If Christmas was a scary film and you were the heroine – you will find no heroes in this drama – which type of heroine would you be?
Would you be the one who whistles in the dark? You know, the one who doesn’t look back, the one who pretends the monster isn’t there?
Or would you be the other type? The one who takes a candle and climbs, all alone and in her nightie, into the terrifying blackness of the attic, bravely determined to face down the terrifying spectre?
Now is the time to make up your mind because now we are at the tipping point. The moment has arrived. The shops are full of it, the Christmas adverts are stuffed with it and you have a decision to make: pretend it isn’t there, or take your candle, and mount those stairs.
In truth, almost all women will have climbed into the attic and stared the monster in the eye by now, so to speak.
It’s what we do. There will be a few brave members of our sex still walking along whistling loudly to drown out the sound of Slade’s song, but not many. The men in our lives have that particular course of action fully covered.
We who have resigned ourselves to Facing Christmas must decide on our plan of attack.
Once we have stared it down, do we run off shrieking into the night, leaving the Christmas monster to wreak what havoc it will, or do we come up with a plan of containment?
This year, I have a wily plan of containment. To make it official I have given it a name. For me this year, the season about to descend on us is called Stripped Back Christmas.
Now might be the time to say that I love Christmas – in theory. I love bits of it in practice, but it does tend to overwhelm, to bring strong women to their knees, and to bring out the sadistic streak of perfectionism lurking in most of us. So my plan is to protect myself from all that.
Here’s my five-point operational note. Feel free to share it
1. While you’re up in that attic – you may as well get those decorations down. But not all of them. Do not under any circumstances bring down every twinkly, sparkly ornament you possess, every wobbly little Father Christmas your children ever drew, otherwise you will end up doing Christmas Overkill, which is the opposite of Stripped Back Christmas. I did Christmas Overkill last year. It took me a week to create my splendid tribute to Yuletide. Every surface was festooned, wreathed, lit, ribboned. It looked breathtaking – I know it took all my breath away, along with all my energy.
People admired my home –but they did not do the same in theirs, preferring their sanity to a Santa’s grotto. This year, I am relying on a lot of fairy lights, and little else.
2. Keep it fake. Don’t buy a real tree – that way lies pain. I have bought a real tree all my married life, so for decades. This began I think as a rebellious act – I know, not much of a one. My childhood Christmases mostly took place around a silver tinsel tree with plastic berries on it, which was actually very pretty in its 1970s way, so I determined to make my decor entirely natural. I cannot tell you the trouble it has caused me, over the years. Trees that had to be transported home on the bus, trees that fell over, trees that were bald by Christmas day and, always, trees that my sister scoffed for lack of symmetry, and lack of height. This year I am decorating a fake tree – and it isn’t even a Christmas tree.
3. Never make your own gravy. Gravy is another word for stress. When you are trying to keep 20 things hot at once, you can do without all that business of thickening juices in a roasting tin. To avoid this, for the past few years, I have made my own Christmas gravy, weeks in advance, following a recipe that involves roasting turkey wings and bits of veg and adding booze and bashing everything up , and then sieving it. And then freezing it. What I have ended up with is liquidised Christmas dinner. No one, I find, wants to pour liquidised Christmas dinner onto their Christmas dinner. This year I am buying gravy.
Also, for those of you who don’t know, Aunt Bessie’s roast parsnips are really good.
4. Make sure you watch every episode of Nigella’s Christmas you can find, on any channel you can find it. Likewise Delia, Jamie, Nigel, Gordon – any cook whose first name you recognise. But - and pay close attention now because this bit is crucial – regard them as fiction, not fact. Watch and enjoy. Relish them, devour them, gorge on them. But when they have finished, smile contentedly and reach for your Scrooge DVD. Tell yourself they are much of a muchness; all lovely, traditional stories to be enjoyed from your sofa. Do not be drawn into their Christmas countdowns, their Christmas Eve suppers. You will not enjoy frying canapés for fifty, you will not like making pastry to the sound of Carols from Kings, your life will not be enhanced if you make your own sausage rolls for a midnight snack on Christmas Eve. Trust me, I have been there – and it is not nice.
5. Shops are your friend. Here’s a little story: when I was young, sometimes there would be cake for tea. Not often, but sometimes. As my mother proffered a slice, always the same question would burst from my lips: “Is it shop bought,” I would cry? If she was forced to reply “No” then my disappointment was a mighty thing to behold.
There’s a lot to be said for shop bought, particularly if you are what is known as heavy handed in the baking department. As with food, so with presents. Never pay any attention to those who tell you it is cheaper, better and all-round more satisfying to make your own gifts. It isn’t. By the time you have assembled the components for your homemade gift, by the time you have toiled, by the time you have scrapped the first attempt and started again – it would have been less expensive – financially, emotionally in every way, to go to your nearest shopping centre and buy the first thing item you stumble across that is within your budget. Remember, a gift is for Christmas, not for life.