Christmas Day. Two simple words. Just 24 hours in a year of 8,760. And yet a day that holds as much pressure for parents as a 3rd Olympic final for Usain Bolt, a successful Brexit for Theresa May or a 4am Presidential tweet for a Trump staffer.
Why is this? Well partly because it’s the only day in the year with its own warm-up act: Advent. What’s more, even the warm-up act has its own warm-up act – the whole of sodding November. As an intro, it’s so drawn-out it makes Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’ look like it’s eager to get to the bridge (I’m showing my age but you get the gist).
Which creates a kind of ‘tantric’ anticipation of the Big Day that ensures our kids are more tightly wound on Christmas Eve than Michael Douglas in ‘Falling Down’ or Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction’ (also showing my age, but they were CLASSICS right?).
What’s clear is that getting to Christmas Day in one piece means negotiating the pressure of Advent like a pro and – because forewarned is forearmed – here’s what’s to expect:
The Ghost of Christmas Perfect. You’ll cope better with the pressure if you remember that behind every perfect social media post lurks a complete bloody shambles. For every cute child in a Santa hat there will be a Tantrum of Panto proportions. For every harmonious family photo, there will be a bar-room brawl simmering beneath the surface. And for every flawless festive food image there will be a chocolate Advent calendar that has been destroyed by breakfast.
The Sant-iclimax. You spend an hour queuing to get into another queue that winds round a magical Christmas scene for 10 minutes only to end up in what can only be described as a shed containing a fat, loud (in voice & dress) old man, intent on sweet-talking your child and giving them a gift.Which on one hand would sound dodgy in any other context and on the other is 100% guaranteed to terrify your child in a way that no scolding of yours will ever do. If you get Tip: perfect the ‘grip, grin & run’ family photo.
The Nativity. So much is tied up in the school nativity, whether it’s the guilt of missing one because of work, the stress of finding or making an outfit (even a Chocolate Log – last year’s outfit – requires the resourcing skills of the British Army) or the disappointment you feel when your child lands the coveted part of ‘Sheep’ (having turned down Joseph, in your FACE Ed Skrein). Tip: a part as Joseph or Mary in the school play is NOT the first step to a glittering Hollywood career, so chill the fuck out.
Christmas Gifts. Part of me gets all Schwarzenegger in ‘Jingle All the Way’ about hunting down the ultimate present for my kids, but mostly I know if I buy them the Doggie Doo (FFS) or Gooey Louie (FFS) the brain-clawing advertising jingles brainwash them into wanting, they’ll forget about them by Boxing Day and will be playing with sellotape or their willies instead. Tip: plastic tat has a shelf life (in terms of interest AND durability) lower than a Mayfly’s actual life so embrace the tried & tested.
Partying Like a Parent. The parental Christmas itinerary looks like that of a Presidential candidate in the last two weeks of their campaign. But whilst they have a staff of hundreds to smooth the way, you only have yourselves. If you’re a working parent, bitter experience has taught me that there are three golden rules to negotiating the work party season with dignity and relationship intact – moderation (you’re not 25 anymore), consideration (you’re not 25 anymore) and communication (you’re not 25 anymore).
If you can negotiate these five pitfalls over the coming weeks, you’ll be well on the way to surviving Dadvent and be well set for a truly Tantric Christmas.