Listening to the conversation that two of my girlfriends were having over coffee last week, it dawned on me that they sounded very much like over-worked A Level students about to sit their exams...
"I'll be glad when it's all over... I simply don't have a minute to myself... I don't see how I can possibly get everything done".
I'm sure you've guessed from the title of this post that they weren't taking any exams. No, they were talking about Christmas; the time of cheer and goodwill to all men... and apparently stress, pressure and hard work to all mums!
It started me wondering: how did we manage to take all the fun out of Christmas?
But then the memories of last year came flooding back. All that organising; writing all the cards; buying and wrapping presents; shopping for food; cooking for hundreds; acting the perfect hostess; sorting out family politics ; keeping Aunt Mabel away from the cooking sherry (please note, name changed to protect the guilty)...
Suddenly I felt the same as my friends. But I am so determined to enjoy Christmas this year that I came up with "6 Christmas Stress Management" tips, which are designed to let me and my girlfriends have our Christmas cake and eat it!
So, if any of the above strikes a chord, keep reading to see how you can ensure that you're rested and stress free when Santa finally climbs down the chimney.
1- Get back to basics
Have reasonable expectations - chances of a perfect fairytale Christmas are unrealistic and difficult to plan for. Christmas Day is a time to enjoy being with family and friends. It doesn't matter if lunch is late, presents aren't wrapped perfectly or grandma has a few too many sherries! Keep it simple and remember that Christmas is about everyone - including you, having a good time!
2- Ask for help
Even Santa has an army of little helpers, so you are allowed a helping hand at Christmas too. If you're hosting a Christmas party for a lot of people, don't try to be Superwoman. Ask others to help with food preparations or decorations.
Perhaps a sister or friend could bring the Christmas cake and another relative could help decorate the tree. Give everyone a task - a team effort is often far more fun and rewarding!
3- Not everything has to be made from scratch
In an ideal world, we'd all be there in our red and white checked aprons, happily baking Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings, mince pies, warming home-made mulled wine and milking our own cow to make sure that the cheese is fresh.
That might be fine if you've plenty of time, are super-organised or both (and keep a cow in your back garden). But let's get real. Most mums these days are trying to juggle work with school nativity plays, shopping, wrapping and hiding presents and the other million and one things that must be done by Christmas.
So, my advice is to be smart, take advantage of the convenience offered by today's modern world (sounds much better than saying 'cheat').
Ready-made Christmas cakes and puddings are often just as delicious (sometimes more so, knowing my past disasters) and will lighten your workload. Likewise, artificial trees are mess free (less cleaning), and shop-bought mince pies can work out cheaper than baking your own.
You can even take it one step further. Supermarkets have a great, and tasty, range of fresh, ready prepared vegetables and frozen roast potatoes. Or if you really do want to make your own, why not prepare stuffing and part-roasted potatoes a couple of weeks before and keep them in your freezer. Saves a great deal of time on Christmas Day - as long as you remember to defrost them in time!
4 - Sorting out family politics
This can often be the trickiest part of Christmas, especially for those with extended step-families or long lasting family feuds. From experience, Christmas has also been known to cause a few feuds!
My advice is to sort out arrangements well in advance. If you have family that won't mix, invite one set at Christmas this year and the other for New Year and explain that the following year the invitations will be reversed.
It also helps if you or your partner have siblings who could take some of the heat off you by extending an invitation to family members. Get together with brothers and sisters in the autumn to sort out between you who is inviting who, so that no-one is left out and everyone is happy.
This won't solve all problems, but at least you're making some steps towards tackling them in advance of Christmas Day.
5- Plan a late Christmas dinner
Don't start cooking at the crack of dawn - enjoy your Christmas morning! If you have a good breakfast, there's no need to sit down for your main Christmas meal until mid-afternoon or early evening.
That gives you plenty of time to sit and watch the kids open their Christmas gifts and play with their new toys.
6 - Boxing Day is to put your feet up!
If you've been in charge on Christmas Day, don't even think about doing it all again the next day.
Let someone else take their turn and you become the guest for the day or even have a quiet day by putting that left over turkey to good use and having sandwiches!
I hope it works for you and wish you a stress free, very merry Christmas!