The best thing you can do for your family this Christmas.

Forget everything you’ve read, seen or dreamt about a perfect Christmas. Bid the mental image of a perfectly decorated table, impeccably wrapped gifts and a sublime ready-to-be-photographed feast, farewell.

Banish the idea of a family gathering in which everyone laughs, gets along and behaves like they’re in a Country Road catalogue or a Myer ad.

Forgive yourself for not hand writing Christmas cards to everyone you know and care about.

Dismiss your concerns about asking for help or getting your kids the perfect gifts.

Overlook the fact you might not be able to replicate your grandmother’s recipes for Christmas pudding, stuffing, trifle, mince tarts or any other dishes of enormous sentimental value and immense technical difficulty.

This sort of table setting? Too much work… Image via Instagram.

The research is in and despite the emotional pull many of us feel to create the perfect Christmas, this “dream” is actually the stuff of nightmares. The festive season is stressful and lonely.

The American Psychological Association has shown that 38 per cent of people say the holidays increase their stress levels and a further 26 per cent of people feel sad or lonely during the holidays.

The good news is, it doesn’t need to be like this.

The key to a Christmas in which you can keep your sanity and enjoy yourself (which sounds pretty close to perfect to me) is this:

  • Lower your expectations
  • Practise forgiveness
  • Slow down

Repeat after me. Lower your expectations. Practice forgiveness. Slow down.

Don’t you feel a weight off your shoulders just reading that? It’s counter-intuitive.


This is the time of the year we’re meant to be rushing around, getting work finished for the year, buying presents, planning meals, decorating, cooking, going to end-of year concerts, attending Christmas parties and juggling kids on school holidays.

Christmas Food
It’s the time of the year where we’re expected to be running around doing all sorts of things. It’s tiring. Image via iStock.

Generally, the idea is we live one of the year’s busiest, and most expensive, months whilst also creating THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS.

Is it any wonder it creates stress? Even before you factor in grief, mental illness, family tensions and financial stress, it’s a ticking time bomb.

Which is why I think lower expectations, forgiveness and slowing down, might just be the best Christmas present we can give ourselves – and those around us.


Here are a few hacks from women we love to make Christmas easier:

Rebecca Sparrow

“I now order many of the dishes I’ll be serving up on Christmas day (think salads, stuffing, glazed whatever).  I’m also really loving this idea that  maybe the toys that appear in my kids’ Santa sacks don’t have to be wrapped!! I mean — HELLO?  Imagine opening up the bag and it’s just TOY CITY.  I’m loving that idea and also LESS PAPER TO PICK UP ON THE DAY!”

Bianca Dye

“I stopped writing Christmas cards 4 years ago & GOD I FEEL GOOD!”

Wendy Squires

“I tell people I am an atheist and, as such, feel it rude to jump on board a Christian tradition I don’t believe in. It’s got me out of so many tight spots.”

Nikki Gemmel

“I still call Australia Home” hampers you can order over the internet, full of supercool Aussie gifts and foods that you can send anywhere in Australia or the UK. They come in the most gorgeous, funky, handpainted gift boxes – I’m keeping mine forever. Also, gift magazine subscriptions, because the recipient gets a reminder of your generosity 52 or 12 times a year. The internet is my friend at Christmas time. Most of the kid’s gifts are ordered on it too. And the teenagers get gift cards from a shop they love because mum is way too embarrassing to know what they might like.”

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young

“Go overseas! This year I’m taking my daughter to Vietnam for Christmas and we simply cannot wait to get there.”

Mia Freedman

“Make a no-presents-for-adults rule. My family did that years ago and it’s life changing. Also, marry someone Jewish.”


Shelly Horton

Robin Bailey

“Share the load. About 12 months ago Masterchef Matt Preston gave me all of his cook books with post it notes of his favourite recipes to help teach my three boys how to cook. Every Sunday night we have a cooking night together where we take it in turns to pick a meal from the books and we then all cook , so for Xmas lunch each of us are picking a dish and we will make it together.”

Tanya Plibersek

“I make cheesy olive balls weeks ahead and freeze them.  Then 15 minutes in the oven.  Very quick nibbles.  Also, I always write a present list.  It makes shopping a lot easier.”

Leigh Sales

“I’m an expert at sneaking out of parties early by claiming I’m just popping to the loo and then never returning.”

Gretel Killeen

“I think it’s really important to re-gift; on moral, environmental, capitalist and practical grounds. Also, I don’t actually need anything myself so it’s better to pass gifts on to others (as long as you don’t re-gift to the person who gave it to you in the first place.)”

Janice Petersen

“Since the festive spirit seems to bypass a lot of motorists, I try to avoid getting in the car to do Christmas shopping. Online shopping is my best friend.”


Gretel Killeen is appearing in Smart Arsing at the Sydney Opera House on Mar 3 and 4. For details please go to