Pinterest is awash with Christmas bucket lists (it really is – check them out here). Before I proceed, these are not catalogues of idyllic festive activities to be undertaken before one kicks the proverbial bucket, but rather perfectly itemized lists of quintessential festive traditions to enjoy over the course of the Christmas period – presumably for the more forgetful among us who need written reminders. Rather than suggesting an impending untimely end, these new-fangled bucket lists simply encourage us to enjoy and experience the season before it’s gone. Splendid idea! Online you’ll find all sorts of checklists and ideas for celebrating Christmas, ranging from the obvious to the ridiculous. Some examples:
- Decorate the tree while listening to Bing Crosby – Absolutely, I’m in.
- Drink hot chocolate for breakfast – On it!
- Build a gingerbread house – We’ll see. Can I buy one pre-made?
- Have a sleepover underneath the Christmas tree – I do like my own bed and I think I did something to my back reaching up to put that damn star on so…
- Roast chestnuts or marshmallows on an open fire – An open flame with a toddler? I think not.
- Go caroling around your neighbourhood – Nope. We’re done here.
The lists are long and varied. One wonders who has the time for nut-roasting anyway? In the interest of keeping it real and managing expectations, I’ve pared down the recommended catalogue of festive frolicking to a short to-do list, complete with tips for keeping sanity intact. Since I can’t quite make my peace with writing any sort of ‘bucket list’ while I’m in full health, let’s just call it a generic ‘Christmas To-do List’.
Item #1: Decorate the Christmas Tree
Acknowledge that perfection is unachievable with children in the house. Leave designer baubles from your pre-children existence in the attic with your size ten jeans. Accept that your tree will be adorned with a mix of Baby’s First Christmas decorations and homemade craft items constructed from lollypop sticks, buttons and pipe cleaners. Consider leaving the bottom third of the tree bare if you have kids under two. Invite decorating ‘help’ at your peril. Substitute Bing Crosby’s audio for full episodes of Paw Patrol. Drink during the decoration process.
Item #2: Read Christmas Books to the Kids
Ideally you’d go to the library and choose from an array of festive stories. In reality you’ll spend two hours turning your kids’ bedrooms upside-down looking for the books they borrowed in October. You won’t find them all. You’ll pay €17 in fees for the books you have returned and you’ll be too bitter to borrow any more. Fool me once and all that. Instead, just read your copy of The Night Before Christmas on repeat for the month of December in different voices. Or hit YouTube for a star-studded audio version.
Item #3: Take the family ice-skating
Set expectations about this family day out to the lowest possible level: the ice-skates will be soggy inside and will cut the back of your ankles; the children will be cold and wet; at least one person will suffer an injury; you will look ridiculous; someone will fall over a plastic penguin. Go, but brace yourself. Literally.
Item #4: Visit Santa
Set similar expectations about the annual Santa visit: it will be insanely busy; there will be queues for everything; the kids will complain about the presents they receive; the food will be overpriced; a stand will misleadingly offer free mulled ‘wine’ that contains no alcohol; the kids will either be overwhelmed, frightened or a combination of both. Someone will inevitably cry. There’s every chance it will be you.
Item #5: Shop for Gifts
Resist the urge to go into the city on any of the remaining Saturdays or Sundays. You are not an idiot. Use the internet, for the love of GOD.
Item #6: Take the Perfect Family Photo
A stressful endeavour. Try, by all means. Buy a selfie-stick, use a timer, enlist a neighbour or hire a pro. But be prepared for a blurry toddler and at least one maniacal, toothy smile. They almost certainly won’t wear the Christmas headgear you’ve bought especially for the occasion. None of the 36 takes will be instagrammable. Two may be fit for Facebook consumption – if you can Photoshop out the teeth.
Item #7: Watch Christmas Movies
In December alone be prepared to watch Mickey’s Christmas Carol 8 times, Home Alone 11 times, Elf 14 times and The Polar Express 22 times. Each time you watch The Polar Express the animation will seem weirder and creepier. By late December you will be having nightmares in which an oddly animated Tom Hanks tries to run you over with a train full of dead-eyed children.
Item #8: Eat, drink and be Merry
Ignore the fact that the children have finished the chocolate from all 24 windows of the Advent calendar by December 6th. Also ignore the fact that they are eating chocolate santas and remnants of a gingerbread house at 5am on Christmas morning. Purchase four times the amount of alcohol you think you might consume over the season, plus two extra bottles of port and three bottles of Baileys. Start drinking as soon as the temperature drops.
The ultimate survival tip: Wangle an invite to someone else’s house for Christmas dinner. And bring a bottle.