It’s a Festive Irony that the more convenient and accessible the media and retail markets make Christmas, the less time, energy and funds we have to inject into this all-encompassing time of year. Planning ahead is all good and well, but with nary a minute to catch breath between Australia Day and the very moment next year’s calendars hit the ‘marked-down’ box, who has time to even plan?
I’ve just taken down the Halloween decorations and it felt really odd to eyeball the jam-packed Christmas cartons with disdain. Like most working mothers, I’ve had a hectic and high-achieving year, and now that November’s wrapped its summery tentacles around us, I’m feeling a tad, well – exhausted. For someone who adores the festive season as much as I do, it was depressing to find myself thinking of Christmas and heaving a groan instead of peeping with glee.
In light of this, I’ve thought long and hard about ways to make this upcoming season not only easier to cope with, but far more worthy of an excited peep.
If you’re still holding a grudge after being unceremoniously dumped last year from a Christmas card list or two, don’t take it personally. It seems this time-honoured tradition is on its way out of favour – or at least, being superseded by the dreaded electronic version (please don’t send me an electronic version). If you’re really strapped for time, write a newsletter style greeting to email en masse instead.
If you absolutely cannot imagine passing the festive season without penning cards, do so early. Have the kids chip in (or better still – take over). Get it done late at night in front of the telly. And if you really want to stay sane, skip the mumbo jumbo. A simple and single line expressing your wishes is plenty for a Christmas card. If you really must blather on about junior’s sporting achievements and your trip to the coast, write a general newsletter and print it to include with the card.
Consider drumming up the chutzpah to do what everyone else is also secretly wanting to do – opt out of the extended gift-giving. Having moved 100 times in the past decade, I’ve managed to meet a large amount of people (many of whom have procreated), and if I had continued popping pressies in the mail for each and every poppet I’ve met and adored along my way, I’d be homeless and probably toothless by now. Stop the gift-giving. Yes – even the kids of your oldest and dearest friends. Send a card instead and save the gift-giving for their 21st.
Do it online. There’s a stack of wonderful gift-giving sights vying for business, and postage costs are easily resolved by the time and effort saved, not to mention petrol and parking costs.
Make it. No, I’m not talking about crafty creations made from toilet rolls and sparkly glue. I’m talking about consumables. Bake it. And if you can’t bake, bottle it. Package it. Have a gingerbread-making conga line in your kitchen and knock over the neigbours, teachers and service-providers in one fell delicious swoop. Make your own festive hot chocolate powder with Christmas spice, package into cello bags and present it in a beautiful mug. Flavour tea by sealing it up with vanilla pods or dried lemon slices for a month before D-Day. Mix together homemade cookie dough with instructions on adding wet ingredients, and wrap it in clear cello with a rolling pin or Christmas cookie cutters or an apron.
You can also think green. Bundle a small houseplant in festive paper. Pot up herb seedlings. Tie a stack of packaged seeds with beautiful ribbon and nestle them inside a seedling box or lovely pot. Everyone loves green.
We all have so much these days (probably too much). Don’t risk regifting or inner groanings from your gift-recipient. Give something consumable that they’ll actually enjoy… or take the easiest option of all – hand over cash or giftcards. Far from lacking in creativity or thought, many people (particularly adults and teens) would be far happier with a few dollars to spend later on a whim than something that needs to be carefully placed in the very back of a cupboard, post-haste.
We nominate the first Saturday in December to get stuck into those jam-packed Christmas cartons. The whole family is involved. We put on Christmas music, brew fragrant coffee and nibble on gingerbread. If the kids get jack of things too early, we put Frosty the Snowman on the telly and this keeps them within ornament-handing reach. Make a thing of it. Invite the neighbours or rels in to help and make decorating a breeze.
Use plants. Poinsettias look amazing this time of year and make for instant glamour. Faux green garlands and wreaths look wonderful, even when unadorned, and they cover large amounts of space almost instantly. If you want to add some kind of colour, have the kids tie on ribbons or dot with faux holly berries, fruit or snowflakes.
You can also use lights to cover large areas quickly. Use long strings of baubly sparkles – curled around windows and smothering the tree. Beautiful and time-effective.
