real life

'The best thing about Christmas is that it's never perfect.'

One of my best Christmas Days ever involved a fire, the power going off, nephews being shuttled off to stock up on ice, an overworked gas barbecue, unyielding heat, and a complete last-minute revision of the lunch menu (which happened more around dinner time).

Oh, and my brother-in-law being whacked across the chest with a damp tea towel.

He had slept in on Christmas morning as the other adults had “problem solved” and wandered into the kitchen around 11am to ask his sister, “Why are you looking so stressed?”

What a Christmas Day.

Yes. Nobody is perfect. Especially at Christmas. Image Warner Bros

It seems to be completely naff to like Christmas these days.

It's too much effort. (true)

It promotes waste. (true)

It can blow out financially. (true)

It can heighten family issues. (true)

It's an OTT, indulgent celebration when some people have nothing. (true)

It puts way too much pressure on women. (true)

Everywhere I turn there are stories on How to enjoy Christmas solo. Or A guide to get away from family this Christmas. Or A Christmas cheat sheet for introverts.

Yes. Yes. Okay.

Some people don't like Christmas - and some people do. Image Universal Pictures

Then there are "rules" about how to do Christmas. The 12 questions not to ask family at Christmas. Six Buddhist phrases to help you deal with your mother this Christmas. (Hint: maybe you won't have to take up a new religion if you just bring a salad, pretend you don't have a hangover and do more than load the dishwasher - once. You're an adult now too). The seven rules for slow walkers Christmas shopping. The five tricks to avoid the Silly Season altogether. 

Sure, Christmas isn't perfect. But can you just let me have Christmas Day? (I'm not even the type who wears a reindeer antler headband.)

The thing is some of us, not all, really like this ridiculous, stressful, hypocritical time of year.

Some, who are lucky enough to not be alone, or are not missing a loved one, or are healing from missing a loved one, don't mind wiping down the dirty trestle table in the garage and then chipping the doorframe as we take it inside (at the time, we do mind and we swear and blame the the big chunk taken out of the frame on the person we are carrying the table with, because that person is usually family and they have to love you).

Some people look forward to the endless phone calls and text messages in the lead up to Christmas Day with our mums over what salads we should make and whether or not it's time to get rid of the ham and go all 1999 and only do seafood.

We look forward to kids making Christmas wish lists and getting excited about seeing their cousins and endless conversations about the hideousness of plum pudding.

"Why would anyone choose to eat THAT as a DESSERT?" they ask truly dumbfounded.

"It's only old people who eat plum pudding, it will die out soon."

"Custard is vile."


(NB: they favour pavlova and home made ice cream cake).

In This Glorious Mess Holly Wainwright discusses the passion and the pain of the Elf on a Shelf. It's meant to help parents at Christmas ...

We quiz butchers warmly about turkey roasting temperatures and times and it makes us feel united against turkeys. We feel like we belong a little when we leave a plate of homemade shortbreads at the front doors of neighbours. We chat a little more about our families to colleagues. We talk about Christmas plans and discover the person sitting opposite is the youngest of five and has some issues with her youngest sister and is hoping the day doesn't end like last year.

Some of us may whine about being the buyer of Christmas gifts, but would feel bereft if someone else took on that job. There is a certain level of delusion that's needed to enjoy Christmas and one delusion I indulge in is that only I can do the presents "right".

I may text my husband from the shops and moan about how hard it is to buy something for my dad, but this is all part of the Christmas gift dance. Two steps backward. One to the side and then brilliant jazz hands because we found a wine opener shaped like golf clubs. I am the present buyer. I know all Christmas roads in and I know all Christmas roads out.

Every year I take on too much. Every year I swear this year I will do it differently. Every year I feel guilty about the people in the world who are just trying to stay alive and here I am buying more mangoes.

Even Beyonce wears Reindeer Antlers

Yet every year there is my family and some of the friends I love sitting around a long table. Or sitting around a few shorter tables. Maybe the little ones on the kitchen bench. Maybe they are out on the verandah and some bright spark has erected a shade cloth out of a sheet and elastic bungee cords. Mum has a tablecloth made especially for Christmas; it fits over the ping pong table on the back deck. Lucky we have long arms. Whatever seating works in whatever house we are in.

And I love it. Because I sit at that table with the nectarine salad that didn't turn out quite right and the turkey that's overcooked despite six adults checking it and the mound of fancy coleslaw my husband will eat for days saying how much he's looking forward to eating fancy coleslaw (even though it's very existence in the fridge three days after Christmas proves no-one likes fancy coleslaw for Christmas Day).

I sit and look down the table at everyone with those coloured paper hats straining on their heads and I think this is what I work hard for all year.

Everyone together.

Everyone flawed.

Everyone human.

Everyone trying.

Everyone a part of me and me a part of them.

And everyone arguing over whether disgusting, old fashioned, fabulous, best- part-of-Christmas plum pudding will live to last another generation. Will take up a space on the long Christmas table when my children are grandparents.

My bet is it will: it's okay to be an optimist at Christmas.