Jilly Cooper prescribes a grin and tonic in this article from the 1987 Christmas edition of Reader's Digest. 

“There was a point,” said a girlfriend, “as I was struggling to get the turkey out of the oven and my husband was sweating away over the roast potatoes, and the relatives we seem to feed every year were all round the table—knives and forks at the ready—when I asked myself for the hundredth time whether it was worth it.”

That’s the problem with Christmas. It should be a season of love and joy but many of us are Xmasochists, staggering under unnecessary toil and financial pressures, dreading it and feeling only passionate relief when it’s over.

Having decided to write a book entitled How to Survive Christmas, I was faced with the difficulty of research. I am a lousy cook, a rotten planner and the worst wrapper of presents in recorded history.

With true Christmas spirit, my friends and husband came up with first-hand advice on such crucial questions as these.

 

Who spends Christmas where?

Where to spend Christmas

Stick a large sign up by the telephone that reads: What a marvellous idea, but can I ring you back when I’ve talked to my family/husband/cat? and read that out to everyone who rings up about Christmas arrangements.

Away fixtures can be a nightmare. Three under-threes with frightful colds erupting onto their grandparents’ beautiful, ultra-tidy house soon spill Ribena over the new lemon-yellow sofa and edge sticky fingers towards the Rockingham.

Many couples resort to home fixtures—knackering as they may be—because at least at home you can drink as much as you like, keep warm and not worry the whole time about your children breaking the place up.

The great mistake is to feel guilty and, under the illusion that you have the patience of Job coupled with the strength of Hercules, invite the entire family for a week. Keep invitations short.

 

Choosing presents

Choosing presents

One of the most skilled present-givers I know recommends shopping at home with a pencil, then going out and buying what you’ve written down and nothing else. The best presents, he claims, are always brain-work, and no one can thinkn with aching feet.

Don’t do what I did one year, which was to buy wildly fashionable jewellery, tights and jerseys for all my nieces and teenage god-daughters and then be quite unable to resist wearng them myself. I had to go out and buy a whole lot more presents.

Children grow up so fast; check how old they are. Remember the story of French writer Jean Cocteau who, when reproached for neglecting his godchild immediately dispatched a large teddy bear.

“Was he thrilled? Cocteau asked the mother when he bumped into her a week later. “Not at all”, she said sourly. “He’s a colonel now.”

 

The countdown

Countdown to christmas

Never buy alcohol in advance because it’s cheap; you'll just drink it in advance. For the same reason, hide boxes of chocolates.

Unless you find relaxation in cooking, there is absolutely no need to make mince pies, Christmas cake or Christmas pudding. Bought ones are just as good, particularly if you inject the latter two with brandy. Remember that Christmas is not a culinary competition.

There is a theory that if you post your Christmas cards early you get more cards back. I’m not sure that this is true. The number of cards we get doesn’t alter whether we send any or not. I always feel guilty if I don’t send someone a card, but it’s awfully arrogant of me to assume that its absence will be noticed.

 

Christmas Eve

Christmas eve

A friend claims that an infallible way of making small children go to sleep early on Christmas Eve is to tell that that if they don’t, you’ll telephone Father Christmas and tell him not to come.

But not all children like the idea of the Red at the end of their bed. My niece was convinced from the age of four that Father Christmas was a member of the IRA and was absolutely terrified of him. According to my sister-in-law, “She not only wouldn’t hang her stocking in her room but also barricaded both ends of the corridor.”

One of the eternal debates for the noble army of Churchgoers on Christmas Eve is whether to go to midnight mass, early service or matins on Christmas morning. However tired I am, I prefer the first, for the shaming reason that it gets church over with, and because, even more shamingly, if I opt for early service or matins the next day I never make it, and spend the rest of Christmas feeling guilty as though spiritually I’d gone to bed without cleaning my teeth.

 

Christmas Day

Christmas day stressed

Don’t spray the inside of the cooker and forget to wipe it off as a friend did one year, so ten starving guests were greeted with a turkey indelibly impregnated with chemicals. But do leave a hole in the foil so the family can peer in at the turkey and say: “It doesn’t seem to be doing at all.”

It is important, we know, at Christmas to remembver the stranger, the forgotten, the friendless. But if, however, you ask outsiders in to Christmas dinner, invite  more than one. If the newcomer has to pick up the mood of a family united by private jokes and animosities, he or she may feel lonelier than ever.

If you are a guest, remember how ultra-sensitive people are at Christmas. Never criticise the food or children. Praise and appreciation are crucial factors in making everyone happier. Ideal guests come laden with goodies; a cold chicken,  large quiche, an apple flan.

 

Boxing Day

Boxing Day

This is when anarchy breaks out in families because there are no formal Christmas activities to distract people. The upper classes work out Boxing Day aggression by murdering wildlife at shoots and fox hunts. IT’s a pity tha the middle classes can’t exhaust their Boxing Day spleen at organised boxing matches.

In the afternoon, good fathers play with the train sets they’ve given their children, or try to assemble toys which turn out absolutely nothing like the picture on the box.

 

Do Xmasochists have an alternative to all this?

Xmasochists

They can cop out of Christmas by spending it in a hotel or abroad. This can succeed for a married couple who are working so hard at their careers that they need to spend time alone together. It often works too, for retired couples who don’t want to impose on their families.

But Xmasochists can’t truly appreciate Christmas unless the suffer all the awful shopping, cooking and anti-climax. Besides, if you go to a hotel or abroad you will be made to feel desperately guilty that at a time of national emergency, you are thinking only of yourself.

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