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I was fiddling with the Christmas tree and taking photos, singing carols and generally getting into the Christmas spirit all by myself.

– Deck the halls with bells and holly. Fa la la la la la la la la.

– It’s boughs, said Mr T.

– What?

– Boughs of holly.

– Seriously?

– Yes.

– Are you sure?

– Yes.

I had to google it just to check, as you do, because you can, and he was right. Boughs! For nearly half a century I’ve been singing those words wrong. Hardly surprising really as I have a penchant for making up alternative lyrics when I don’t know the real ones. But it’s the fa la la that’s the important bit in any case, and I had that right all along.

I love Christmas and carols and trees and glitz and presents and all the hype. I know Christmas stresses out a lot of people and they go into strange and self-inflicted periods of panic and meltdown. Have you finished your Christmas shopping? Have you started your shopping? Have you got the food ready? How many people are you having?

People – relax! It will all be okay. We’re very much into Christmas in our family, and there are many, traditions (rules??), but we’re pretty relaxed about it too. You can eat exceedingly well without baking for weeks beforehand. And news flash. You don’t have to put your mortgage payments on hold for December just to get a decent Christmas meal or get lovely presents.

For us the secret is about staying flexible – well, apart from those rules, so let’s cover off some of those first:

  • Christmas carols must be played on the tele on Christmas eve, in the dark, and at various times on Christmas day and in the preceding weeks.
  • Santa must bring a stocking to everyone in the house, adults and kids alike. Only fair.
  • On Christmas day presents can only be opened one at a time (this drives some people to distraction because it takes sooo long, but each present is worthy of full attention and otherwise it just turns into a manic paper ripping exercise which just seems like really bad manners). And AFTER mass.
  • There must be bon bons, no matter how cheap, because this produces paper hats and the wearing of paper hats is absolutely essential. They must be worn during the entirety of lunch and preferably for the remainder of the afternoon. Claims of having a big head are not acceptable.
  • Jokes must be read from the bon bons. Mr T has taken it upon himself to replace supplied corny jokes with his own from his dirty collection, the dirtier the better. This is not necessarily an improvement.
  • Lunch must involve ham and preferably pork.
  • Left over ham must be eaten in various forms for about a week after the main event, but remember do not ever again attempt to turn it into pea and ham soup on day 7. You will not be forgiven.
  • An afternoon kip must be taken, even if it’s on the couch (that’s my rule, Mr T hits golf balls if he can).

There’s probably more. Each family will have their own.

But back to this flexibility thing (bearing in mind the rules). As families grow and change and marry and reproduce and move interstate, it becomes increasingly harder to get everyone together in the same place at the same time. And that’s in a family sans-divorce and melded families and where everyone gets on. So we do whatever works. This year that means we actually get to have four separate Christmas celebrations with different groups on different days to fit everyone in. Quadruple the fun.

It also means you get to spread out the shopping requirements a bit more. The stress of shopping brings many folks undone, but I quite like that bit. Okay, I like it a lot, because I generally love shopping. Like a little bit addicted. It’s one of my special talents really.

It’s actually the wrapping that overtakes my life at the end. Every year for around 3 to 4 weeks, I completely give over my dining room to wrapping, and spread presents and paper and gifts bags and 20 years’ worth of retained gift tags over the dining table and form piles, and rearrange, and wrap presents. Because everything has to be wrapped separately, no matter how small, because that makes for more presents under the tree which looks more impressive and ridiculously excessive, even if it’s not (it usually is). And because I am still wrapping for adult children who have left home and married (well, one) who still haven’t learned the art of wrapping.

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Another necessity is to have a beautiful Christmas tree in our home. Actually, I have two extra little ones as well. I pick a colour theme and it is usually very simple – red and gold, or silver and gold, maybe purple and gold. I’m a bit matchy-matchy in most circumstances.

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But this year Miss Sunshine was assisting in the decoration so other colours were involved (part of her plan to have a rainbow Christmas) and suddenly there was green and purple, and gold and silver, and a bit of red, and the bottom levels of the tree were groaning with over-loading. Just let her go and rearrange when she’s not looking. Lift. Lift. Re-balance.

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We are perilously close to Christmas day and still I have not written the annual Christmas missive, where I record the events of our year, working to achieve the right blend of humour and humility (of course), dot it with flattering photos and send it out to the world of friends and family, where it is mostly met with resounding silence. But still I am obliged to continue as M1 has determined it serves as an excellent record of our adventures through the decades and is a necessary annual ritual. More rules. All we need to do is compile them into a little photo book and hey presto, our autobiographies are done. I am pleased the tradition has this year been picked up by eldest daughter, who has now written her very first version of her own burgeoning family’s affairs.

So, sit back, relax and have a merry Christmas. If you need some help in achieving a stress-free state, here’s a few of my favourite tips to keep the anxiety at bay.

  • Start your Christmas shopping early. Like in the Boxing Day sales. Put things away for next year. Remember you put them away.
  • Start drinking bubbles early in the day. Perhaps just keep that one for Christmas day rather than every day.
  • Use gift bags wherever possible, even grotty, slightly squashed pre-used ones, if only for close family members. This will save on wrapping time. And wrapping.
  • Remember that Santa doesn’t wrap his offerings. See above.
  • Do not overcook the meat (that’s just one of my pet Christmas hates). Ugh!
  • Do not start with chocolate for breakfast. You will regret it. And do not weigh yourself the next morning.
  • Embrace re-gifting.
  • Remember every family has foibles. They’re foibles. Foibles.

Any other favourite suggestions?

Overall, just chill and enjoy the day and the season. Merry Christmas!!

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