As November passes, the realisation that the festive season is drawing closer becomes more and more apparent.
After all, the shops have been promoting their ‘seasonal aisles’ for months so it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise. Yet it does. Every year.
Not only are there preparations to be made, presents to buy and work tasks to have completed by the year’s end. But social pressures decide to test our time constraints and force us to attend annual gatherings with colleagues we have to engage in awkward small-talk with.
If Christmas is meant to be a celebration, then why does it throw up so many uncomfortable emotions? And how on earth can we manage in these manic times?
I have come to believe that the stress of the preparation can be reduced by using time more efficiently. How, you ask? For me, this is the time of year when I rely on a sacred document I refer to as ‘The List’. The List is a strategy that has been passed down my family for generations. Nothing much has changed except the introduction of digital means to save and update it, whilst preserving a few trees in the process.
Spilt into sections by means of a simple table, The List contains the names of all those who I send cards and/or presents to at Christmas. As well as a column noting those I have received any of the above from. This robotic approach may sound sterile and contradict the ‘season of giving’ sentiment but for me it’s a method of staying sane. In fact, sometimes its more of a reminder to contact those I haven’t heard from all year. Christmas brings us all together or in my case, my list does that too!
Below the names are other sections, which will vary depending on how you celebrate. Mine include a food preparation list, decoration notes and also a rough draft of the extra social events that are organised. I don’t always tick off everything on my list but its always helpful to have something as a reminder to refer back to.
Particularly where food is concerned, notes for savings are particularly important. For example, those trays of sweets and nuts we buy every year that are still lingering in the highest kitchen cupboard from 2016… don’t buy them. There’s bound to be someone in your circle who will surprise you with a variety of these treats so save yourself the money because last time I checked, the mixed nuts selections weren’t going for cheap.
The reason for marking down some basic notes about decorations is simply to act as a reminder of what those boxes in the attic contain. It is far too easy nowadays to get tempted by the sparkle and luxury of the high street (I mean who can resist a pastel pink flamingo that hangs on your tree?). But we mustn’t forget the beauty of the things we already own. A lot can happen in a year and I doubt many of us have the time or inclination to look at half the stuff we keep in storage.
The dreaded details we all want to ignore come in the form of an ‘expenses’ column where each section is budgeted. It’s up to you how much you spend but planning ahead allows you to manage these costs. It is easy to feel guilty for ‘scrimping’ a bit over Christmas, but can happiness really be measured by price or is it the effort and thought that people will appreciate far more?
Something The List doesn’t contain, but will be added to mine this year, is a rough estimation of deadlines these tasks need to be completed by as well as the amount of time they will take.
Writing cards is often a last minute rush resulting in shocking handwriting with the usual ‘merry this’ and ‘merry that’ messages. Those 10 minutes you spend scrolling through social media on your lunch break can amount to nearly an hours worth of cards written by the end of a week. Trust me, the people nearer the bottom of your list will also be grateful they can read who the card is from this year.
I can’t promise The List will work for everyone, but I hope it has made you think about the time you have and ways it can be used productively. The most important thing is to at least experiment with a coping strategy this year, one that minimises the chances of the last minute Christmas panic and let’s you be merry.
Amy Rowe is a former AAT student and a freelance writer reflecting on personal experiences. She covers a range of topics including lifestyle, wellbeing and study skills.