Christmas is coming. And bloody hell, it is coming fast this year, in the style of a runaway Polar Express. Of course when you have young kids, you are doomed to suffer Christmas as a topic of conversation from roughly August, and festive songs will be repeated until your ears bleed from early November. Such is life. But the last couple of weeks have raced by and suddenly here we are, with just one week to go until the end of term and in full-blown merry meltdown.
This time of year is always a mixture of two extremes, of the fun and hard slog. Tinsel tipped tantrums abound.
But I am a creature of alarmingly short memory and I always forget to expect the festive fuckwittery you cannot escape with young, overexcited kids. A few weeks back I had forgotten it so entirely that I declared to my best mate “I really love Christmas!” at which point she spat out her tea laughing at me. She reminded me that I actually get super stressed and end up saying how glad I am to get back to normal when it is all over. I didn’t protest. She has known me for years and was, of course, completely right.
Now, I am absolutely not a bah-humbug type. And I really do love Christmas. But the problem is that the Christmas in my head rarely manages to materialise. It often is all the lovely things you want it to be, but the real version has a large dollop of stress, exhaustion and anticlimax thrown into the mix.
The run up to the festivities is always my favourite bit: all that wonderful expectation. The kids’ eyes are bright with utter joy at even a few crappy lights at the garden centre. They visit Santa and are full of wonder. How can you not love that? We’ve seen FC in his grotto twice this year (both of the men in red looked totally different but this wasn’t questioned, thankfully). All three kids asked him for entirely left-field requests, not even close to what was on their Christmas lists, so I dare say Santa had to do a bit of manic online Amazon ordering the next day. But, that aside, both grotto experiences were a big success.
Despite such heart-warming stuff, the pre-Christmas build up has its challenges. There is the constant battle to keep a lid on your kids’ emotional state: they become more manic and hyper as December progresses until they reach a state of frenzy. Then there are all the presents to buy and wrap, accompanied by the annual worry about not getting enough and disappointing the kids versus getting too much and spoiling them. It’s a fine line and I never seem to get it right.
A lot of the ‘lovely’ pre-Christmas traditions can go either way too. We decorate the tree as a family and that could mean either a delightful family bonding session or (more usually) a rather fraught afternoon of over-excited squabbles, ending in at least one kid going ballistic in a fireball of overstimulated rage, while the little one undoes all your good work and quietly unpicks the tree. Festive fuckwittery at its zenith.
School is a very exciting place for kids at this time of year, but for us weary grown-ups it feels like a whirlwind of things to remember. Christmas jumper days, nativity costumes, donations for this and that. There is no more manic time in the school year, and all at a time when you are stupidly preoccupied with all your own Christmas preparations and getting hammered at your work Christmas do.
So, you make it through the school festive gauntlet and reach the end of term. Yippee! Mince pies and mulled wine are dished out and you swerve home from school, slightly squiffy but delighted to be free of the school run for a whole two weeks.
Those last few days, when school is out and you wait for Christmas, are just brilliant. Everyone is happy. Yes, this is also a time with very high fuckwittery potential, with the kids at their festive peak and liable to explode in a puff of glitter, snot and tears at any moment, but it is mostly just really good fun. A big family love-in. And Christmas Eve is simply the best day of the year. Even before kids, there was nothing quite like it for me. Our annual Christmas Eve booze up in the pubs of my home town was bloody brilliant. Everyone back home for Christmas and smiling, full of genuine festive joy.
Christmas Eve is a bit different these days and this year it will involve my husband swearing quietly as he tries to construct two bikes, while I sneak in and out of bedrooms and drink port.
Christmas morning is amazing too. That look on the kids’ faces when they open the toy they have been dreaming about is priceless. It is only when all the gifts are open and you are knee-deep in ripped wrapping paper that it all starts going downhill.
I don’t think it matters what they got, even if all their Christmas wishes came true, the realisation hits the kids that, after all those months of excitement and build up, Christmas Day itself is then just a day. Yes, there are new toys and a nice lunch (which they mostly refuse to eat) but they remember how tired they are and they realise the presents have stopped coming and that great day, so full of promise, is just a nice family day after all.
In the eyes of a kid, Christmas is the most magical thing ever. They dream about it for weeks on end. Nothing can live up to that level of expectation, not even the greatest Christmas Day ever. The excitement of the stuffed stocking wins hands down over the little pile of opened gifts.
For years, we have rushed about all Christmas, spending the big day with one set of parents and Boxing Day with another set, with frantic packing and a sleepover or two thrown in. The kids open their gifts on Christmas morning and are then whisked away from them all for two or three days. By day two at the very latest, festive fuckwittery reigns supreme, with utter exhaustion written over the faces of the whole family, as we whirl around in a steep downward post-Christmas spiral.
This year, after an 11th hour decision, we are spending Christmas Day at home, joined by my in-laws. I’m a bit apprehensive, having never hosted Christmas before: this year the pressure is on me to try to meet those impossible expectations. But I’m also really excited to be able to tell the kids that they can sit about in their PJs all morning, eating chocolate and playing with their toys. No packing, no long car journeys. It is going to be ace. Plus my husband and I can both hit the wine while we cook, so everyone’s a winner.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to go all soppy on you and declare that this is going to be the best Christmas ever. I’m not a realist by nature but kids have helped me with that. I know what to expect: we have three kids of seven and under. It is going to be mayhem and there are going to be lots of exhausted meltdowns. But I have a wonderful little family and I aim to enjoy it, despite the bad bits. Besides, the bad bits make for the best festive stories to relay in years to come. I also have wine, and the perfect excuse to buy plenty more. Well, you have to as hosts, right?