We’ve seen a million articles decrying the commercialization of Christmas and exhorting everyone to find meaning in other ways than spending money. The real problem with all this advertising is the message that Christmas must be perfect in order to be enjoyable.

At this time of the year we get inundated with commercials, brochures, and lifestyle programs telling us all about things we can do or buy to make it a ‘perfect’ Christmas. The pictures show us impeccably set tables, neat and glossy decorations, delicious and perfectly presented food, and presents with not a stray bit of sticky tape or a crooked edge. Most importantly, we see perfect families, happy smiling faces in perfectly tidy houses. No child is throwing a tantrum, and no adult is drunk. There are no raised voices and no overworked cooks.

Does anyone know what planet this is on?

Moving away from Stepford Christmas and back to reality for a moment, Christmas can be a very stressful time, as any Mental Health service provider will tell you. Loneliness, family breakups and disputes, hardship and substance abuse can all take a particularly heavy toll on people. So what does society tell us? It tells us that the answer to all of our seasonal angst is a perfect Christmas, and if we only have a perfect Christmas all will be well.

We desperately run around in circles, trying to be perfect hosts, perfect parents, perfect providers. Cue despair and anxiety. I know this because this used to be me. I read the magazines, and tried to be perfect. But the problem with perfection is that not all the variables are under your control, and that’s what puts the spanner in the works. The biggest variable? Other people. In a roomful of people I am willing to lay odds no two people will have the same notion of what a perfect Christmas looks like. Some people, of course, will not care. They will not be interested in perfection, and they will also not be interested in what you, the perfectionist, have to say about it. Many of us will even have relatives who will deliberately do something differently, just to upset you. My own experience of that was a relative stating he wouldn’t be ‘ordered around’ because I was trying to tie down a meal time which everyone could attend. I ask the question, is this worth the stress? How perfect is your Christmas going to be if you’re having a nervous breakdown?

Of course, there are also the presents. They have to be sizeable, and impeccably wrapped, with beautiful paper. (Please have them professionally wrapped if you can’t manage this yourself).Children in particular must have lots of money spent on them because otherwise how can you possibly be considered a perfect parent? If your friends or family give you an expensive gift, you must reciprocate with equal or greater value, because otherwise, how can you be considered a perfect friend/relative? If they have a fancy party, you must have a fancier party, because you must be a perfect host. Don’t get me wrong, I love presents, love giving them. I enjoy choosing them, and finding just the right thing for someone. People forget, however, that just the right thing does not have to be large or expensive. And it certainly isn’t impeccably wrapped when I’m the giver, as I am wrapping challenged. Gift bags are a wonderful invention, in my opinion.

What is the real cure for our seasonal angst? I’m not entirely sure, but we can start by stopping worrying about being perfect. Throw away the brochures and turn off the TV. I’m not saying don’t try for things to be nice, but if the turkey is overcooked and the potatoes burned, does it really matter? Give the wrapping paper to the pets to shred, and let the little ones play in the empty boxes. Avoid the belligerent drunken relatives. (Earplugs may come in handy for this). Have yourself a messy little Christmas. It’s much more fun.

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