with the same old homemade decorations each year. Our tree would never have featured in a decor magazine but it was beautiful because it was ours, and it was familiar to us. And at night when it was dark, I’d lie on the green carpet and stare up at those fairy lights flashing on and off, and feel like the luckiest kid in the world.
My mom would string up Christmas cards and hang them in our lounge, against a wall or two. Whenever the wind would gust through the house, they’d all blow off on to the floor and we’d spend ages putting them back up again, making sure they didn’t overlap. Those Christmas cards would feature long detailed messages from cousins in Australia, or simply from the farmer down the road, who we hadn’t seen in a few months and who wanted to tell us some news (you know, no social media or cellphones).
My Christmases were magical because of traditions. The big bowl of nuts that we’d crack with nutcrackers – we’d often hurt our fingers and get shells in our teeth but the reward of that sweet pecan nut once you finally cracked it open was always worth it. The Quality Streets left out on the sideboard – one of the only times we had sweets in the house. We’d fight over the purple and green ones and all the orange and strawberry ones were always left over. Granny would bake her Christmas pudding every year and deposit a single coin into it (for luck!), which we’d all excitedly dig for under the custard, and it would usually end up chipping someone’s tooth.
My Christmases were magical because of family. Because of endless games of Scrabble, card games with my cousins, the completing of puzzles. Because of nighttime dips in the swimming pool, and sweltering walks in the veld, and laughing at who could eat the most roast potatoes.
I don’t remember getting lots of presents but I remember feeling so lucky, and unwrapping each one with care, from the annual pad of floral writing paper my Grandma used to give me, to the slightly bruised apple we’d always find at the bottom of our Christmas stockings. We didn’t even have fancy stockings that featured our names, we just used my Dad’s long farming socks and they’d always have sticky burrs or paper thorns at the bottom of them, which obviously had never come off in the wash.
We shoulder a lot, us mothers (and some dads!), carrying the emotional weight of Christmas, as well as all the practical stuff. From gift buying to meal planning to hosting family, the to-do list extends into infinity and it can feel exhausting at times. Of course, there are people who thrive on all of this, but even they must want at some point, for someone else to try and make Christmas magical FOR THEM.
So as we’re all running around the shops, intent on striving for festive perfection – think about what’s really important to you. What do you enjoy doing? If cooking a 5 course meal makes you happy, then do it. But if you’d rather not, then get someone else to do it (thanks UCOOK). If you can’t face decorating a table, then don’t! A poinsettia and some red crackers and some plain white candles will do just fine.
You don’t have to to make Christmas magical as a parent. If there’s a lot of love around you, some fun traditions that you keep alive, and times together with loved ones – it will turn out magical, for you and for your kids, all on its own.
P.S. some beautiful minimalist gift wrapping ideas here.