Can you crack festive family stress?


This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post asks for ways to chill out before Christmas. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

Christmas was a horribly volatile experience at my home when I was a kid.

The family would manage OK during the day – but by the evening it was festive fury.

There was always a family row, usually between my parents. I have memories from quite a few Christmases of my dad throwing the gift he’d given my mum on to the fire. Suitcases melt like chocolates, nighties flare up like dancing ghosts, doors slam… The drama was always in our living room, not on the TV.  In an effort to prevent this type of experience again I’ve tended to go out with people who don’t suffer from red mist anger. And I don’t ever watch Eastenders

Knickers in a twist
Being around someone super-stressed isn’t much fun either. It just makes the joy of a long holiday disappear as everyone attempts to co-operate or avoid the stressy one. Obviously meditation or getting outside for a bit of fresh air is one answer. But so is the ability to thank our lucky stars. Here in London my family is safe and warm. What more could I really want? Well, as Nell,10,  might put it, a few gifts under the xmas tree…

In a bid to try and enjoy the run up to the holidays – and especially to avoid financial splurging which is all too easily done – I’ve been collecting moments and things when I’ve felt really happy. They are ridiculously every day. But in the long run these low key moments will probably count as the happiest times of our life… definitely not what the media or marketers would have you believe. So here goes:

  1. Walking to school – Nell and I have a nearly half hour walk to (or from) school each day. We chat a lot about dogs.
  2. Seeing someone look stylish. Freak entry to this list really, but as I’m swaddled in fleece layers it is a great pleasure to see someone straight out of a fashion plate chasing the same pavements on their way to the tube. Nell and I particularly admired the young woman in a yellow swing coat kicking through the last of the similarly yellow rowan leaves.
  3. The last bloom of summer. My roses go on and on. Even better is the astonishing second flowering of my winter jasmine which throws scented wafts down a city centre street. Take that you diesel engines! (see pic)
  4. Coping without a car: my pull-along trolley looks hideous. But the smug pride I feel in being able to carry a sack of potatoes, gift bottles of wine, loads of equipment and a stockpile of loaves from the Spence without doing my back in makes me love the world. I heart it as Lola would say. (see pic)
  5. Christmas trees in the window – everyone should have a lit up, decorated tree in their window. Unfairly I don’t (it’s to do with the hedge, and the fact that our curtains are closed, see pic), but I love counting and/or admiring Christmas trees as I walk home in the dark, ideally with a companion, preferably a child. Choose the time wisely: 6pm is too early. It needs to be about 9pm when everyone’s got home from work/after school clubs and settled down for a snug evening. Ideally take your kids out for a “midnight” walk to enjoy this experience. Even a buggy ride will be a memorable winter treat…

Over to you
Just re-reading that list makes me feel calm. So what makes you – and the kids – happy without any preparation at all?

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6 Comments on “Can you crack festive family stress?”

  1. Karin Says:

    I’m surprised you recommend everyone having a lit up Christmas tree. I know it’s gloomy at this time of year, but I always think what a waste of electricity when I see trees with lights on in the day time. Perhaps one tree doesn’t use much electricity, but multiply that by however many thousands all over the country and it is probably quite a bit. Even worse, to my mind, are the coloured lights on houses.

    Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. I grew up with candles on our tree, so they could only be lit for short times, such as Christmas Eve and Christmas evening, while we were watching out with a bucket of water to hand. I’ve never really got used to having lights and prefer small white ones.

  2. nicola baird Says:

    Hi Karin. Well whether I recommend or not, people certainly do have lit up trees. I think decorations when it is gloomy winter are lovely – and it does unite us for such a short time. Strangers talk to strangers. Friends make time to send a card or even meet up. One of my Muslim neighbours often gives my daughters £10 as a gift, so v generous esp in exchange for my rather dodgy mincepies offered over the doorways of the street.

    The lights are a frippery, but they’re not there for long and hopefully people turn them off during the day and when they sleep. I think your candle idea is gorgeous. Xmas is very traditional – the ideal is to be brought up in a house where a cardboard tree and no lights rule. But in the UK so few families will be doing that… may report back on this as just about to do a chat show on Radio Verluleum (sp?) in St Albans. In the meantime, happy xmas and safe holidays to you. Nicola

  3. nicola baird Says:

    From Facebook:
    Chris Really nice, Nicola! My mother always used to say, “..children make Christmas…” I have a very Philistine habit of putting red tree lights threaded through the winter jasmine/other triffid-like plants on my dining room window – no tree. In answer to your fren, my understanding is that these lights use very little power, and of course it’s so much nicer as you can switch off all the other lights – perhaps saving more power than you would otherwise use…

    Penny Last year we gathered every lost glove we came across on our daily walks to and from school and around the hood. This holiday we are going to make a scarf from orphan gloves and maybe even another one from odd socks. Could be the next big thing…

    Kelly Hi Nicola – I so love Xmas trees in the window too… And the walk to school. And gorgeous folk to admire. I’d add: Wrapping presents together, making cards and gift tags. Decorating the tree – one of my favourite moments of the year, lying on the bean bag as simon reads Harry potter to us all every night, planning our Xmas meal, and – seeing friends!

    • Gina Metcalf Says:

      Loved reading your blog, which my mum recommended! Thanks for sharing! I have two kids and it’s makes our Christmas that they are able to spend it with grandma and grandpa – who could ask for better than that. This morning they made a gingerbread house together – most of which they ate! Have a lovely time….. Carole Zag’s daughter, Gina

      • homemadekids Says:

        Hi Gina, thank you very much for your kind words! A friend suggested making a gingerbread house into a geodesic dome the other day – set that challenge for Granny Carole next year? In the meantime have a very happy christmas. Nicola

  4. Karin Says:

    I see, you’re not advocating having lights on all day. That is what makes me particularlynuncomfortable about lights. Hubby likes to have them on during the day, although only while we are at home and using the living room, and at work our tree has to be on all the time we are open, so from 9 until 5, 6 or 7. I understand the LED lights use less electricity, but I doubt it’s worth replacing a perfectly good set due to the amount of energy and resources used to make the new set.

    Otherwise I quite enjoy seeing subtle, twinkling lights on a nicely decorated tree, and for me the tree has to be real; it has to look, feel and smell real, another part of my tradition. We take it to be chipped after Christmas mostly, but have left it to be part of a log pile in the past.

    Hope the chat show went well. May you also have a happy Christmas and survive the season.

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