For better or worse, Christmas brings out all my romantic notions about how family life ought to be. My inner perfectionist—a part of me that remains safely submerged under piles of laundry and sippy cups the rest of the year—is summoned by the sound of sleigh bells. And before I know it, I am running around frantically, draping my house in strings of lights and forcing my kids to put on novelty sweaters.
To execute Christmas properly (that is, to make it match the twinkly, decadent, soft-focus photo spread of your dreams), you need an extraordinary amount of money, time and energy. Sadly, I have none of the above. Like many women, I do my best to compensate, which leads to all sorts of domestic tension over seemingly inconsequential details (like do we have enough holiday-themed napkins?) and seriously consequential ones (like who is doing the final booze run?).
I take up my annual Christmas duties with an almost maniacal enthusiasm: ordering the turkey (free-range, grain-fed), choosing the tree (blue fir, not Norway spruce—smells lovely, but the needles tend to drop), finding the decorations (twinkly lights, poinsettias, holly, cinnamon candles and mistletoe), hanging the stockings (monogrammed), ordering the Christmas morning bagels and lox (picked up from the deli on Christmas Eve), making the pudding (homemade with hard sauce, never soft), prepping the nibbles (blinis), wrapping the gifts and setting the table. I could go on and on and on.
Almost all of these duties (save the playlists and cocktail making) fall on me. The reason? My children are young (that is, adorable, useless and ungrateful), and my husband doesn’t really care. It’s not that he doesn’t like a nice Christmas; it’s just that he doesn’t get why everything about it has to be so perfect (read specific, difficult and expensive). I end up micro-managing the whole thing, which inevitably drives everybody crazy.
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But isn’t a bit of crazy worth it? Christmas is all about the luxurious, carefully appointed details, isn’t it? Christmas must be magical. It must be steeped in tradition. Toasts must be made, and the homemade eggnog (organic, obviously, made with grated nutmeg and spiced rum) must flow. Everyone must get along brilliantly and enjoy every morsel of food. And when that doesn’t happen, I inevitably lose it. (Usually, this feeling of failure is assuaged by two or three cocktails, followed by a bath behind a slammed and locked bathroom door, but still.)
Here’s my secret Christmas wish, though. It’s the thing I want even more than a new saddlebag or a pair of gold hoops (honey, are you listening?). I’d love, just once, to be a guest at my own Christmas.
I don’t mean I’d like to attend someone else’s Christmas. I mean that I’d like to attend my Christmas—the one that matches the Christmas in my head—without having done anything to produce it. I’d like to experience Christmas, executed to my admittedly unrealistic standards, without any of the lingering resentment that comes with being the unpaid help.
That brings me to the story of Gemma Andrews, a mother of four who divided the Twittersphere when she disclosed, on a British morning show, that she charges her relatives £30 each (just over $50 CAD) for the pleasure of attending her Christmas dinner.
“Greedy!” howled the always outraged denizens of Twitter. “So not the Christmas spirit!”
But not me. Personally, I’m with Andrews. The poor woman has 16 people to feed and a son with severe allergies (meaning that she can’t safely do a potluck). If she wants to charge for her materials and labour, that’s her business. It’s about time some economic value was placed on the extraordinary work that so many of us (disproportionately women and mothers) put into the holidays. If we all started charging, there would so much less resentment and passive-aggressive pot banging when feckless loved ones snooze on the sofa after the meal. And then we could use the annual cash bonus to go sale shopping and reward ourselves with a saddlebag.
I can’t charge my kids, though—sadly, they’re unemployed and broke. And shaking down my husband would be wrong—he already pays more than his fair share. So this year, in lieu of remuneration, I’m going to do my best to let my standards slide. My kids wouldn’t care if we had Christmas on the moon so long as there are lots of cheap toys to unwrap, followed by turkey with gravy (even with lumps, they prefer it to my “jus”). So instead of monogramming a stocking for the baby, this year you’ll find me in the bath. We can’t all be as pragmatic as Andrews, but I’m working on it.