I'm just going to come out and say it now: I'm not a Christmas person.
Yes, I know the reason for the season. Family. Spending quality time with the nearest and dearest and being thankful for a roof over your head and a roast lamb in your belly.
I was raised Anglican, and I still have a vague smidgen of faith, and so I believe the message of "Goodwill To All Men" is worth striving for. I love all the traditional hymns Dad used to play -- the O Come All Ye Faithfuls and O Holy Nights. Christmas lights are lovely -- and Kuripuni is looking particularly gorgeous.
But there's just something about the silly season that gets my stomach churning. The overcrowded shops, tacky decorations, saccharine modern songs (Do They Know It's Christmas, anyone?). The blaring ads, the string of obligatory parties when you'd rather be snuggled up with Netflix, scheduling in the various family members, horribly expensive meat, choosing presents..
The blatant commercialism of something that started with real spiritual value.
I find it all a bit much. I think our new columnist Heidi Hendrikse nailed it in her last write-up: one of the most stressful things is having a vision of a no-holds-barred Christmas Day straight out of It's A Wonderful Life. And then things don't quite go to plan.
In the last couple of years, I haven't had the money to spoil my family as I'd like, nor the time to devote to homemade gifts, nor the energy to decorate the house. Christmas 2013 I spent hours making a slap-up feast for hubby and I -- only for Beloved to fall asleep after the first course. Guilt and disappointment.
We get suckered in by all the Christmas media. We don't just get the pressure to spend up a storm, but to plan the perfect holiday -- the roast dinner, the stockings, the glittering Christmas tree, the piles of presents, the perfectly-behaved kids, the works.
Everywhere you turn, there's the fantasy: in Christmas catalogues, TV ads, children's picture books, church services, all the movies, from Home Alone to Love, Actually.
And reality doesn't always measure up. The meal wasn't quite right, you bought someone the book they already had, and someone else was drunk and inappropriate.
Personally, I say ditch the fantasy. Keep it simple: do Secret Santas, cook a barbecue meal, flag the office party, leave the dishes for Boxing Day and blast the hard rock to get Snoopy's Christmas out of your head. Whatever relieves the stress because we deal with that the other 11 months of the year.
Whatever you're planning for Christmas, I hope the season is good to you. And you get time amongst the madness to take a breath, cuddle the kids, really taste your food and get time to yourself. We all could do with more moments like that.