Do you remember when Christmas was the best day of the year? When you got to wake up to Santa-filled stockings, unwrap presents from under the decorated tree, eat until you felt sick, play all day and nibble chocolates and baked goodies?
Back when the most stressful thing about Christmas was having to stay in bed until the sun came up, even though you'd been awake for what felt like three days waiting and waiting and ... waiting ... for the go ahead to check whether Santa had eaten his cookies and drunk his drink that you'd left for him the night before?
I do. I was incredibly lucky. It was a time filled with family and love and magic.
Now I approach Christmas cautiously, like I'm trying to sneak past a sleeping bear without waking him up. Have I got enough money to cover all the gifts? Will everyone like what I bought them? Have I bought enough presents for everyone? Have I bought too many? Do I have the same number of presents for each of the kids? Have I got enough food? When will I find the time to do the baking? Argh, where are the kids' Christmas stockings? Please don't let there be spiders in the Christmas tree from storing it in the garage!
So. Much. Stress. And it turns out, I'm not alone.
A Roy Morgan report released in 2018 found that Christmas is the most stressful time of year for 7.6 million Australians. Furthermore, 6 million Australians spend more than they can afford on food and gifts, which just adds more anxiety to a day that already gives those stress balls you got from your office secret Santa five years ago a workout. And this was all before the pandemic.
As we approach the Big Day this year, I am finding myself checking the COVID case numbers, trying to read various premiers' body language during their press conferences, and testing the temperature of public opinion regarding opening up, all to try and figure out if we are even going to have a Christmas this year, or if we are set to be plunged back into lockdown just as Santa's finished packing his sleigh for his epic December 24 journey.
The numbers from the 2018 report painted a grim picture for Australia, with the Salvation Army's Bruce Harmer interpreting the results as indicative of even more worrying concerns regarding poverty in this country than previously thought. I can only imagine what the past two years of economic and job insecurity have done to those numbers.
Isolation has all but become our modus operandi since mid-2020, and it's no secret that the festive season tends to see hardship and loneliness really hit hard. When you throw tight financial constraints into the mix - as many of us are feeling the pinch thanks to the job market flux as a result of COVID lockdowns - the ability to travel to see loved ones becomes not just a problem of public health orders, but also of the back pocket.
However, as with anything important, it is what you make of it. You don't need a giant turkey, 100 presents, and a perfectly baked lemon meringue pie for the day to be special. We've all had it tough the past couple of years - and in many ways 2021 has been harder than 2020, as we'd held out so much hope for a better year only to be disappointed.
I think we owe ourselves a gift this year - the gift of kindness to ourselves, to relieve the pressure and focus on what really matters to us.
My daughter (apparently) gets it. With all the wisdom that her six years on this planet has brought her, she casually informed me the other day that Christmas was about family, not presents, so I was to stop stressing. I am looking forward to testing the voracity of her assertion by reminding her of this fact on Christmas morning, right after we check the rapid antigen test we've left out for Santa next to the QR code set up for him to check himself and his dependent reindeer in and out of Chez Wundenberg come Christmas Eve night.