How to survive the Xmas blues

2007-12-15 00:00

Surviving the Christmas hangover is one thing, surviving the whole rollercoaster ride of the festive season is quite another — without some form of support that is, moral or otherwise. To some of us, Christmas has become not just one hurdle to scale but a whole hurdle race. The frenzy of choosing 50 perfect gifts for 50 different people, the pressure of presenting the ultimate festive feast with just the right balance between family traditions and contemporary culinary trends, and the tension of holding on to that frozen smile throughout the onslaught of those not-so-favourite family members … these are just the tip of the Christmas tree of stress! Here are a few suggestions on how to survive it all.

If the thought of expending energy and all that hard-earned lolly on presents for people you don’t really like but are obliged to is enough to set off a mild panic attack or have you reaching for a large glass of chilled chardonnay — resist.

Make a To-Don’t list: Don’t spend obscene amounts on your mother-in-law-from-hell, preachy-brother-in-law or crass-uncle-once-removed — buy them gifts that will stop them in their tracks, like a beautiful pot plant or a gift voucher for a relaxing back massage. Don’t waste time and energy sweating the small stuff like what wrapping paper to buy — keep it simple and use recyclable paper with pretty ribbons. Don’t leave all your shopping to the last minute, you will spend more and buy unnecessary junk. Don’t go shopping without a list — at least have some ideas jotted down for each person and as much as possible buy local. Take a little time to plan your expedition, even down to the layout of the mall and what needs to be bought along the way — you’ll feel less exhausted and more in control. Don’t necessarily think all shopping happens at the mall; they can be stressful places at the best of times and, trust me, Christmas is the worst of times. Go to your nearest arts and crafts market or shop — they usually have extra stock in for Christmas and are more affordable than retailers too.

Once you have a handle on your gifting, the cooking conundrum takes over. Turkey, chicken or duck? Gammon, lamb or Boston Butt? Play it safe with traditional sage and onion stuffing or go all out with Jamie Oliver’s rhubarb and ginger take? Vegetables or salad, or both? The decisions are as endless as the expectations are great. Firstly, if you’re hosting the shindig you get to choose your favourite dishes, so serve sushi if you love it — just expect a few disappointed faces. Secondly, do what any executive (home or otherwise) worth their salt does: plan ahead and delegate. It’s the season of goodwill so be nice and ask your sister to bring the roast potatoes she does so brilliantly, insist your aunt throws together her superb Caesar salad and sweetly tell your husband that his saddle of lamb on the Weber is orgasmic! They’ll fall over themselves to help out. Leave as little as possible for yourself to actually do and buy in some ready-made vegetables you can simply heat and serve — stylishly on your own gorgeous platters, garnished with fresh herbs, of course. With the rest of the family’s designer dishes spread out on the server, no one will notice they’re not your usual burnt offerings anyway. Knock any guilt back by buying the best quality Lindt chocolates and serving champagne or Cap Classique at the very least. Slug it back and celebrate!

The gifts and food sorted, now it’s just the people you have to contend with. If the thought of seeing that supercilious face of your sister-in-law’s husband every day for five days or listening to another one of Uncle Harry’s crass jokes sends your by now calmish mind into a spin, get a grip. Realise that Christmas time does throw together the unlikeliest sorts, inevitably; so instead of winding yourself up in readiness for an almighty blow-up, decide not to. It’s your well-earned break and you deserve to chill out too, even if you’re not in control of the company you’re keeping. Plan a few mini-excursions you can look forward to every day so you’re ensured of some time to yourself (alone or with someone you can stomach), far away from the irritations of the madding crowd. Get up an hour earlier than everyone else and go for a brisk walk — it will clear your head of any left over anger from the night before and the exercise will pump you full of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Merry Christmas!

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