We love Christmas in this house.    At the start of December, my husband goes out and chooses not one but two trees, ready to be put up on the first weekend.  Advent calendar chocolate is scoffed for breakfast and the days are counted down. Lots of visits with friends and family, shopping at their schools’ Christmas fayres, pantomimes and kid-free nights out.  And then there’s our annual Christmas party when friends new and old descend with their kids for drinks and the inevitable karaoke.

Christmas this year is going to be different.  The trees are up and the chocolate’s out – but the party’s postponed, the panto is off (oh yes it is…) and unless we want to freeze outside, even the pubs are out of bounds.   The girls are forced to shop online (not easy when you don’t have credit cards), and are missing trips into town or ice-skating with their friends.

Some of the stresses have gone – organising food and drinks for 60+ is time-consuming and expensive and at least I don’t have to hide anything breakable away from little hands this year… but others have increased.   For plenty, funds are tighter than usual – and of course, we’re all wondering which elderly relatively we might mix with, how to keep the other set of parents happy and how we manage to keep them all safe and well – mentally as well as physically.

And of course, for many of us Christmas isn’t the easiest time of year anyway.  We had tears last night, because 3 years ago we lost my dad in the run up to Christmas and he is still both very present and very missed.

And even in this oddest of years, the pressure to have a great time is still there. It’s almost like we have to “rescue” Christmas from 2020.   So what we do when the pressures are mounting and we’re worrying about how to cope?

The simplest way I know of removing the stressors is simply to talk things out.

Most of us aren’t good at having difficult conversations.  We tend to think that by avoiding an issue or telling white lies, no one gets hurt.  But the truth is quite the opposite.  Telling people up front “do you mind if we don’t swap presents this year, we’re trying to watch our funds?” is far better than giving them gifts that look like you don’t care or worse that leave you fretting over credit card bills in January.  “It’s such a shame we can’t see you, but we’re staying away from everyone so that we can hug my parents over Xmas” is far preferable to feigning a headache on the day.    Telling the in-laws, “I’m really sorry we can’t be with you.  We’d love to see you but it’s just not possible to keep everyone safe, so you get first dibs at Easter” isn’t going to keep everyone happy but it will make a difficult situation more palatable.

Even our kids are going to understand things as long as we say things in age-appropriate ways.  Managing their expectations is key. Last night we had a long talk about how it was really hard that my dad was no longer with us even if he did have a long and healthy life, and how it was ok to miss him dreadfully and still enjoy Christmas.  Looking forward, we’ve talked about the lack of sleepovers at beloved relatives this year, but made plans about how we will celebrate when we can see them.   We’re making lists of special cards to write and presents to make and send.

And of course, this is a great opportunity to ditch some old routines that we’ve never liked and create some new ones.   Last year I realised that the girls struggled with one of our annual Christmas drinks events hosted by some good family friends… we’ve been doing it for years, but whilst the parents remain close, the kids have grown in different directions and lately the girls have found the party difficult.  So this gives us an opportunity to let it go and find a different way of celebrating next year.

And as for new traditions – I have my own list… I’m thinking a pancake brunch made by the girls and a showing of It’s A Wonderful Life… I reckon they’ll go for the pancakes anyway…