Par­ties, pres­sure and present shop­ping: does the fes­tive sea­son re­ally need to be so stress­ful? By Noelle Faulkner.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Par­ties, pres­sure and present shop­ping: does the fes­tive sea­son re­ally need to be so stress­ful?

Ev­ery fam­ily has at least one of those Christ­mas mem­o­ries. Of­ten, they start with some­one think­ing it was a good idea to talk pol­i­tics or an­other who drank too much. Per­haps a fam­ily mem­ber started sling­ing back­handed in­sults, or a dis­re­spect­ful com­ment was ut­tered at a hard­work­ing host. The lat­ter is where my fam­ily’s ‘mo­ment’ started. I was 11, my mother had spent hours pre­par­ing her per­fect Christ­mas day. She had dragged me out of bed at some un­godly hour to go to the fish mar­kets and there were many hours spent peel­ing prawns, glaz­ing ham and stuff­ing turkey. She had set a ta­ble wor­thy of its own de­part­ment store win­dow, com­plete with be­spoke bon­bons and fes­tive linen. And all it took was a non­cha­lant com­ment from a fam­ily mem­ber about how their favourite dish wasn’t on the menu and soon, to the tune of Glo­ria Este­fan’s Christ­mas Through Your Eyes, I watched her fling a tray of still­hot vol-au-vents across the room. “You do it then!” she ex­claimed to a room of gap­ing mouths as the gospel-like crescendo of ‘it’s Christ­maaas!’ echoed through the house. At the time, we were all con­vinced Mum had lost the plot, but now I can com­pletely re­late.

Why is it that year af­ter year, in the lead up to Christ­mas and New Year’s Eve, we con­tinue to dunk our­selves in a pres­sure cooker of our own de­sign? We have a need to tick ev­ery pos­si­ble to-do item on our work/life/leisure lists. Wrap up work tasks and clear the in­box; at­tend ev­ery party in style; get fit and tanned, be­cause sum­mer body goals; buy the best presents for our loved ones; plan a sum­mer get­away; dress our homes in In­sta­grammably per­fect fes­tive livery; make New Year’s Eve plans; catch up with ev­ery­one and some­how come out of it with our san­ity in­tact. And if you have kids, well, my heart goes out to you, as you’re also ex­pected to re­mem­ber to move the Elf on the Shelf around ev­ery night …

Like a ground­hog day an­chored in some kind of nos­tal­gia, we tend to for­get the ma­nia we sub­scribe to each De­cem­ber un­til it comes around again. For many, the pres­sure is ten­fold, which is why this pe­riod also has the high­est rates of sui­cide and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of men­tal health. Look at the last Christ­mas study by Re­la­tion­ships Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, which showed that one-third of Aus­tralians’ fam­ily re­la­tion­ships were neg­a­tively af­fected around this time of year be­cause of work-life bal­ance fac­tors. An­other third re­ported fi­nan­cial wor­ries as a cause of stress and the break­down of re­la­tion­ships.

It’s a cu­ri­ous thought, but where our par­ents might have tried their best to ad­here to a Ju­lia Child-level of en­ter­tain­ing, might we only have our­selves to blame for the pres­sures of post-mil­len­nial adult­ing in the fes­tive sea­son? We’re cer­tainly the only ones who can re­verse it. Most of the year, macro trends like col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, the back­lash against ex­cess, and the rise of ‘au­then­tic­ity’ sit front and cen­tre, but when you’re caught in the De­cem­ber rev­el­ries, that need to be seen to be busy kicks in. It’s like all self-care fades away and in­stead is re­placed by some kind real-life ob­sta­cle course.

The dark clouds hap­pen when our ex­pec­ta­tions sky­rocket as we ‘re­mem­ber’ how things ‘were’, and this is where the dan­ger hap­pens. It’s called the ‘op­ti­mism bias’, which de­fines how hu­mans are hard­wired for op­ti­mism – we nat­u­rally think the fu­ture will be bet­ter than the past. But when you com­bine that with the in­ac­cu­ra­cies of mem­ory, sprin­kle in emo­tion and throw in a re­spon­si­bil­ity like host­ing, we’re set­ting our­selves up to toss all our vol-au-vents against a wall.

So how does one nav­i­gate the fes­tive sea­son? You could seek out some of the tips from iconic so­cial be­ings. Like, if you’re go­ing to leave a party, do so when it’s just be­gin­ning (Diana Vree­land), con­serve your so­cial en­ergy for gath­er­ings with friends only (Joan Collins), don’t make any morn­ing ap­point­ments dur­ing De­cem­ber (co­me­dian He­len Led­erer) or just do as F. Scott Fitzger­ald did, and at­tend ev­ery­thing you can, be­cause you only live once. You could al­ways also do that 1977 Vogue diet which con­sisted of boiled eggs and chablis (please don’t do that). In­stead, how about we stop fol­low­ing the idea of ‘party sea­son sur­vival’ and try bal­ance, drop the ex­pec­ta­tions and step away from the De­cem­ber ver­sion of our­selves. Yes, it’s hard not to get ad­dicted to the end-of-the-year buzz: the adrenal rush and all the sparkly dis­trac­tions. But it’s also just as easy to suc­cumb to the pres­sure of nos­tal­gia and ap­pear­ances and be­fore you know it, you’ve spent your en­tire hol­i­days un­der a dark cloud. In­stead, don’t wait un­til Jan­uary to ex­hale – it’s not like all that much changes at the stroke of mid­night any­way.

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