Fake it. So much is pre-prepared these days, and if you hunt around you’ll find some extraordinary quality. Grab as much as you can well in advance of the Christmas rush crowds and stash it out of sight of rumbling festive tummies. Buying pre-prepared foods may seem a little expensive, but the time and effort saved is priceless (and no doubt, starting a dish from scratch may not work out that much cheaper).
If you must do it yourself, at least make it easier on yourself by opting for product helpers. Buy the shortbread, ice it yourself. Open the pre-packed truffles, dust them with icing sugar and stack them on a pretty plate. Buy the madeira cake and carton of custard for the trifle – no one will know and it will still taste divine (especially if you pickle it in port).
Join forces. Talk amongst your circle about hosting a combined bash or progressive drinks, where neighbours, friends and family drive (or walk – all the better for tippling) from house to house for something delicious. Costs and time are cut, and social catchups are collectively achieved.
Why not host a street neighbourhood party? No one needs to traipse through the house – you don’t even need to decorate or clean! Set up tables and chairs over several front yards and let the festivities run free.
Looking for more inspiration? Following are some Fuss-Free Christmas tips from other working mums around Australia. Come on, share yours! Leave a comment below and give other working mothers the gift of timely festive advice.
Have the extended family over for Christmas breakfast and use the barbeque to cook it. If you’ve been up since the crack of dawn with excited children anyway, Christmas breakfast presents an oportunity to ease into the day. The kids don’t have to wait until lunch (or dinner) to share their Christmas joy (and present appreciation), the pressure is off everyone for the day and subgroups of the extended family can go on to have smaller Christmas lunches/dinner without guilt. – Dianne, 40
I have three kids under six years to occupy while I’m busily preparing for Christmas festivities, so this year, I’m going to get them to make their own Advent calendar. But instead of lollies, each Advent Calendar day will hold the name of someone special to our family. When they get the name of the special person each day, the children will be able to make a Christmas card to send to them. Cuts down on the number of cards I personally have to write, the kids just love making and sending cards, and the relatives quite like getting handmade cards from children instead of the usual bought cards. – Emma, 31
Just Add Water. To avoid your children being caught up in the chaos, expense and exhaustion of the silly season, throw them in the bath, take them swimming, make ice blocks, keep them drinking water, paint on pathways with food colouring coloured water and – water restriction dependent – let them run around under a sprinkler. – Jennie, 34
With the two birthdays two days before Christmas, it is nuts for me that time of year. One thing I do is wrap the presents as I’m buying them. There is nothing worse on Christmas Eve, after sitting down with a Bailyrs and watching Ray on Carols By Candlelight than spending four hours on the loungeroom floor, bent over in the half pretzel trying to wrap presents in all manner of shapes and sizes. – Dani, 38
When the kids were little, I discovered my Christmas Day went a lot smoother when I had two mango daiquiris for breakfast. Now they’re grown, I see no reason to change this ritual. – Mary, 50
Start purchasing Christmas presents early and make them, where possible, because I think it is much more appreciated and saves the hassle of crowded shopping. – Katie, 33
Become an athiest. You will save hours on Christmas morning. – Eleanor, 39
I always bake a few batches of gingerbread cookies and bundle them up in cello bags with ribbon ready to give when you get an unexpected gift. The cookies are also handy to take as a hostess gift for impromptu Christmas visits. A homemade baking is always appreciated by all. – Rachelle, 46
I write everyone I need to buy for and ‘shop on paper’ first. Each time I go near a shop or online store, I purchase a gift for just one person. This helps with budgeting and doesn’t bore the kids too much. Then I put my tree up in early November so I can put the presents somewhere! Take advantage of in-store gift wrapping services or at the very least wrap as you go so you don’t have a big job at the end. – Jenny, 30
Get the kids to make the decorations! Use coloured paper to make snowflakes, angel chains, snowmen, Christmas trees, paper chains. Children love to be involved and see their creations come to life. Pack safely away for the following years and precious memories. – Claire, 41
My tip is not to focus on food and presents. If we don’t eat mountains of food on other days but do eat well all year, the whole business of groaning tables at Christmas just doesn’t make sense. It’s lovely to share a special meal with one’s family on this and many other days, and to give and receive the gift of time. – Barbie, 59
Picture credit: Tania McCartney