I love Christmas.

I love a reason to celebrate, to eat good food and make a fuss. I love the full sensory experience, the smells and the decorations, lighting the candles and listening to the music.

I am no scrooge.

However, over the years Christmas has become a  bit much.

I have made it a bit much.

I am an all or nothing kind of person. I am not very good at self-control and moderation, and Christmas has always been a time to revel in this side of my personality.

I want to do ALL of it.

I want to have special meals with all my different groups of friends. I want to throw lots of social gatherings; parties, drinks evenings, afternoons for the kids with their friends making decorations and watching Christmas films. I want to go on all the nights out and  plan many days for Christmas shopping and drinking mulled wine. I want a big tree decorated with lights, and a house that twinkles from the driveway. I want a home that feels both restful and as though at any moment a party is possible. I want a freezer full of home made food. I want to plan the Christmas dinner to perfection, including crackers, tablecloth and napkins, and to have made my stuffings from scratch.

I want the best family Christmas movie for my real life.

But I have learnt this is not possible.

I have had my fair share of disaster Christmases.

There was one year we spent so long getting everyone sat down with the drinks they wanted and the food they liked, pulling the crackers and putting on the party hats that, by the time my son (who was 3 at the time) was presented with his plate of food he took one look at it and threw it on the floor. It went downhill from there.

There have been tears before midday, and not just from me, and numerous years when I have found myself exhausted and overwhelmed before we even get to Christmas Eve

The BIG Christmas seems great, but often I end it feeling I have tried to meet everyone’s needs and no one has really got what they wanted, least of all me.

I have had Christmases where I have got to the end of the day, or reached the point when the tree is being taken down only to realise I missed it. I missed what really mattered to me. I missed the stuff that counts.

So this year before I make any plans, or extend any invites I am starting with one question.

What do I want this Christmas?

And I am only allowing myself one answer.

I cannot have it all. I cannot stretch myself in every different direction hoping if I stay busy enough I will by default get the Christmas I want.

I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. Something has to give and if you are not careful it will be you. Your joy, or peace, or ability to relax and enjoy any of the celebrations.

For me, this year, this is what I want:

Quality time with those I love most.

This might mean less parties and less hosting. It might mean sitting down with the kids to play games or watch tv and not spending all my time the kitchen. It might mean allowing them to help with the decorating even if it ends up looking a bit of a mess. It will definitely mean abandoning any idea of Christmas perfection.

I dont want the busyness and glitteriness of Christmas to obscure the thing that matters to me most. I dont want the activity and expectation of Christmas to mean those who I care about most in the world miss out.

This year I am going to be more specific about how I spend my time and who with. I am going to be thoughtful about how I spend my money and where my energies are invested.

A couple of years ago I received a Christmas card that embodied this very idea. It was from a friend I have known for a long time. Our paths have crossed in significant ways in the last few years – although rarely in person. Inside the card this friend had written that she had decided not to send lots of cards that year, as she would normally do. Instead she was writing ten cards to people who were on her heart, people who she wanted to thank, or who had meant a lot to her that year.

This card meant more to me than almost anything else that year. And I loved the deliberate choice: to only send ten cards, and only for a specific reason. I felt touched, honoured and appreciated.

It is so easy to get swept up in the romance of Christmas, to think it is like the movies – or the adverts – and we have to be all things to all men, and to do that everyone needs a gift, or a card, or a party invite, every outing needs a new outfit, and every meal must be home cooked from scratch.

These things can be fun and joy-filled. Or, they can become burdensome, and a pressure.

It is so easy to get to the end of the Christmas period and realise you have not managed to do anything you value, because you have been trying to meet everyone else’s needs and expectations.

What do you want this Christmas?

Maybe it is to see a friend you haven’t seen all year, maybe it is to make a special meal for your family, maybe it is to host a large party. Maybe it is to buy gifts for those you know won’t be receiving many this year, or to serve at a Christmas Day meal for those who haven’t anywhere to go. Maybe it is to invite your neighbours into your house for drinks and use the opportunity to get to know those who live on your street, or to go out into the countryside and spend Christmas Day breathing fresh air not stuck indoors. Maybe it is to have time to play, to not worry about the dinner but to sit on the floor with the kids building lego and train tracks.

Choose.

If you don’t choose what to fill your Christmas with, it will still be full, but not with the things you value, that bring you joy.

Choose one thing. Decide. Talk to family and friends about it. Be deliberate and proactive.

Ask yourself what matters most to you, what you value.

Build your Christmas around this and not around misguided expectations, or the relentless should, oughts and musts.

You won’t regret it.

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