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