In 2019 our Christmas Tree, with 15 years of much-loved service was retired. So, off the back of a year like no other, I set off last week with a spring in my step to buy the tree that will take centre stage in our home and serve out my children’s years living at home. I was excited. We had even decided to put the tree up earlier than our customary December 1, to bring some sparkle to the house and get us ready for our family Christmas. I had a particular store in mind to buy my tree, and I spent 15 minutes pacing around each displayed tree, considering the height and span of each, whether to opt for built-in lights, if our current decorations look great on it and so on. All questions I asked myself to make sure the tree would be ‘just perfect’. Sadly, to no avail.

With my selection in mind, I stood in line at the counter. Eventually my time came and the shop assistant I greeted me with, “We’ve sold out”. Not only were they sold out of  my perfect tree but all on display. The trees were only on display because this store (and every other store in our state) had sold out. “People are staying home this year”, I was told, “You’re too late”.

I am sure there are other stores where I could have sourced a tree, but that moment got me to thinking about my perfect tree, and I particularly noticed the word I used, ‘perfect.’

For those who celebrate Christmas, this is a time of great anticipation and expectation. Time off work. Gifts to give and receive. The celebration of food and cheer. Seeing friends, family, loved ones. What’s not to love?

Despite the messaging of most Christmas movies, the gap between what we envisage and what results at Christmas time can be sizeable. The food we enjoy, the presents we unwrap all come with great effort on top of the regular demands of a household. Within a year where many family’s budgets are stretched further, and absences from each other have been extended, the possible stresses of the 2020 Christmas are more common, not less.

With this in mind, how can we best approach Christmas to reduce the potential stress and increase the enjoyment and experience the true intention of Christmas with loved ones?

  • Be aware that most people leave social media feeling worse than when they started looking at it. Remember that what you see in your feed is often the ‘highlight’ reel of others. Behind the smiles of the perfectly manicured children greeting Santa at the supermarket is probably a typical family who have just been arguing about when they can go home and why they can’t have donuts for lunch. And, what do you mean, you haven’t posted every day your creative postures for that rotten ‘Elf on the Shelf’? Parenting is full enough without turning it into a competition.

Solution: Restrict your social media time and be mindful as to what you are posting, and what you are paying attention to. Perhaps a social media holiday might be a great Christmas present to yourself.

  • Learning from our extended time at home in 2020, is that home can feel both a sanctuary and suffocating. Any prolonged period spent with the family in close quarters will put stress on even the closest members. With the joy of being together also comes generational differences, a relative lack of privacy, a feeling of loss of control, and for some regression. If you are returning to your childhood home, it can soon feel like you’ve stepped back into your teenage years. Amplified even more strongly if you have siblings and they are nearby!

Solution: Be realistic in your expectations. If your family often argue that is unlikely to reduce just because it’s Christmas time. Think carefully about topics that trigger for people. If you know politics will spark an argument, reconsider broaching that conversation.

The great outdoors can reduce the risk of disagreements – perhaps a game of bocce outside, a beach picnic or a game of cricket (just make sure everyone gets a bowl!)

  • Christmas is the season of giving, so the pressure of doing so within your budget may be more of a consideration this year.

Solution: Thinking ahead to how you can support credit card bills in the months following Christmas and planning for your expenses ahead of time are all important. Perhaps you might agree to buy presents only for the children, have a Kris Kringle or set a limit on the spend, can all help.

What are the gifts you can give that are free or cost little? Can you make something? Gift your time? Volunteer? Gifts that involve looking after others will not only bring joy to them but helping others brings us happiness too!

  • No time of the year offers more temptations than Christmas. Rich food, alcohol, late nights and excess. Whilst it is true that what you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while, food and alcohol can be a short-term fix if we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Solution: Be mindful about what you are eating and drinking. Enjoy these joys of Christmas but consider getting in some physical activity and healthy foods along the way. Indeed, if you have been drinking, don’t drive or go swimming.

This isn’t to say that Christmas is, by default, a challenging and stressful time. With some thought and consideration, we can take away the pressure of the ‘perfect’ Christmas and instead have a real one. This year my family will be sitting around a small imperfect tree in a pot from our garden – and I think that will do the job just fine!

Merry Christmas to you all!