Don’t knock yourself out... less really is more at Christmas time

"This year, all that’s going to change in this house, because I have realised that the main culprit for what I had, for all those years, secretly dubbed Killer Christmas, was the picture of perfection I carried inside my own head," so says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Don’t knock yourself out... less really is more at Christmas time

STRESSED: People can put huge pressure on themselves to find the perfect gift for loved ones... only for them not to appreciate what you have bought. Picture: Stock, posed by model

FOR me (secretly), one of the nicest things about Christmas used to be the few days after it.

I mean, God between us and all harm, you couldn’t ever actually say that because then you’d be the Joy-Killing Mammy and they’d be reminding you about it into your eighties.

But I thought it.

This year, all that’s going to change in this house, because I have realised that the main culprit for what I had, for all those years, secretly dubbed Killer Christmas, was the picture of perfection I carried inside my own head.

There will be no picture of perfection in my head this year.

I simply won’t allow it.

This year, every time an image of what my perfect Christmas should look like tries to sidle its way into my brain, I immediately think about something else.

Because this year, one of the nicest things about Christmas will be Christmas.

In the old days, the run-up was a basket case, in this house anyway, though, I suspect, the frenzied preparations were reflected in many other houses up and down the land, where well-intentioned women wore themselves to a thread trying to make everything absolutely wonderful for everyone else.

Oh, the three weeks or so before Christmas were happy and busy and great fun; you were dashing around the place, exchanging happy, wearied glances with other women in the festively decorated aisles of grocery stores and gift departments. Everything had to be just perfect, and it damn well would be perfect, even if it killed you. And it usually did kill me.

One does tend to over-stretch oneself with all of that reaching for perfection, even in terms of getting the decorations - the tree, the wreaths, the garlands, and so on, exactly right.

I recall a friend once telling me, long before the days of online shopping, that she knocked herself out trying to find the exactly perfect miniature toy train to incessantly run a loop along its tracks under her beautifully decorated tree.

She nearly killed herself; in fact she nearly did get herself knocked down by a truck because she rushed out of the shop and across the street without looking, simply buzzing with joy because she had found her miniature train-set - and paid a fortune for it - in some expensive toy shop or other.

And why all the fuss?

Because she explained, for some reason she had this picture in her head about a little toy train chugging around in a circle going hoot hoot, hoot, when the children came downstairs on Christmas morning.

Personally I suspect she plucked that image out of the Barry’s tea train-set Christmas ad, but I didn’t dare to say it, especially when she nearly got herself killed trying to make it real for the kids.

Women often get themselves into a bit of a tizzy about this kind of stuff; even more so when you’re trying to get the perfect gift for loved ones; things you are absolutely certain that they’d really like, and which, sometimes, sadly, they actually don’t.

One year I was really stumped as to what to get for a family member who, to my mind, already had everything. I thought and thought and thought, and eventually came up with the idea for a lovely hard-cover cookery book, one of the top sellers that Christmas, which, I suddenly decided, was the only thing she would possibly like.

Alas, when I went looking for it, the book in question was sold out in several of the major shops and I got into a total sweat trying to find it. Eventually and after much effort, I tracked down a copy, and guess what. She tore open the wrapping, looked at it and remarked that she had it already, before casually laying it aside.

I still recall the massive lump of sheer disappointment that rose in my throat. I don’t know why that incident made me so sad, but it really did.

One also tends to get into a bit of a panic - especially if visitors were coming for Christmas Dinner - to make sure the table looks as much like a Pinterest spread as possible. Why?

Because it’s all about the time of year and what we feel expected to do, so what we actually want to do around Christmastime - such as take your time when you bring small children to see the Christmas crib - can be pushed to aside by what we feel obliged to do.

Another year, I went to a craft fair, and some fledgling Irish drinks company was selling these beautifully-bottled little drinks, all made of different fruits, for Christmas Day. They looked lovely and tasted wonderful. Needless to say, they were not cheap. But I bought several anyway, in the flush of festive Christmas excitement, and served them on the big day, expecting everybody to rave about them. They were necked, the bottles were discarded and that was the end of it. End of. Nobody as much as commented on them.

Wouldn’t we all really be far better off, doing the minimum and then seating ourselves in an armchair beside the fire sipping a glass of mulled wine and enjoying our sparkling Christmas trees or, simply the starlit sky outside the window?

After all, who said you have to knock yourself out decorating the house so that it will basically look exactly the same as every other house up and down the country?

Who ruled that your Christmas dinner table has to reach the sparkling professionally-festive settings in the glossies?

This thing about the whole family wearing matching Christmas jumpers? It comes from Hollywood movies.

Why buy into the pressure to pose and upload a photograph of the perfect-family-Christmas on Instagram?

I mean, come off it, guys. We bring a lot of this on ourselves.

This year, I’ve already put my new philosophy into play.

Yes we have decorated, but one tree, not two. The mantelpieces are festive, and I’ll be bringing holly in from the garden for the big vases as usual.

“But we didn’t put up the huge green garlands wreathed with fairy lights on the stairs — they’re sheer murder to put in place and they scratch the banisters anyway — and we didn’t go crazy collecting baskets of holly to decorate the tops of all the kitchen cupboards and presses.

An old friend who visited a few days ago, looked around and said the house looked very nice:

“Less is more,” she added approvingly.

And you know what?

She’s right.

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