Table setting by The White Company: Portofino glass candle, £30; Snowflake paper decorations, £12; Silver concertina balls, £15; Bell paper decorations, £14; Glitter onion decoration, £8; Pillar candle holder, from £25; Wine glass, £30 for two.
By Emma Bartley, Get the Gloss and The Times
Like Mariah Carey, I don’t want a lot for Christmas. All I want is to be… Jools Oliver. Or Kirstie Allsopp. Or Victoria Beckham. Any of those women who seem to manage to have masses of children, and yet somehow also a beautiful home and a perfect blowdry.
Because while I always want to believe in what EastEnders’ Peggy Mitchell used to refer to as “a nice faaairmily Christmas”, deep down I know that I’m probably going to arrive at my in-laws’ house halfway through a vile argument with my husband about how we’ve taken the wrong route, my toddler will refuse to eat anything except cranberry sauce and I’ll manage to rough-dry my hair precisely once, with my head upside-down, if I’m lucky.
Children aren’t just for life, you see - they’re also for Christmas, which means no break for mums. So I consulted my cleverest, most glamorous friends for their seasonal life hacks. Here’s what they came up with.
1. Make Santa a vengeful figure
“I play up the naughty or nice angle big time with my kids,” says Francesca. “The four-year-old thinks he has to play nicely with his cousins on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, or Santa might swing by on his way back to the North Pole and confiscate some of his gifts.” Mwa-ha-ha.
2. Write everything down
While I know all the words to Room on the Broom, Dear Zoo and Goodnight Moon off by heart, sleep deprivation has shattered my short-term memory to the point where if left to my own devices I will buy three duplicate presents for each of my godchildren and nothing for my dad. (I’m giving this advice with the benefit of hindsight, by the way - what do we think, is a set of bath toys totally inappropriate at 65?)
3. Buy home-made gifts
You know those domestic goddesses who craft their own holly wreaths, mull their own wine and knit everyone a jar of homemade mulberry jam for Christmas? They’re great, aren’t they. I love spending time with them. It doesn’t make me feel inadequate at all.
“One year when I was on maternity leave and had no money I decided to make limoncello,” says my friend Adele (not her real name - I’ll take Adele’s secret with me to the grave). “I’d showed off the massive jar to several visitors and was even starting to picture myself as a mumpreneur, running my limoncello business from my kitchen - but when I finally tasted it the weekend before Christmas it was rank. I don’t know what I’d done wrong but you wouldn’t give it to your worst enemy. I had to buy some online and give it out in the little bottles I’d got.”
Now that’s what I call crafty.
4. Let a professional do the wrapping
Year after year, I set aside half an hour on Christmas Eve to wrap everyone’s gifts. Year after year, it takes me half an hour just to find the end of the Sellotape - by which time I’ve lost the scissors. Four hours later I’m still trying to stick little scraps of paper on to the ends of gifts I didn’t cut a big enough piece for, hoping no one will notice if I put a massive bow over it. New policy: only shop in places that offer free professional giftwrapping.
5. Pack smart
In my suitcase last Christmas, I packed for my baby: 12 dribble bibs, 11 babygros, 10 vests of varying sleeve length, 9 woolly cardigans, 8 pairs of socks, 7 festive dresses, 6 festive bibs and fiiiiiiive goooooold - well, you get the idea. Underneath all of this I had packed for myself a few pairs of pants, a pair of tights with a hole in them, a pair of trousers that made me look fat and a pair of shoes that didn’t go with anything. This year I’ll be creating a capsule wardrobe based around the jumpsuit - it’s my only hope of remembering a whole outfit.
6. Take advantage of free childcare
If you have small children, spoil yourself and see if you can make it into the loo all by yourself. If they’re older, go nuts - you might even make it to the pub on Christmas Eve. (And there’s little risk of you having to get up with a hangover at 5.30am given that it only takes you two drinks now to get absolutely plastered.)
7. Tell childbirth stories during conversational lulls
“My grandad and his wife like to tell us all about their ailments over Christmas dinner,” says Eloise. “They get quite competitive about it, but last year I blew them both out of the water with my episiotomy story.” Er, pass the sprouts?
8. Look at the light during the Queen’s Speech/Christmas movie/Eastenders
Something about giving birth seems to reconfigure women permanently. I’m not talking about hip-width or C-section scars, mind: this is far, far worse. We cry all the time. And not just a little bit: I lost the plot during the opening sequence of Up last year, at one point weeping so violently that I couldn’t breathe. So if you feel your throat beginning to tighten during the national anthem, Disney film or soap opera special, look up towards the light and it should stop your tears from falling. Which should in turn stop uncontrollable sobbing, snot rockets and wailing of “IT’S JUST SO MOVING” that could make your relatives take the port away from you. (Unthinkable: see 9)
9. Eat like Nigella, drink like Delia
There’s a reason the archetypal domestic goddess looks like she’s having a good time: she is. Have you ever noticed the amount of cream and butter in Nigella Lawson’s recipes? This is a woman living on 6,000 calories a day even in the off season, and loving every minute of it. “I treat Christmas like a massive drinking game. If I start to feel stressed I just eat or drink something,” says my friend Naomi, who is either an emotional eater or A GENIUS. Kids squabbling over who got more in their stocking? Have a croissant. Noisy new toy already doing your head in (thanks, Grandma)? Grab a Quality Street. Free advice from your parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles/neighbours on how to make your children behave, when they actually can every day of the year they haven’t eaten a selection box for breakfast and been given a massive bag full of plastic tat? Ooh, is that bucks fizz, yes please.
10. Have somewhere to be
“Seeing your family is fun for three days. At the stroke of midnight on the third day, it stops being fun,” says my wise friend Nicola - who “has to get back for work” on December 27 every year.