So, every year it’s the same feeling of dismay that descends as I walk into my local supermarket and notice the tinsel and baubles draped above the counter. Just a few decorations to start off with, as if they’re trying to break it to us gently that the season of getting completely stressed out and parting with vast sums of money is upon us again. And I don’t know if there’s anyone over the age of 10 who actually gets excited about this time of year. For me, the stress is a combination of family-related stuff – being married to a Dane who likes to keep up the tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve with roast pork and red cabbage and songs sung around the tree and which is lovely and would suit me perfectly except that I come from a South African family who insist that Christmas means turkey and stuffing eaten at lunch-time on the 25th and doing both things – as we usually do – feels like one roast and glass of Buck’s Fizz too many.
That and the issue of how, when it comes to the end of the year, I just can’t seem to get my act together. I don’t know if it’s exhaustion or denial or a bit of both, but even as I make half-hearted plans to start shopping early, I know in my heart that I will be paralysed by the same inertia that scuppers my attempts, every time, to have a panic-free, joy-filled Christmas. And I don’t know why I can’t manage to have a plan, work out a budget and buy thoughtful, affordable gifts just a few weeks in advance. Because surely – given the fact that I keep a family clothed and fed on a daily basis and host braais and birthday parties and dinners and book groups all year round with very little fuss and sometimes at a moment’s notice – this is one event I could pull off with some level of preparedness rather than finding myself, year after year, at 9pm on the 23rd of December running around the Waterfront, crying, because I’ve only bought one gift, and it was for myself. It’s not like I didn’t know this event was imminent.
And when the teacher gets her Lindt chocolates one month after her birthday (yes, I am that parent) I can explain that mommy has been very busy and stressed, but my girls are still believers in Father Christmas, and the day he doesn’t deliver every item on that list in the right size and colour will be a very, very terrible day in their world. It’s bad enough that the Tooth Fairy who lives around these parts only gets her act together the following morning. Father Christmas pulling the same stunt would be unforgivable.
Once I’ve spied those Christmas decorations and I can no longer deny what’s coming, I start telling myself that I’m not going to be suckered into the easy, overpriced, repackaged-with-tinsel impersonal vouchers and chocolates as last time. I’m going to do it right, like other people do. I’m going to innovate; craft things out of yarn and twine. I will first find out what yarn and twine are, and then there will be no end to the thoughtful, superbly creative Martha Stewart-kind of Christmassy, festive things that come out of this house. Red and green things, personalised with ribbons and bells. And also things you can eat – homemade preserves, for example. And jams made from fruit I bought at an organic market. How hard can it be? The kids can help. Wouldn’t they love that? Craft Mommy. They would be thrilled, if a little surprised.
And these are the thoughts I have for weeks on end. I think them while I lie on a reclining chair with a sea view sipping my second cold margarita. I think them while I page through catalogues
of cured hams and garden furniture on special offer. I try and decide what I’d most like to make while I eat cheesecake-flavoured ice cream next to the pool, trying not to drip any on my new bikini. And then – and I don’t even understand how this is possible – suddenly there’s no more time for sourcing yarn, only screeching around a shopping centre trying to find parking and grabbing the last self-basting turkey in the store along with every pink, plastic thing I can lay my hands on and then pacing while we wait for two over-excited little girls to fall asleep so we can wrap their presents before sunrise.
And it’s two tremendously bleary-eyed parents who stayed up till silly o’ clock putting presents in stockings and washing dishes from Christmas dinner #1 who get woken at 5am to little voices saying, he came! Father Christmas really came! And we’re so happy we remembered to take a bite out of the carrot we left for the reindeer because for our oldest child, who is starting to get a little suspicious about these unlikely gift-bearing characters, this is totally actually proof that it’s not just mom and dad who buy the stuff. And by the time we’re two cups of strong coffee down and Sinatra is wishing everyone a merry little Christmas I almost forget how completely stressful and demanding the month has been. Almost. But not quite.
And I think, it must be possible to make it happy and fun again, instead of crazy and exhausting. You know, the TV ads where everyone is calm and radiant and no one drinks too much eggnog and is rude about their gift and starts a fight? There must be a way of doing it like that. Saying no sometimes and not feeling obliged to attend every single party you’re invited to. Establishing your own traditions which work for you and the people you’re closest to and are not about pleasing each member of your extended family. And not getting quite so sucked into the commercialism of the event. You know. Having just a little bit of money left over to do fun stuff in January. So, if anyone knows how to do this in practice, you know where to find me. It’s only November – there’s still time.