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Maïa Dunphy On The Magic Of A Real Christmas

Maïa dunphy

OUR COLUMNIST ON THE MAGIC OF A REAL CHRISTMAS.

They started back in September; even earlier in some cruel instances. The countdown to Christmas, ads and supermarket displays showing us what the season should look like: images of busy mothers in kitchens, fathers asleep on couches with paper hats slipping over faces, kids with eyes all aglow opening the presents they wanted most in the world (for 24 hours at least), the ubiquitous giant red trucks emblazoned with winking Santas driving through the snow (just wait until the sugar tax man gets hold of them). Then there were the articles telling us to plan early and often, how to get in shape for that little black dress (although by rights we should still be in shape after all those bikini diets), how to avoid last minute panic shopping, what to do if you’re single, what to do if you’re not, how to deal with family, what to cook, what not to cook, how to be a perfect hostess, office party etiquette… The Rules of Christmas continued apace.

Well, I have one rule for Christmas. Just one. It’s the temporary suspension of all rules. To paraphrase the quote often mistakenly attributed to Fight Club, the first rule of Christmas is, there are no rules.

Think about it: trying to do things by the usual rules at this time of year is the very definition of madness. You are going to occasionally accept a drink before midday, you may well eat enough food in canapé form for six people some days (and that’s before lunch), you might kiss the inimitably creepy guy from HR at the office party, your kids will inevitably consume more sugar than the rest of the year combined (and probably do it whilst spending ten hours a day in front of a screen), there will be family arguments and battles with in-laws, you will see many people you love and others you don’t, and sometime on Christmas morning, you will remember that no one likes turkey.

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Every year, people talk about stress at Christmas. The money they have to spend, the people they don’t want to see and those they wish they could, the must- have toys they can’t find… the stress list is endless. But once you have made sure that the usual rules do not apply, you will find it all much, much easier.

The thing about Christmas traditions is that they are relative to the individual. How you spent your December 25th as a child will be set in stone as established practice. I’ve lost count of the couples I’ve met who fall out over Christmas customs; grown adults in grown-up relationships arguing about the correct time to open gifts, who should sit where, if Santa leaves a stocking or not, and why the inclusion of sprouts should be mandatory regardless if anyone eats them or not. The majority of people are obsessed with The Perfect Christmas. Well, here’s some breaking news: the perfect Christmas only exists in expensive department store ads. Real life Christmases are fraught, hectic, chaotic, but also completely wonderful.

I have a friend who has always been a Christmas obsessive. We were in college together and she would often talk about the kind of Christmas she would have in years to come. She wanted three kids, a big house, a ginormous tree in a bay window, magical family Christmas mornings followed by grandparents ringing the bell at midday, shaking the snow from their scarves as they skipped in the door bearing piles of presents – honestly, she was mildly delusional. She didn’t want Christmas, she wanted a John Lewis ad. Fast forward nearly two decades and she has two children, two stepchildren, an ex-husband, a partner with an ex-wife, and some other people for whom I’m not even sure the nomenclature exists (can you have a stepmother-in-law?). And no bay window. She admitted to us a few years ago that she now hated Christmas, as it was not what it was supposed to be anymore. We asked her what exactly it was “supposed to be” and the reply came “happy”. We suggested that she forget whatever rules she once had and find a new happy amidst the madness. So last year, she invited everyone – all the steps, exes and people with no descriptions. It was chaos, but it was her chaos, and she said it was the first time she had enjoyed Christmas in years (although, admittedly, she has booked to go to Dubai for Christmas this year, so maybe I should have found another example), but the point is, she ditched the rules and went with the reality.

So forget about normal behaviour. Make like a child (with the added bonus of alcohol), lose yourself in the magic of it all, and accept that there is a certain unavoidable lack of control around Christmas. You might be surprised at the difference it makes.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of IMAGE magazine, on shelves nationwide now.

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