Dont you just love this time of year? Work is frantic, the weather is warmer. Well, it is one day and the next is cold again. Exams are over and secondary schools have finished: next, primary schools will be out. The shops are filled with decorations and Christmas goodies; festivities are in the air. Most of us are gearing up for Christmas and looking forward to spending time with family and friends.
What goes with Christmas? Stress! Many of us set unrealistic time frames to recreate that perfect family get-together.
I was talking with a friend the other day about stress and Christmas. When did it stop being all about surprise and wonder? Remember when you woke early and couldn't wait to rip open your presents, eat chocolate and candy sticks for breakfast, a huge meal you didn't have to prepare and then play with your cousins while someone else did the clearing up?
Well, I grew up, became an adult and a parent: it's all changed.
With that in mind, I need to channel my inner child and recreate that atmosphere. What was the most memorable? Christmas carols around the piano with Mum playing, the delicious smell of our Christmas tree (at Taihape we had a Luciniano which smelled divine), the anticipation of Santa coming and not having any idea what our presents would be.
They were simple, most often home-made and not extravagant.
I remember Mum got a watermelon one year. I remember the glitter stars we made at school, glass balls in many colours, fairy lights, bows, bowls of nuts, scorched almonds, fresh fruit, wrapping paper, the smell of cut grass, hot pudding, a hot day, sparkle, silver tinsel and the most important, Christmas cake and sherry for Santa so he wouldn't forget us.
Actually, not a lot has changed. Mum still has the glass balls and you can still buy them, but most of us probably have decorated polystyrene balls. Probably the biggest thing that has changed is the kids now often know what presents they are getting.
The day isn't always hot, but then perhaps I only remember the hot days because they were the best and we got to play with our cousins as we sometimes travelled or our extended family came to us. We always opened our presents first thing in the morning, ate naughty, unhealthy things for breakfast. I still do that with my kids.
So, to create the right atmosphere what do you prefer? Traditional or unconventional? I still prefer red, green and gold because that combo is great to look at, but I do hanker for purples and pinks.
Our Christmas tree used to be real but, a few years back after a buying trip to Christchurch, I bought a gorgeous artificial one. It's so much easier and, besides, the kids are no longer home to choose the Christmas tree.
I tend to cram our tree with decorations - not all of them bought. Some are home-made and have very special memories. One year we hung chocolates in foil wrappers and they looked so lovely with the fairy lights, Unfortunately, our cat thought so too and picked off all the lower ones, then tried to launch himself off the chair to get at the ones higher up the tree. We didn't do that a second year.
Fairy lights are essential - instantly creating a festive atmosphere. And I love decorations with candles for the table, mantelpiece or sideboard.
I find candles very restful. Remember, you're trying to de-stress. I have fairy lights stapled to the beams in my lounge. They have been there for 12 years. They weren't up the first year we moved here and it was such a mission to get them up that I couldn't bear the hassle of taking them down so they have stayed. The downside is that spiders love them.
A wreath for the door is another must. It doesn't have to be over the top, and if you haven't got time to do it yourself, get the kids to decorate it.
Supplejack twisted into a ring makes a good base to glue pieces to. You could have dried greenery sprayed green, gold bows and cherries. Make it fun and something you enjoy doing.
Table or mantelpiece decorations are great as well. If the decoration is on the table that you're going to be eating at, remember not to make them too high, especially if there are large candles. There is nothing worse than having to dodge them when you're talking to someone opposite you. Bowls of nuts with the odd walnut sprayed gold, cherries or brightly wrapped chocolates look fantastic and festive and don't need to cost a fortune. And candy canes for the Christmas tree make great decorations, the list goes on ...
But we are looking at staying free of stress, so try to keep it simple and have fun.
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