Out & About

What is the perfect Christmas?

by Emily Sparkes

I don’t know about you but I’m really looking forward to Christmas! Prior to having my son, I remember feeling that Christmas was actually a bit of an anti-climax. I also remember envisioning what Christmas would be like when my husband and I had a family of our own. There I was naively imagining skipping off to the local carol service, hand-in-hand with rosy-cheeked children, before coming home to sip hot chocolate, put carrots out for the reindeer, read T’was the Night Before Christmas and then tucking the little cherubs up in bed.

How wrong I was! As I’m sure that all of you with children will know, Christmas Day is actually chaos… but it’s delightful chaos. For those of you who don’t have children and have perhaps romanticised the idea of a family Christmas, let me inject a dose of realism!

Those children who went to bed the night before, probably far later than they should have done high on excitement and sugar, wake at an unholy hour demanding to rush downstairs to “see if he’s been”. Children don’t need sleep, you know! They don’t emerge in the beautiful matching family Christmas pyjamas, cleverly purchased back in October. They’re too itchy, hot and the tag is scratchy. Instead, they look like something from Halloween, certainly nothing like the children on the John Lewis Christmas adverts. They open all of the presents in about twenty minutes flat and take absolutely no notice of who the gifts were from, making the future task of writing thank-you cards almost impossible. The lounge quickly becomes flooded with wrapping paper and cardboard packaging, making getting through to the kitchen to boil the kettle for a desperately needed coffee akin to The Crystal Maze. Meanwhile, all the mess and rubbish sends my husband into a cold sweat as he panics about how he’ll fit it all in the recycling bin.

Although we were all woken at the crack of dawn, or even long before dawn, the morning whizzes past and before long its 11am and nobody’s eaten anything of any nutritional value; especially not the salmon royale I’d ambitiously planned for breakfast, having been seduced by the Marks and Spencer’s Christmas food catalogue. Instead, its panic stations as it dawns on me that I offered to cook Christmas lunch for our entire extended family. And no, Phil Vickery, despite your pleas on This Morning, I have pre-prepared nothing… not even peeled a vegetable. Nada. I cook a roast dinner every weekend, don’t you know? Just not on this gargantuan scale. Or with the cacophony of noisy toys and an excitable toddler in the background. Or with a house full of people trying to make polite conversation with me all whilst my husband searches every kitchen cupboard and drawer for the triple A, double C and DK batteries he’s sure he bought for that thing last year. Why do they always stand in front of the exact cupboard you need to get in? You get it, it’s hard work and my arrogance hasn’t served me well.

Despite the pandemonium of it all, everybody is fed and more importantly, everybody’s happy. I remind myself to stop and take a minute, preferably with a glass of fizz in hand, to enjoy the chaos unfolding around me. After all, that’s what makes Christmas with children. It’s the pure emotion and excitement of little people who don’t yet need to moderate their feelings in order to conform to how society thinks they should behave. Childhood and its innocence are so fleeting that it should be basked in and enjoyed whilst it lasts. I also know that if I ask my son at twenty-five what he remembers about the Christmases of his childhood, it won’t be the gifts he got or the food he ate, it’ll be the fun he had and the family he spent it with. He won’t care that we didn’t have the right batteries or that I’d forgotten the red cabbage. In fact, he might even chuckle about how I’d sent him and his dad on a mercy-mission to the one-corner shop that’s open to buy the brandy butter that I’d managed to forget… even if it was just to get them out of the way so that I could actually get to the cupboards and enjoy five minutes of peace and quiet in the midst of the madness. Sorry, darling, I didn’t see the brandy butter in the fridge, it must have been hiding behind the pigs in blankets!

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